Queen’s Thief Week: Giveaway

Hello everyone! What do you think of the Queen’s Thief Week festivities so far? I hope you’re all enjoying the posts. 🙂 I can’t wait to publish the rest of the guest posts sitting in my drafts section right now. In the meantime, here’s a giveaway for all of you. One lucky winner will win a book of his or her choice from this list of recommendations for Queen’s Thief fans, as long as it’s available in the Book Depository. The winner can even choose a book that has been recommended in the comments section. Either that or choose one of Megan Whalen Turner’s books (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings, Instead of Three Wishes). Winner will be chosen randomly, giveaway ends on January 29 and is open to wherever the Book Depository ships. To join, leave a comment stating what title you’d choose if you win. I would also appreciate it if you can spread the word not just about this giveaway but about the Queen’s Thief Week event.

Here are some of my suggestions, all of which are available from the Book Depository (yes, this is me trying to influence your choice):

Queen’s Thief Week: Guest Post by Checkers from Sounis

Photo taken by Ian Villar

Checkers is one of the moderators of Sounis, the LiveJournal community for Megan Whalen Turner fans. I found Sounis shortly after I discovered the series. I was delighted to find a community, where everyone was just as obsessed fascinated about the series as I was. I lurked for a bit but eventually decided to start posting and commenting because everyone is so nice and friendly over there. Before I started this blog, I mostly got the recommendations for the books that I read from Sounis. Queen’s Thief fans need something to tide us over while we’re waiting for the next book to be released. Here’s Checkers with a list of recommended titles that will appeal to readers who fell in love with Megan Whalen Turner’s writing.

Every now and then, we’re fortunate enough to read a book that sticks with us for a long time. They touch our hearts, delight and surprise us, and make us feel emotionally invested. It doesn’t happen very often. The first books I felt that way about were two I read during a summer of classics-reading. I must have been about 10, and the books were Heidi and Black Beauty. I can still remember how those books made me feel — I ached for the characters, and wanted so badly for things to turn out all right for them.

When we find these favorites, we reread them, memorize them, dream about them. Usually, these books have characters so compelling, so wonderful, that we become — at least a little — obsessed with them.

Then, there are characters that do all that, AND make us want to draw pictures of them, dress in costumes like them, write about them. Create songs about. Build legos of. Name pets after. Celebrate on license plates.

Oh, it’s you, Eugenides.

Recognize that line? If so, have I got a fan site for you.

If you’ve read Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series, and find yourself reluctant to leave Eugenides and his world, come and visit the LiveJournal site called Sounis. If you immediately identified that line above from the end of The Thief, you’re sure to fit in. Sounis is a friendly community of fans who have read and loved the series. It’s great to make those connections, because the first thing said by most people, when they arrive at the site, is “I love these books and want to talk about them, but I don’t know anyone else who has read them!”

Here’s my theory on that. Megan’s books are hard. They’re full of layers and demand a lot of a reader. Oh sure, anyone can read them, but it’s tougher to “get” them. It’s easy to miss the subtleties the first — or second —time around. Rereading and discussion have helped us make sense of all the twisty meanings, and analyze details we might have missed. However, in addition to being a little obsessed, fans of Megan’s books are also smart. They’re up to this kind of challenge.

That’s because another thing members of Sounis share is a love of great books—complex books with a lot of heart. Over the years there have been dozens of discussions about what everyone has been reading. What’s remarkable is how similar their tastes are. Are you waiting impatiently for the next book in the Queen’s Thief series? Chances are, you’ll like these books, too. All these books, series, and authors have been recommended frequently by Megan or by the folks at the Sounis site (with a few of my own favorites sneaked in, too). If you like the Queen’s Thief books, you’ll probably recognize some of your own favorites here, too. Feel free to leave comments about other titles or series you think we’d all like, while we wait very impatiently for the next book about Eugenides. Then head over to Sounis to introduce yourself.

