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REVIEW: The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Dear Ms. Turner,

Since in reality, our reviews are at least as much for readers as they are for authors, let me begin this letter with a warning to readers who haven’t embarked on your YA fantasy series beginning with The Thief. The book I am about to review here is The Queen of Attolia, second in this series, and because of the way the series is constructed, any review of this book would be chock full of spoilers for the previous one.

(So readers, if you haven’t read The Thief yet, and have an interest in doing so, you might want to bypass this review entirely, and if you haven’t done so yet, go read my review of The Thief instead.)

As The Queen of Attolia opens, Eugenides, also known as Gen, master thief, is in Attolia, a country that is enemy to his own homeland of Eddis. Not only that, he is in the palace of the Queen of Attolia, which he has infiltrated many times, and is now trying to escape undetected. But this time, the Queen of Attolia is one step ahead of Eugenides at every point, and for the second time in his life, he is captured.

Having been humiliated by Eugenides when he escaped from her earlier, Attolia, as she is known (the monarchs in this world all bear the names of their kingdoms), is determined that Eugenides will not escape again, and that she will mete out a punishment that will impress on everyone the folly of humiliating her.

At first Attolia thinks to execute Eugenides, but when the ambassador from the Mede Empire suggests that the Queen of Eddis, on whose behalf Eugenides’ greatest theft in Attolia’s kingdom was perpetrated, would prefer that he die quickly and painlessly, and reminds Attolia that she could ransom Eugenides for a tidy sum, Attolia decides to cut off Eugenides’ right hand instead.

And thus, Eugenides, Queen’s Thief of Eddis and cousin to the Queen of Eddis herself, is returned to the palace in Eddis, wounded both in body and in spirit, grieving for his lost hand and his lost art, and desperately afraid of being maimed forever in the afterlife, as well as of what further vengeance the Queen of Attolia might wreak on him before then.

In Eddis, Eugenides isolates himself in the palace library and only rarely comes out. Even after his physical injury heals to the extent it can, he still finds the most basic social interactions painful and suffers from nightmares in which he relives the moment when his hand was cut off.

The Queen of Eddis, who loves her cousin and Thief dearly, is greatly concerned about him — and about the precarious situation that his capture has plunged her kingdom into. For Eddis is a small but strategically placed kingdom wedged between Sounis and Attolia. And not only does the threat that Eugenides might slip into his castle and kill him no longer prevent the King of Sounis from attacking Eddis now that Eugenides has lost his hand, but Eddis’ retaliation for the cutting off of her cousin’s hand has incited a threat of war with Attolia, and the Mede are hoping that this war will give them power over Attolia, Sounis and Eddis.

Eugenides is kept in the dark about the turmoil that surrounds his country, but when the magus of Sounis visits him, Eugenides learns that war is brewing, and realizes that no matter how terrified he might be inside, he must now conquer his fear and embark, one handed, on the greatest theft of his career on behalf of his Queen: stealing nothing less than peace.

The Queen of Attolia makes a good continuation to The Thief, but it is clearly aimed at a somewhat older audience than the earlier book. Whereas in The Thief, Eugenides was referred to mostly as “Gen,” and portrayed as a boy on an adventure, here we see him mature into a man who is far more aware of his own vulnerability and limitations, a man who, due to his amputated hand now has to rely less on the dexterity of his fingers, and more on the cleverness of his mind to pull off the feats of his heroic thefts.

For this reason I was more interested and engaged in reading The Queen of Attolia then I was when I read The Thief, but that is not to say that I was always thoroughly entertained. As much as I enjoyed reading about this more mature Eugenides, I also felt that the book lagged somewhat in the first half while I was waiting for the main character to come out of his depression, and especially for the romance I had heard about to take off.

Yes, there is a romance and it is quite wonderful, but it doesn’t really become the focus of the book until two-thirds of the way through. There are a lot of things I could say about this relationship, especially in regard to some fascinating dynamics that emerge from it, and to its freshness and originality, and the ways in which it, to quote a friend, runs counter to the usual romance tropes, and is so unexpected and yet quite romantic. But I’m limited by the fact that since it comes so late in the book, to describe it further would be to lean into spoiler terrain.

