Queen’s Thief Week: Guest Post by Elizabeth Wein

I first heard about Elizabeth Wein from Sounis. I was thrilled when I discovered that her books are locally available, read The Sunbird and labeled Telemakos, the main character, as Gen-in-Africa. Elizabeth Wein is an under-the-radar author who deserves to get more attention. Seriously, I don’t understand why readers aren’t picking up her books, even Megan Whalen Turner herself recommends them. Code Name Verity, her latest novel about two Women’s Auxiliary Air Force girls set during World War II, has already been released in the UK and will be released in the US this May. Check out what Elizabeth Wein has to say about the similarities and differences between Telemakos and Eugenides.

Looking Together in the Same Direction

(fairly spoiler free except for the great big obvious ones!)

I first heard of The Thief through a review—a very good one—in The Horn Book Magazine. Since I moved to the UK, The Horn Book has been my number one source of new good reading in the North American children’s book scene, and the summary of The Thief pushed all my buttons. I knew I’d like it.

And I did. What I really loved about it was the way that after you’d finished, you had to go back and read it a second time because now you had a different point of view about everything—you saw how Gen had planned all the things you thought had happened by accident—you noticed how important the little things were, and you watched for them. His bad manners were no longer simply annoying or funny, his long hair was no longer simply a vanity; now you knew it was all part of his arsenal.

This is really my favourite kind of book, where everything looks different on the second reading (most of my own books are constructed this way, in the hope that someone will be tempted to give them a second reading!). You can read a book like this more than once without even feeling self-indulgent, because you are reading a different book the second time around. One of the moments of great genius of The Queen of Attolia is near the beginning, where Moira, the servant of the goddess Hephestia, visits the Queen and advises her. The first time you read it, you don’t realize it is not a human advisor. Yet knowing it is Moira changes the entire significance of the terrible thing that is about to happen to Gen. It isn’t just his destiny: it is the right destiny for him, whether he likes it or not.

My admiration for Megan Whalen Turner’s books stems from my own personal preferences in plot structure and setting, and our books have often been compared—Chachic herself promotes my books to MWT fans by trying to package them as ‘Gen-in-Africa’. It’s true that my character Telemakos shares some of Gen’s characteristics—he is a tricky, highly-connected brat raised in a messed-up but loving aristocratic family with royal connections. Telemakos, like Gen, is rather more highly-connected than most people realize. And both characters inhabit a rather exotic fantasy world based on our own ancient civilizations. Having said that, Telemakos is Telemakos and Gen is Gen. Their situations are alike, but I don’t think their characters are much alike. Telemakos lacks Gen’s vanity, for one thing, and probably Gen’s ambition as well. He has his own set of flaws and strengths.

I wrote The Sunbird about 5 years after reading The Thief, and I was very conscious that the two books had similar premises and that readers might be likely to compare them (in The Sunbird, 11-year-old Telemakos is enlisted as a child spy). So I made sure that whatever other sneaky things he did, Telemakos would not be a thief. He even says so, rather coldly, at one point when his emperor suggests he consider sleight-of-hand as a means of proof. This all falls apart at the end of The Empty Kingdom when he does steal something rather important. But there is a cultural precedent which I did not make up that leads him to this action, and a whole lot of backstory set up to make it the obvious thing for him to do. When he comes face to face with the king he has cheated—not the same one as in The Sunbird—he gets instantly accused, ‘You told me once that you are not a thief!’

Megan Whalen Turner was one of the first readers for The Sunbird—Sharyn November, my editor, is a friend of MWT’s and sent her a copy of the manuscript. She made a few small editorial suggestions and I decided against following them because they seemed to me things that were characteristic of Megan Whalen Turner’s writing, but not of Elizabeth Wein’s. So we maintained a cordial but very distant relationship, all our communication brokered by a third party! She was busy with her writing and her young family, and I was busy with mine.

(spoiler warning for The Queen of Attolia and The Lion Hunter)
Halfway through writing The Lion Hunter, I read The Horn Book review of The Queen of Attolia. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Megan Whalen Turner had a new book out, a sequel to The Thief, and in it her hero got his hand cut off.

