I first found out about R.J. Anderson not through her books but through Sounis. Obviously, I know that she’s a fan of the Queen’s Thief series because she’s a fellow Sounisian. She’s the author of middle grade faery novels (Knife, Rebel and Arrow in the UK; Spellhunter and Wayfarer in the US) and the YA paranormal thriller Ultraviolet. I thoroughly enjoyed reading both Knife and Ultraviolet (full of unpredictable plot twists!) and I look forward to reading more of her work. Megan Whalen Turner wrote a blurb for her first book: “SPELLHUNTER has the charm of Mary Norton’s THE BORROWERS and the edge of Holly Black’s TITHE.” R.J. is here today to share how she fell in love with the series.
HOW I FELL IN LOVE WITH THE QUEEN’S THIEF SERIES (AND WHY)
Since I first heard my Dad reading the Narnia books out loud to my older brothers when I was three or four, I’ve been in love with fantasy. As a kid I plundered our local library branch for every book of fairy tales I could get my hands on — and when I ran out of those, I started reading mythology, particularly Greek and Roman mythology. Then I moved on to the great works of modern “juvenile” fantasy like Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, and by the time I was twelve I was reading adult fantasy authors like Stephen R. Donaldson and Patricia McKillip as well.
But after reading fantasy almost exclusively for years on end, I found that one fantasy novel tended to blend into another. There were plots and settings and character types that got used over and over, and after a while I felt as though I’d seen everything. So when an online acquaintance told me that I ought to read a book called THE THIEF by an author named Megan Whalen Turner, I could already guess what that particular story would be like. Presumably it would feature a street urchin with nimble fingers living in a vaguely medieval, pseudo-European setting full of castles and dragons and wizards, and said thief would make a powerful enemy and be caught up in some fearsome adventure, but in the end he would triumph and end up pardoned of all his crimes. Which could still be a fun story if it was well enough written, but I wasn’t in a hurry to run out and get it. After all, how outstanding could another fantasy novel about a thief really be?
And yet my acquaintance had insisted that the book was unusually good, so when I spotted THE THIEF in my local library a few months later I decided to swallow my cynicism and check it out. And, figuring that if I liked the first book I would want to read the second, I picked up THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA as well.
What I found in THE THIEF surprised me. It wasn’t some quasi-European fantasy realm, it had a Mediterranean flavour instead. And wait, had somebody mentioned pocket watches? Which meant it wasn’t medieval, either. I was further taken aback by the myths and legends scattered throughout the story, which felt so authentic that I half wondered if I’d read them once in a book of Greek mythology and forgotten them. In the end I almost resented THE THIEF for being so unlike my jaded expectations, even as I raced through it to find out what that cheeky boy Gen was up to and whether he’d survive the ultimate test.
I didn’t love THE THIEF. I admired it, I thought it was well written and richly detailed and clever, but I wasn’t quite seeing what had made my acquaintance so enthusiastic about the books. However, I had THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA right there, so I decided to carry on and see if the next volume might be a little more to my taste…
And oh boy, was it ever. I was wholly unprepared for the ruthless turn of events early in the novel, but as soon as you know what happened I was sold. An author with the courage to do such a radical, life-altering thing to her hero might be capable of anything. After that every chapter pulled me deeper into Gen and Irene’s story, until… well. Let’s just say that when a certain growing suspicion I’d had in the back of my mind was confirmed, I let out a whoop and waved the book in the air. There was no more distance between me and Ms. Turner’s characters any more. I was hooked, addicted, and I couldn’t get enough. I raced down to the library and checked out THE KING OF ATTOLIA.
And once again, I had no idea what I was getting into. QUEEN had engaged my emotions, but KING challenged me on a whole new level. The sheer complexity of the story, the sophistication of the politics and the interpersonal relationships, the cleverness of having the book told by a narrator who barely knows Gen and manifestly doesn’t like him, and yet manages to be a sympathetic character himself — I was awed by Ms. Turner’s skills as a storyteller. But even better than that, in the course of the novel I recognized a quality I’d carelessly overlooked in the previous books: that Gen’s story wasn’t just one of cleverness and determination and skill, but also a journey of faith.
I’d read lots of fantasy novels that included religion in some form or another, but few of them rang so true to me as the interactions between the gods and the characters in Ms. Turner’s books. Even though the religion in Gen’s world bears little or no resemblance to my own Christianity, a great deal of what her characters had to say about their dealings with the gods had a powerful resonance for me. Things like Gen praying in his desperation, “O my god, if you will not save me, make me less afraid,” and Eddis’s line, “If I am the pawn of the gods, it is because they know me so well, not because they make up my mind for me.” I found myself murmuring as I read those lines, “Yes. Yes, exactly.”
By the time I’d finished THE KING OF ATTOLIA I was firmly convinced that Megan Whalen Turner was a genius. I didn’t know if she could top the staggering narrative feat she’d pulled off in that third volume, but I was looking forward to A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS very much. Though when I found out it was about Sophos — that blushing, stammering young noble who seemed to be a fan favourite but who hadn’t made all that strong an impression on me — I wondered if I’d love the book quite as much as I’d hoped.
But when I finally read it, I was won over completely. I learned to love Sophos within the first few chapters, and by the middle I was completely on his side — even to the point of being a bit annoyed with Gen on his behalf. And that twist — those twists! Megan Whalen Turner had done it again.
So basically, I have turned into a shameless fangirl of the Queen’s Thief books. I’ve read the whole series out loud to my eleven year-old son, who enjoyed them almost as much as I did. I gave the books as a Christmas gift to my teenaged niece, only to have her mother pick them up and become an avid fan of the series herself. And whenever I meet someone who loves fantasy and is looking for recommendations, the first thing I ask them is, “Have you read Megan Whalen Turner? Because if you haven’t, you totally should.”
I hear there are going to be six books in the series. I hope it’s true. But part of me hopes that’s just the beginning, because I want Gen and the Magus and Irene and Eddis and Costis and Sophos to live in my mind and heart and imagination forever.
Thank you, R.J.! I love that you quoted “If I am the pawn of the gods…” because that’s one of my favorite lines in the series as well. Yes to everything that R.J. said in her post (I know I keep saying that about all the Queen’s Thief Week guest posts but it’s true).