Therefore, instead I’ll talk about the nitpicks that (sorry Michelle!) keep this book from being an A for me. While I loved the final third, I felt that the The Queen of Attolia took a bit too long to get to that part of the story. As in The Thief, the first half, though interesting, was less exciting than the second.

There were also, interspersed with Eugenides’ story, some summaries of the battles between Eddis, Attolia and Sounis. These were dispensed out in a rather dry fashion, without dramatization, and seemed to me to be examples of what is sometimes known as info dumping. Fortunately these sections weren’t that long, but as I read these paragraphs, I was forced to resist the urge to impatiently skim them and return to the characters I cared about.

I also want to mention the narration. The Queen of Attolia is written in third person, and while I do feel that this was probably the right choice for this book since it adds the diversity of multiple viewpoints, I nevertheless missed the liveliness of Eugenides’ chatty first-person voice from The Thief.

Despite these quibbles, I enjoyed The Queen of Attolia more and more as the book progressed, and I loved the maturation of Eugenides as well as the many colorful and clever secondary characters. I liked the fact that beyond the made up kingdoms, the fantastical elements in the story were kept to a minimum, so that when they did come into play they were all the more potent. The marvelous romance in its final third left my mouth watering for the third book, The King of Attolia, which lies on my desk as I write this and glance at that book longingly. Other reviewing commitments are keeping me from getting to it right away, and oh, how I want to pick it up right now!

Assigning a grade to this book is a conundrum. Yes, The Queen of Attolia was slow in places but the romantic elements were terrific. Only I wish there were a whole lot more of them. Oh, but what there was in the way of romance was so smart, so mature, so very worth reading! If only there had been more…

In evaluating The Queen of Attolia, I keep wanting to section it into thirds. The first third would earn a B-, the second a B or B+, the third an A-. But I have to grade the entire book, and so, I end up in that awkward midpoint between a B and a B+, and those are the categories under which I file this letter.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased in mass market.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

21 Comments

  1. Jorrie Spencer
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 15:38:43

    Interesting review, Janine. I loved The Queen of Attolia best of the three, actually. And I didn’t find it lagged where you did. I also fought against the romance, if that makes sense. I mean, I came to accept it and I certainly thought Turner handled it in an effective and interesting way. But I didn’t want to accept it for most of the book.

    And I just love Gen.

  2. SandyW
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 16:57:27

    I love this book; the whole series, actually. Gen is a fabulous character.

    I didn't see the romance coming at all. The first time I read the book, I just sat there thinking, ‘What? He WHAT?” Then it turned into this amazing relationship. Romantic and pragmatic.

    I also like Eddis' speech that begins, “Of course he's lied to me. He lies to everyone…” You do have to read ‘The Thief' first to properly appreciate that speech.

  3. Janine
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 17:39:36

    Jorrie — it sounds like we had opposite reactions. The romance was the most intersting part of the book to me and in the first half I kept waiting anxiously for the relationship to take off. There were some bits that I absolutely loved with that relationship and I’m really looking forward to the third book. But then, I’m a romance geek like that.

  4. Janine
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 17:44:03

    SandyW,

    I like Gen a lot too, but I must say that I didn’t like him as much in The Thief. It wasn’t until The Queen of Attolia that he grew into someone I really cared deeply about. Maybe I’m just a sucker for tortured (in this case, literally as well as figuratively!) characters.

    Unlike you, I did see the romance coming, I think because I had read the back cover copy of the third book before starting the series. Perhaps I’ve anticpated the romance too much.

    In any case, I’m aware that though I like the first two books very much, I haven’t loved them as deeply as many of our posters here who have read them or many of Turner’s readers elsewhere on the ‘net. This series really has a devoted following and chances are that readers who give them a try will enjoy them. I myself am really looking forward to book three.

  5. Jorrie Spencer
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 17:45:12

    I’m curious if it makes a difference whether or not you know the romance is coming. I didn’t really-’I had read so many warnings about not being spoiled, so I’d avoided all spoilers. But perhaps that’s not it. We all take different things away from a book.

    I think you’ll love the third book though! I found the romance most interesting there, actually :)

  6. Janine
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 17:48:55

    Jorrie, I think it probably does make a difference. I wasn’t warned to avoid spoilers until it was too late but I think it might have made a difference to my reading experience had I not known what I knew. That’s the reason I began my review here with a warning to readers who are interested in this series and who have not begun reading it not to read further and to go read my review of The Thief instead.