I’d just spent about six months adjusting to the fact that my own young hero Telemakos had just lost an arm.

It made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It was such a ridiculous coincidence, that we’d both disable our heroes in the same way. (end of spoilers) And of course, since MWT had done it first, it was going to look like I got the idea from her. And also of course, I knew I was going to love this book, too. It took me a while to decide whether or not I’d read it right away—I didn’t want to be influenced by it. But after only a week or two I knew I wouldn’t be able to wait till I’d finished writing my own book before I read the new one by MWT.

So I did. And I was glad I did. Because I knew now that our superficially similar heroes were going in their own directions, following their own terrible destinies, and living their own action-packed and exhausting lives.

I confess that I haven’t read A Conspiracy of Kings, and the reason for that is exactly the same reason I dithered over picking up The Queen of Attolia. I am worried that once again our creative intrigue is going to overlap. Lleu, the legitimate heir to my own quasi-historical kingdom, has been installed as a slave in a hedge-lord’s court since the publication of a short story called ‘Fire’ in 1993 in Writers of the Future Vol. IX. The story of how Telemakos finds him and restores him to his kingdom… Well, I have no doubt it won’t resemble the search for Sophos. But I’d just as soon keep myself in blissful ignorance until my own manuscript is safely in the hands of a reliable editor.

Megan Whalen Turner is my hero and my advocate. She has championed my own books, in print and on line, without ever having met me or spoken to me; our body of written work runs nearly parallel in terms of output. Apparently we both procrastinate with knitting needles. It’s a pleasure to join this celebration of her exquisitely crafted novels!

I’ll finish off with a reading recommendation that I haven’t seen here yet, and which anyone who is a committed fan of MWT ought to consider must-reads: the books of Mary Renault. Specifically, to begin with, I’d recommend The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea, which are about the Greek hero Theseus, his defeat of the Minotaur and his doomed marriage to Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons (or King, as her courtiers call her). Seriously, you guys WILL LOVE these books. The King Must Die in particular is a gripping tale of not-quite-doomed youth fighting against a corrupt older generation and winning. The writing is beautiful and if Telemakos is Gen-in-Africa, then Theseus is, well, Gen-in-Ancient-Greece.

Mary Renault’s Alexander trilogy—about the life of Alexander the Great—would probably also appeal. These titles are Fire from Heaven, The Persian Boy, and Funeral Games. Fire from Heaven, about Alexander’s childhood, is probably my favourite. It has the bonus appeal of featuring Hephaestion, Alexander’s lifelong friend and soulmate.

Happy reading!

Thank you for the guest post and the recommendations, EWein! I am mighty curious about this Gen-in-Ancient-Greece character that you speak of. I suspect several Sounisians have already read Elizabeth Wein’s novels. If you haven’t picked them up, what are you waiting for? Are there any other characters out there that remind you of our favorite Thief? I know Tiegirl from Sounis calls Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan as Gen-in-Space.

85 thoughts on “Queen’s Thief Week: Guest Post by Elizabeth Wein

  1. Yay! As a huge fan of both of your books, this post makes me so happy! 🙂 Also, I’ve been meaning to read Mary Renault, but her books may have just been bumped to the top of the list.

      • I knew what you meant! Thank you! It is quite nice to see names I recognize from other blogs and Goodreads turning up here. Clearly our literary tastes are all pretty similar!

      • Ewein–yes, it is fun! I feel like Chachic got a bunch of my favorite writers, to talk about one of my other favorite writers. 🙂 How could it not be great?

    • *high five*

      I love EWein and MWT too. As a fellow fangirl, I’m sure you fully understand how brilliantly awesome this guest post is. 😛 EWein has also convinced me to read Mary Renault! I need to meet this Gen-in-Ancient-Greece person and I love books that have mythology in them.

      • It’s my fault, Chachic, if you don’t have a more recent picture. It has only lately dawned on me (I know, I know) that I should have one up on my website if I want people to use a newer one instead of an older one. I’ll get to it . . . eventually.