The Bartimaeus books by Jonathan Stroud
Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill
Diana Wynne Jones’ books, especially Howl’s Moving Castle (watch for a tribute line found in both The Thief and The King of Attolia)
Cindy Pon’s books
C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series
Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles (an adult series—every time you think things can’t get any grimmer, they do. But, oh Lymond!)
Dragon Bones by Patricia Briggs
Demon’s Lexicon Trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan
Elizabeth Marie Pope’s books
Elizabeth Wein’s books
Frances Burney’s Journals and Letters
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Georgette Heyer’s books
Graceling and sequels by Kristin Cashore
Green Knowe books by L. M. Boston
Holly Black’s books
The Hotel Under the Sand by Kage Baker
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Joan Aiken’s books
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Legend of Eli Monpress series by Rachel Aaron
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge
Maggie Stiefvater’s books
Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
The Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling (also an adult series)
The Pagan Chronicles by Catherine Jinks
Patricia A. McKillip’s books
Patricia Wrede’s books
Robin McKinley’s books
Rosemary Sutcliff’s books, especially The Eagle of the Ninth (watch for a familiar piece of jewelry)
Shannon Hale’s books
Sherwood Smith’s books
Some of the Kinder Planets by Tim Wynne-Jones
Squire’s Tales series by Gerald Morris
Susan Cooper’s books
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillippa Pearce
The Vorkosigian Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold (Miles will steal your heart, but his adventures are written for adults, not kids)

Thank you, Checkers! Why am I not surprised that I’ve read (or at least heard about) most of the books in this list? 🙂 If you’re on Goodreads, Sounis has a spin-off group over there with bookshelves filled with recommendations. Also, feel free to vote on this Goodreads list of recommendations. What are some other suggestions that you can add to Checkers list? Feel free to recommend books that you think fellow Queen’s Thief fans will enjoy!

Queen’s Thief Week: Guest Post by Sherwood Smith

Like Megan Whalen Turner, I discovered Sherwood Smith back in 2007 through Shannon Hale’s blog. After reading that interview, I went to a local bookstore, grabbed a copy of Crown Duel and promptly fell in love with Meliara, Vidanric and the world of Sartorias-deles. I’ve been a huge fan ever since. I knew that Sherwood loves the Queen’s Thief series because when I was in the States in 2009, I was lucky enough to attend a joint SounisAthanarel meet up.

I asked Sherwood to write a guest post for Queen’s Thief Week and she graciously accepted. Here you are, folks, a review of one of my absolute favorite series from one of my favorite authors. Take note of the warning about spoilers though and only proceed if you’ve read all of the books.

Warning up front: I tried not to be spoilery, but if one is going to riff about four interconnected books, there have to be references to key events.

The Thief and secrets

I first read The Thief when it came out. Right away I knew something was up. In fact, the structure of the opening was sufficiently odd that I had to go back and reread it before I could proceed with the journey. On the reread, the cluebat hit me: Gen (Eugenides, the central character and narrator) was hiding something, probably his relationship with the king. But you know the difference between surprise and suspense: surprise is for both reader and characters, and suspense is when the reader knows what’s coming (or thinks she knows) and the characters don’t.

The structure of the opening suggested to this adult reader that Gen — apparently so open, ruefully honest about many of his shortcomings — was hiding the real truth from the reader, and little clues along the way bolstered the impression. I read happily, because the trope of sekrit identities is one of my favorites, and the writing was so vivid, so full of wry humor, the world so interesting that I could scarcely put the book down to attend to my daily tasks.

Would I have guessed at Gen’s secret had I been a young reader? I doubt it very much. If I’d read this book at age thirteen, I am certain I would have accepted Gen’s pose as an urchin and thief at face value, and thus enjoyed the surprise along with the characters at the end. I think this is one of the signs of a good book — that one can come at it from any age, with the wide spectrum of reading experience, and still find pleasure in it.

