By Morgan Mitchell
You may say that I’m about 25 years late with this review. So, so, so (if I may be so bold as to use an Attolian phrase). But The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner is ending with its final installment slated to be released in October 2020, so what better time than now to introduce such a classic YA fantasy?
Even though I am particularly fond of children’s and young adult literature, I had never heard of The Thief or any of the other four books in the series until earlier this year. They never came up on any “Best of YA Fantasy” or on recommendation lists, and I never heard people mention the series in conversations. I just happened to stumble across the first title while I was scrolling through the available e-books offered by my local library, and the summary looked appealing. Something that added to the intriguing blurb of the book was the fact that it had earned a Newberry Honor after its publication in 1996. I decided to take a chance on The Thief and found myself completely charmed by both the world Turner had so carefully crafted and by the characters that were perhaps a little flawed but were all the more real because of it. After I finished the series, all I wanted to do was read them again from the beginning, which is a sign of a truly remarkable book. As much as I wanted to prolong my time with the characters, I decided to settle with simply sharing my favorite things about the books. Perhaps I can introduce someone to a potential new favorite series or even remind old fans why they fell in love with it in the first place.
*The characters: It is rare to have a set of characters that are all exceedingly likable and complex. Eugenides is the main character of the first novel and a central figure throughout the rest of the series, even if he does not appear often. When we first meet Gen, he complains every chance he can get and hardly seems like a worthy hero. By the end of the novel, however, he has subverted expectations and proven that he is every bit as clever—and maybe even more so—than readers would expect of the queen’s prized thief. Not only is Eugenides the most mischievous, petty, loyal individual you will ever meet, but the other characters are equally as charming. Eddis and Attolia, the two queens in the novel, are strong in their own ways. Eddis secures her throne because of her people’s respect and love for her. Attolia, who did not have the option of ruling out of love, steals the throne by murdering her husband and maintains her power in a similarly ruthless way. Costis punches his king in a moment of hot-headed anger, but he is an honest, lovable man most of the time. Even Kamet, a former servant of the enemy, works his way into readers’ hearts by the end of his journey. Turner manages to create characters that feel so authentic that it is easy to root for each and every one of them.
*The unexpected twists: Turner’s specialty is undermining reader’s expectations to create climaxes that reveal twist after twist. You might think you know what is happening, but nothing is as it seems. One of the best parts of The Queen’s Thief is being surprised again and again by how clever the characters are, so I don’t want to say too much and risk spoiling the fun. I will say, however, that even by the fifth book when I knew without a doubt that there would be a twist coming soon, I was still as stunned by Eugenides’ plan as I was the first time I met him.
*The tales of the gods: In order to complete her stellar world-building, Turner includes mini-tales about the gods that are woven into the narrative of her story. In the first book, for example, Eugenides and the magus trade stories about the gods, and even these short stories are original and captivating. What I love about the tales of the gods is how the characters have different ideas of what the correct story is. Eugenides often corrects the magus’ interpretation of how a god came to be, and Kamet explains to the Attolian that there are many different versions of Immakuk and Ennikar. This tendency of stories to change as they are passed from generation to generation or from culture to culture is something that happens even in the real world, so it makes the series more authentic.
*The friendships: As I read each book, I thought to myself that the new relationships between characters couldn’t possibly be better than the ones I adored from previous books, but the friendships never failed to make me smile. Whether it is platonic relationships like those between Eugenides and Sophos or Costis and Kamet, or romantic relationships like that of Eugenides and Irene, it is obvious that love, respect, and loyalty are at the core of each of their bonds.
*The POV changes: After reading the first novel, I became very attached to Eugenides’ voice and was excited to get to delve into his mind again and again in the books that followed. However, I soon discovered that Turner’s series came with another surprise, which is the fact that each novel takes place from a different point of view. Although I had been looking forward to reading more about Eugenides’ perspective, I have come to see these changes in point of view as one of the best parts of the series. It allows Turner to continue to surprise readers even though we have learned to expect great things from our clever Gen. She is able to surprise us because we see events unfold from the perspective of someone who underestimates him just as we did in previous books. The perspective changes also allow more than just the main character to be developed into a complex, intriguing character. In each book, we learn more about an additional character, and we learn about Eugenides through their eyes, so it really is an ingenious storytelling technique.
*The humor: I’ll end this list of favorites with a discussion on the humor in the series. Eugenides is so sarcastic and petty that I genuinely did laugh out loud—frequently, actually—while I was reading. This is another area where I don’t want to say too much because a lot of the humor is just subverting expectations (and we already know Turner is an expert at that). Of course, Eugenides is a lot of fun on his own, but it is almost better to see his actions from someone else’s perspective because their shocked reactions to his crazy schemes amplify the humorous moment.
Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series was an instant favorite for me. I knew when I was reading it that I was reading something special and that it would be one of those books I would cherish forever. I only wish that I had discovered the books sooner, but I am equally as excited for the last installment as I would have been had I waited years rather than just months. I hope you’ll give her series a chance if you haven’t already, or that you will enjoy it just as much on the second read as you did on the first.
Edited by Princess Berry