      • I did look in your website and saw the WHALEn icon instead of an actual picture. Since I posted pictures of the writers of all the other guest posts, I decided to just grab the one from Goodreads. I don’t think the picture is a big deal though? 😛

  2. Such an interesting post! Thank you, Ms. Wein, for participating in Chachic’s excellent QT Week!

    And I would just like to second the Miles Vorkosigan rec (and yes, he is very much a Gen-like character, albeit much nicer and less of a compulsive liar).

    • You’re very welcome. I’m honored to have been asked to participate!

      And yes, Miles, is a similar kind of character. I think, like Telemakos, he is so much *himself* it’s not really fair to compare him to Gen, but maybe what we really like about these characters is their combination of heroics with humanity? Against all odds they always do their best to rise to the occasion, and usually overcome the odds. But they remained flawed and human at the same time, and we can relate to them. (And secretly hope we’d be able to rise to the occasion ourselves, in the same way, if we had to.)

    • I think they’re all in the same continuum if you will, and it’s easy to compare them especially to recommend to other fans. But yes, they are their own characters, very much so, which I actually think is part of the attraction.

  3. Did I have editorial suggestions for The Sunbird? I don’t remember. As I recall, I thought it was astonishing and perfect the first time I read it. Sharyn told me I would like it and she’s never been so right. And yes, Sharyn has been my ambassador for years, sending me your books and I hope passing my compliments back in return. I circle your books a bit warily, too and don’t read them when I am writing my own. I’ve read Catherine Fisher’s Corbenic and Incarceron, but never her Oracle books, for the same reason. I’m not sure I’ll be able to read Melina’s Froi for a while, either. Poor me.

    I reeled a little when you mentioned your fourteen-year old daughter after Angie’s post. Surely, not fourteen? Wasn’t she just pitching herself off the elementary school playground equipment just last year?

    And Holy Cats, WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT LLEU? Honestly, I jumped up and ran around the dining room table. Twice.

    • I circle your books a bit warily, too and don’t read them when I am writing my own.

      Looks like it goes both ways? I think I have to look up Catherine Fisher’s Oracle books. And maybe you can read Melina’s The Piper Son even if you can’t read Froi?

      I had the SAME reaction about Lleu. I replied to EWein’s email with something like “LLEU IS ALIVE?!” I need to read the Fire short story and someone needs to publish the next book about Telemakos.

    • gah, I am obliged to be away from my computer for the next 6 hours rather than respond to these comments while you’re all awake.

      mwt, your comments were cosmetic and *stylistic*. (Actually, there was one technical one which I think I followed, but can’t really remember.) It was *really interesting* to see how little tweaks would have made the language sound different. Of course it was 10 years ago, so we probably both write considerably differently to our own selves now.

      I have more to say but it will have to wait – sigh!

      • I had to step out of the house to meet up friends for dinner and was counting the hours that I will be away from the computer. I kept thinking that I’m still in the middle of writing a post for this blog event and I haven’t even replied to all the comments yet.

        *waits patiently for anything else that you’d like to add to this thread*

    • I don’t know how many readers I *lost* because they saw the trailer for A Coalition of Lions at the end of The Winter Prince and went, ‘eh. Lleu’s dead, I’m not reading any more.’ And here was this short story that had been published 10 years earlier in which he was captured by Saxons after the battle of Camlan. But if everyone in his family had known he was alive I couldn’t have written The
      Sunbird, right? Because they would have all run off to find Lleu. An author’s gotta do what an author’s gotta do.

      Yes, Sharyn certainly has *always* generously passed your comments along – and many of your youngest son’s comments, too (although those were not about me, thank goodness!). I have an odd little window into your life. It is kind of funny to be having a direct exchange at last, even if it is ‘brokered’ by chachic!

      I am, as I may have implied in the comments to your own post, in awe and admiration of your policy of silence. I have a really hard time keeping my comments to myself.

      • I can’t believe you lost readers because of that. Shame on you, fickle readers! I never had a problem with Lleu being dead, I don’t know why. Maybe because I read The Sunbird and the Mark of Solomon duology first? So I knew about Lleu through his family’s point of view.