  7. Bonnie L.
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 18:46:02

    I love, love, love this series. Each book has it’s high points and low points, but none of them are disappointing.

  8. trisha
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 18:57:57

    I liked the battle info, with all the strategizing and politics that was going on. It’s actually part of what makes me like the series so much. In a way, I think it makes them more convincing characters, because it just made them seem more competent, more intelligent. We’re not just told they’re smart, we see it, too.

    While this is my least favorite of the series, it’s still an above average book. And I think my feelings about The Queen of Attolia have changed since The King of Attolia came out. I see it more as an episode now, its place as part of a series, and it blows my mind how the narration and focus changes with each book, yet all the books are just so consistently good. I love that Turner actually did something as drastic as having Attolia chop off Gen’s hand and that this action is allowed to have huge consequences.

    Looking forward to your The King of Attolia review.

  9. Janine
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 19:19:05

    Bonnie L., glad you enjoyed these books!

    Trisha, I liked the startegizing and the politics too, but what bothered me was the way most the battles themselves were summarized when they were taking place. It felt very dry to me. For example, take a look at a section from p.115-118 in the paperback that describes pirate and navy battles. It’s too long for me to quote here, but I wish it had been shown through a character’s POV.

    I do agree, however, that the characters, Eugenides and the two queens in particular, become more convincingly intelligent and competent as a result of their strategizing. I also agree with you about the chopping off of Gen’s arm.

  10. Michelle
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 19:58:35

    I loved this book (but the King of Attolia totally ROCKS-I think you will like that one a bit better-more of tongue in cheek, lots of wit, and Eugenides really outdoes himself-also more romantic bits).

    Anyway one of my favorite things about QOA is how the author takes an almost unforgivable act and finally brings you around so that you can understand what Attolia is thinking. Is she really a fiend from hell or a woman holding on to her kingdom and doing what she must to protect her throne.

    Couple of good parts, when the Magus visits Eugenides and how it galvanizes Eugenides into later action. Love how Eugenides abducts the Queen-”baa baa”.

    Also some really touching moments when Attolia and Eddis rush to the prison and Attolia is frozen for a moment and thinks about what she has lost.

    Oh I could go on and on-there are so many good bits. Also love the part about Gens father. The author does such a good job with him. Almost understated but a powerful character.

    But really I think you will love KOA-just wait till you find out about Costas. I admit it I am a squeeing fangirl.

  11. Janine
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 20:18:55

    Hi Michelle! I am really looking forward to The King of Attolia.

    S
    P
    O
    I
    L
    E
    R
    S

    I think that if I had started out seeing Attolia as a fiend from hell and then come around to understanding her I would have loved the book even more. But I actually understood her from fairly early on in the book. As a reader (I was just telling a friend this), I tend to have a lot of sympathy for characters who are flawed or dark and it’s actually the super-nice characters that I often run out of patience with. Not always, but often. I won’t say that I loved Attolia right away but I knew I could like her and wanted to see a lot more of her in the book a lot earlier.

    I agree with a lot of moments you mentioned as nice moments. I especially liked the scene with the earrings.

  12. Michelle
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 20:55:11

    The audioversions are really well done too. I highly recommend checking your library for them, or caving and going directly to recorded books.

  13. Cat
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 04:39:36

    Both Thief and Queen start slow, but I liked the ending of both, even though the romance was a bit forced in Queen.

    (King of Attolia is the best of the series so far, and that’s on top of the goodness of Thief and Queen!)

  14. Rebecca
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 11:22:03

    This series came as a surprise to me, I did not expect such fantastic characters- or a sequel- when I read The Theif, a book I thoroughly enjoyed but had a bit of trouble focusing on in the beginning. I must say, I felt as though I was wading through a fog until the end, at which point I leapt up and jumped around my room. It was clever, well thought out and creative- I left it at that. Imagine my surprise when I began to read an extraordinary book in the middle of Barnes and Noble, and realized I recognized these names. I jumped around. All of my expectation were surpassed, the characters were original ( and attractive, *cough* Eugenides *cough*) and the pace was much quicker than the Theif, but wasn’t so fast I lost some of the time I craved with Gen. Two of my favorite characters of all time would have to be Gen and Attolia, and let me tell you, I did NOT see that romance thing coming. That is what I love about Megan Whalen Turner, she slams you with a twist at the end (much like Jodi Picoult, but more thought out, eh?) that you finally see. It opens your eyes to a separate level of the book. Smart, funny, scenes that stick to you and are so human you believe this must have happened ( I’m ashamed to admit, I started wondering- So where is Attolia? Maybe somewhere near Greece?- more like near Genovia). The emotions are beautiful, but don’t even get me STARTED on the next one!