The Queen of Attolia vs. Mary Sue

Because I was trying to live three lives (teacher, parent, writer) my reading tended to go through waves. Thus, I read a discussion of The Queen of Attolia before I had a chance to get and read the book. Much of the discussion centered around readers’ shocked reactions to an early event in the story. Many seemed to feel that this event, and the tone overall, was “not for younger readers.”

The debate about what is appropriate for young readers and what isn’t rages on all over the Internet, and I don’t intend to get into it here. Far as I am concerned, young adult books are enjoyed by high schoolers and college students as well as middle schoolers — and adults. Young readers, especially those who love reading, will venture into deeper waters when they feel they are ready.

Anyway, back to the book, and the discussion of the event. Since I’d read this discussion, I knew what was coming. Would I have been shocked out of the book if I hadn’t been? No. The foreshadowing definitely set it up. How about as a kid reader? I don’t think so. I’d read some fairly rough stuff as a kid — Lord of the Flies when I was twelve, for example. I was one of those who ventured into deep waters at an early age. Yes, I did get stung hard a few times, and yes, there are even some books I wish now I had never read, but they might not be the ones you would think, or for reasons you would guess.

Here’s something I’ve noticed in my decades of working with kids. They have a strong sense of justice, bolstered by that tendency to see things in black and white. Most of those youngsters I’ve talked about this book with were united in agreeing on this point: What happened to Gen was earned.

Does that mean he deserved to suffer?

No! Readers adore Gen! My teens weren’t articulate about why the event wasn’t unjust, though they didn’t feel he deserved to suffer, but here’s how I see it.

Many of us (my hand is in the air) love heroic figures, and Gen is definitely heroic. Some people object to heroic figures as unrealistic, and you get pejorative terms like “Mary Sue” and “Marty Stu” thrown around. Well, (rapping my cane on the floor) I was around when Mary Sue was shorthand for Lieutenant Mary Sue — the character representing the author of many Star Trek fan fictions. Sometimes she was drop dead gorgeous, other times she looked exactly like the author, but one thing for certain: everybody on board the Enterprise was in love with her, talked about her, was amazed by her. Scottie, stumped by some engineering crisis, hailed her solution with relief — Spock, presented with a scientific dilemma, turned to her for advice — Captain Kirk tended to lurk around wringing his hands until she responded to his flirtation. Or (this was pre-slash) he and Spock might fight over her.

And, more often than not (because in those days TV episodes had to dial the story back to the starting place because of summer reruns, so nothing ever actually changed), by the story’s end the entire ship of several thousand would be in deep mourning after Lieutenant Mary Sue died heroically saving them.

The important thing is that the author told you that Mary Sue was the best, the brightest, the cutest. Or if the author tried to show you, it meant making everyone else dumb so that Mary Sue could be smarter. It meant making the side characters into stick figures who only existed to look at, talk about, and fall in love with Mary Sue. They gave no indication of lives, loves, wits, motivations of their own.

That’s the true definition of a Mary Sue: the character that the author tells you is the hero. It’s a pleasant kind of wish-fulfillment story, and sometimes we need a good dose of wish-fulfillment. But the author who gives us a hero instead of a wish-fulfillment central character convinces us of the character’s heroism. That means the hero/heroine demonstrates behavior in the face of adversaries as smart as he, or she, is. Most importantly, the story shows us the cost of heroism.

And this is where Gen comes in. In The Thief, Gen largely sails through unscarred, if not completely unscathed. But in The Queen of Attolia, when Gen sets out to do something heroic, he pays the hero’s price. And we are there for every moment of that price, including the emotional fallout. He earned his heroic stature. And that’s one of the things that makes The Queen of Attolia a great book.

Kings and The King of Attolia

The Thief is narrated by Gen. The Queen of Attolia opens with a narrator observing Gen, occasionally giving us a glimpse of his emotions. The narrator of The King of Attolia observes most of the action of the book through the eyes of Costis, a young Attolian who thoroughly dislikes the new king. The readers see Gen from a new perspective as Costis deals with this outlander king and how he will fit in with Attolia’s difficult court.