        You’ve never had a direct exchange with MWT, even through email? Two favorite authors have connected because of my blog? AWESOME! *does happy little dance*

      • I think we have exchanged a very brief comment or two once upon a time in Sounis, but I seem to remember THAT as being initiated by Sharyn November. So no, we don’t really know each other except as a distant mutual admiration society.

      • Yes, with Chachic and the internet, all things are possible! I’ve talked to more authors in the last week than I have in the last year! Thank you, Chachic.

      • You know, I didn’t like Lleu all that much. I was quite happy to have Goewin as the focus of Coalition – yay! – and had the feeling Medraut had suffered enough anyway (In Winter Prince and Coalition). So it’s fine to know that Lleu is alive, but I don’t really need a focus on him. But as you said – if you add Telemakos to the mix, I’ll follow him along ^^.

      • You know, I didn’t like Lleu all that much.

        HAH! and that is because he’s such a pompous pain-in-the-butt. I am glad to hear it. It is true that I was taken in by his glamor in my callow youth, but Telemakos is the apple of my eye. (See, look, you have made me talk about my characters.)

      • Telemakos is the apple of my eye.

        Yay Telemakos! He’s my favorite. I may be biased because I got introduced to EWein’s books through The Sunbird and then the Mark of Solomon duology because those were the ones that were available here. Dear EWein’s publisher, please publish the latest Lion Hunters novel because we need more Telemakos in our lives.

      • “(See, look, you have made me talk about my characters.)”
        I’m sneaky that way – it’s probably because you know me a bit better ^^.
        OH and I’m relieved that you wanted that reaction to Lleu at that age!

      • Dare I say that Medraut is kind of my favorite? Telemakos is a very close second and Goewin also has a large share of my heart.

  4. Thanks for the great post! So intrigued by the thought of a new Telemokos book…..

    I was going to recommend The King Must Die myself!!! It’s a favorite of mine that my husband just read it for the first time last week, and pointed out to me what a good one it is for MWT fans….it was so obvious once he said that.

    • Charlotte, yay you’re also a Telemakos fan! I really can’t wait to read the next book. Hey, are you planning to get Code Name Verity?

      Okay, looks like I really need to read The King Must Die! I’ve already inquired about in the local bookstore and they have a copy, just had it transferred to the branch nearest to me.

      • I really hope you like them. I think I like the first one the best, but I also love the beginning of Bull from the Sea, where he’s kind of homesick for the excitement and cameraderie of being a bull-leaper. It rings very true to me (it reminds me strongly of post-war fighter pilots!). And I LOVE the Amazons.

        happy reading!

      • I was with two girlfriends when I bought the books yesterday and they both said they’d like to borrow them after I’m done because they’re interested in Greek mythology as well. Ooh Amazons, I don’t think I’ve read a book that has them in it?

  5. Ah!! I’ve seen Elizabeth Wein’s books recommended before, but I’ve never been more interested until now. I’ve gotta add those in my books in my TBR pile now!

    • thank you Elizabeth! (that is a *different Elizabeth*. It is not me blowing my own horn.)

      but I am very grateful for the shout-out and I *love* the trailer too!

      • D’Oh! I realized the Elizabeth problem as soon as I hit “enter.” (We had four Elizabeths at FSG/Macmillan working on my forthcoming novel. Head spinning!)

    • I love that trailer, it’s one of the best book trailers out there. I think the music and the format goes well with the book’s synopsis. It doesn’t reveal too much but it makes you curious enough to read the book.

  6. Thank you for such an interesting post Ms. Wein! Chachic has been recommending your books for as long as I can remember. I will definitely get to them soon.:)

    Those Mary Renault books sound great! I’ve heard about her, but never really looked for her books. But the moment I read “Gen-in-Ancient-Greece”, I was sold.:)

    • Celina, I hope you get to read EWein’s books soon! Let me know when you’re done so we can discuss them. 🙂

      See, I think we use the labels “Gen-in-______” mostly to convince fellow fans to read the books. I think that’s why I initially thought of calling Telemakos “Gen-in-Africa.” I don’t usually read sci-fi either but I made an exception in Miles Vorkosigan’s case because he’s “Gen-in-space.”