  15. Rebecca
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 11:25:44

    This series came as a surprise to me, I did not expect such fantastic characters- or a sequel- when I read The Theif, a book I thoroughly enjoyed but had a bit of trouble focusing on in the beginning. I must say, I felt as though I was wading through a fog until the end, at which point I leapt up and jumped around my room. It was clever, well thought out and creative- I left it at that. Imagine my surprise when I began to read an extraordinary book in the middle of Barnes and Noble, and realized I RECOGNIZED these names. I jumped around. All of my expectation were surpassed, the characters were original ( and attractive, *cough* Eugenides *cough*) and the pace was much quicker than the Theif, but wasn’t so fast I lost some of the time I craved with Gen. Two of my favorite characters of all time would have to be Gen and Attolia, and let me tell you, I did NOT see that romance thing coming. That is what I love about Megan Whalen Turner, she slams you with a twist at the end (much like Jodi Picoult, but more thought out, eh?) that you finally see. It opens your eyes to a separate level of the book. Smart, funny, scenes that stick to you and are so human you believe this must have happened ( I’m ashamed to admit, I started wondering- So where is Attolia? Maybe somewhere near Greece?- more like near Genovia). The emotions are beautiful, but don’t even get me STARTED on the next one!

  16. Xandra
    Sep 12, 2008 @ 01:08:44

    Yeah, it just shows how much I love these books (and Eugenides *swoon*) that I’m sitting in my room at 10:30 searching for the titles on google. Again. This was my second favorite book in the series, first being indisputably KOA. Read it as soon as you can, if you haven’t already!
    I actually came into the series halfway, reading this book before The Thief. Just goes to show, always read the fine print. Despite that I still got into the characters very quickly. The romance wasn’t as big of a surprise for me, because I had guessed when I read the book jacket what exactly Gen had stolen from Attolia that she thought she had lost (no, it’s not the earrings). It might have been easier to believe in the romance because I had never read the first book, and hadn’t seen Attolia in full fiend-from-hell mode.
    Something I saw in a lot of reviews of this book was the confusion over when it took place, because of the mixed-up technology. I find it that unbelievable, though. It seemed more like the princess bride, saying that this never took place… after guns, but before, for example, cars and such.
    I thought the book used a lot of great metaphors, too. I especially loved the reference to the broken amphora in Attolia’s childhood, and how she never realized until the end why she had thought of that memory when she saw Gen in the dungeon… Another favorite of mine was the ‘oxe harbrea sacrus vax dragga…’ thread which (hope I’m not giving anything away) continues into KOA. The whole abduction scene was incredible, especially the way Gen froze up whenever Attolia was nearby… Most of the book I was trying to choose whether to go, ‘awww!’ or curl up under the covers and never come out again.
    Overall, I loved this book, definitely recommend it. Also, learn from my mistake! Read the books in order! I’m sure the books would have been even better, if that’s possible, if I had. Read KOA soon, and I hate that Mede!
    -X
    Ps. I just want to see how many people had this reaction to the KOA book jacket. When it said, ‘…will learn that it’s subtle (blah blah) intrigue is no match for Eugenides.’, I immediately said, ‘that’s because NOTHING is a match for Eugenides!’ Am I right?

  17. Janine
    Sep 12, 2008 @ 15:10:57

    This was my second favorite book in the series, first being indisputably KOA. Read it as soon as you can, if you haven't already!

    I haven’t read it yet, but I am looking forward to it. I’ve got a lot going on in my life right now so I’m taking a hiatus from reviewing, until November at least. So in all likelihood I won’t get to The King of Attolia until close to the end of the year, if not later. But I do still plan to get to it.

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