    • You’re very welcome. I’m so pleased Chachic asked me to participate in this amazing on-line lit-fest, because it’s given me a chance to meet and chat with so many other authors and readers – I often feel as though I live in a vacuum most of the time. It’s been a really fun week!

      • EWein, you make it sound like you’re a reclusive author! Seriously, I love that you and MWT have been really active in replying to comments for Queen’s Thief Week. It makes me sad that the blog event has ended.

      • working at home at my desk all day means I don’t get much interaction with “colleagues,” though of course I have normal social interaction outside of “working hours.” I would be lost without the internet!

        This blog event was wonderful. I’m so happy I got to participate in it!

      • I admit that while sit around biting my tongue, I really appreciate all the authors who don’t, which is yes, self-serving. I know you aren’t surprised. I love reading their posts and thought-provoking conversations. As you said somewhere else, Elizabeth, it’s funny having a window into someone’s life. Also . . . if I could be as entertaining as Sarah Rees Brennan on a regular basis, I might blog, too.

      • How much to be available is a plaguing question, which is why MWT’s post was so interesting to me — in the same week that John Green (along with his brother) is putting on some of the best author “shows” there are on this side of the pond. (I’d prefer to follow Megan’s model–or maybe even further, E.B. White’s!–but the pressure is in the other direction.)

    • You’re welcome! I had such an amazing time the whole week, I still have a Queen’s Thief Week hangover. Thank you so much for the guest post and all the comments, MWT.

  7. Boy, I wish I’d been following this all week! (And you’ve got a new follower, Chachic — Anyone who loves the Queen’s Thief series this much is my kind of reader.) It’s so fun to peek at a conversation between Elizabeth Wein and Megan Whalen Turner! I love both your books! Write on!

    And I am going right now to check out The King Must Die. Thanks for the recommendation! When the right people talk, I listen.

    • Sondy, welcome to Chachic’s Book Nook! Glad you’re enjoying the Queen’s Thief Week posts. 🙂 I had such a great time with this blog event and all the posts and comments have made me really happy. I love that you’re both an EWein and MWT fan! They can never have enough fans and I love promoting their books. Are you looking forward to reading Code Name Verity?

      I couldn’t help but buy copies of both The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea when I saw EWein recommend them. So excited to read both!

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  9. I’ll be glad for more E.Wein whatever – especially if the World War II books sell well enough that other projects get published – but it IS more fun for me to read about the Arthurian stories, because as a German history teacher reading about the horrors of WWII is ever present anyway. Not to mention that my mother had to flee from East-Prussia as a 13-year-old, etc. – I guess it is just “too close to home” in many ways.

    • I’ll be glad for more E.Wein whatever -> THIS! I love her Arthurian series as well. I want to read that book about Telemakos and Lleu. Even if I know next to nothing about the horrors of WWII, it’s still not as easy thing for me to read. I’m not a big fan of war novels but of course I made an exception for Code Name Verity. Oh wow, that must have been such a scary experience for your mom!

      • Even with the few tales she has told about it – it is just not relatable. You listen and wonder in awe at their luck and gumption and sheer chance of survival. It has given her the outlook on life that most everything else in life is survivable as long as one has one’s health.

      • Your mom is tough! I can imagine how unbelievable her story must have been. My lolo and lola (grandparents) have some stories about WWII back when they lived in the province but they’re probably nothing compared to what your mom had to go through.

    • Yes, Lleu is alive! There’s even a short story about him. Felt the same way when I first found out about it. Telemakos and Lleu will meet in EWein’s next Arthurian novel! I really can’t wait to read it.

      I believe I’ve seen that Telemakos fanart before. I think it looks great. 🙂

      LOL the posts will always be here so you can go back and check them out even though the event is over. I’ll think about making it a yearly event. 😛 Rosie, you should read Code Name Verity. It’s not yet out in the US but you can order the UK edition from the Book Depository.

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