When I was a kid, I did what many kids (and adults, truth be told) do: divided people into two kinds. My “two kinds” were what I later came to call survivors and normal. Survivors were those who had discovered that the places in life one expects to be safe aren’t necessarily. Survivors could be those who had lived through an earthquake strong enough to tumble school or home — people whose houses had burned down — people who had had war or pestilence sweep through, people whose adult guardians had turned out to be more dangerous than all the above things. People who had lovely safe homes, but lived through hell at school, yet the adults who cared for them seemed to be oblivious. Survivors survived dramatic events, or painfully private, personal ones.

Survivors did not all react the same. In one instance, a family with a pair of twins narrowly escaped a sudden house fire. In after years, one twin talked about the fire a lot, saying it was exciting, even awesome, and ended up as an adrenaline junky, getting into a lot of trouble until finally ending up as a Navy Seal. The other twin could never talk about the fire at all, instead was plagued with horrible nightmares about it, and in later years hated any kind of change or new thing. There was never enough safety, because even locked up at night, with a window escape three feet from the bed, and fire alarms in every room — every wall — there were still those midnight what-ifs. Finally that twin tried escape through drugs, until getting help through a very wise religious counselor.

Now we call that survival thing PTSD, and recognize that not just veterans of wars can suffer from it: anyone can. Including kids. The key word is trauma. My ‘survivors’ were those who had survived trauma. And Gen is a survivor of a whole lot of traumas.

So here he is, a survivor who finds himself king. He has attained the pinnacle of kingship without having progressed to it by the (relatively) safe method of inheritance. Kingship can be a dangerous height to one who rises to it suddenly. The fall can be just as sudden.

In this book, we see the personal as well as the political costs of kingship.

It’s important to emphasize that ‘personal’ because we get a wonderful glimpse of Irene’s and Gen’s marriage, and how two survivors manage to make it work. One of my favorite passages is a quiet moment when Irene and Gen are dancing together. It is a rare scene from her point of view. Take a look at this passage:

Eugenides, minding the pattern with his feet and spinning the queen with one hand, had been pulling out her hairpins one by one when her back was turned. The rest of the pins loosened, and her hair dropped free. It swung out as she spun and the last of the pins bounced and slid across the marble floor.

The queen was several inches taller than Eugenides, and he leaned back to counter her spin. To those watching, it didn’t seem possible that he could succeed, but with one hand, and no visible effort, he defied the laws of the natural world. Phresine, the queen’s senior attendant, watched them from behind the throne as her queen danced like a flame in the wind, and the mercurial king like the weight at the center of the earth. Faster and faster they moved, never faltering, until the music shrilled at an impossible tempo and the pattern gave way to a long spin, each danger reaching in with one hand and out with the other, holding tight lest they fall away from each other, until the music stopped abruptly and the dance ended.

Like those hairpins, Gen skillfully plucks away at Costis’s assumptions and prejudices. Winning this single subject is important to Gen, which demonstrates how he wins over a difficult kingdom.

The Weight of Crowns and A Conspiracy of Kings

With the fourth book, we take yet another step further away from Gen as we return to first person narrative, this time with Sophos, whom we met in the first book. And again we have a first person narrative, alternating with an observer’s third.

For a good part of the book Gen is not present on stage at all, though the effect of his presence is felt, and the consequences of kingship become important in the second half. Also the costs. This book felt to me like it was setting up an arc that will show us Gen’s apotheosis as basileus: no longer can he rely on being the trickster, or use a façade of foolishness as a tactical advantage. That leaves me wondering about the emotional cost Gen is paying, for we get a hint that there is a tremendous personal cost when kings make certain types of decisions.

I look forward to future books exploring that and other questions that occur to me every time I reread the books. Because a great book rewards rereads as well as that first exciting discovery: in great books, there is always something new to discover.

Thank you, Sherwood! I was thrilled when I received this detailed analysis of the series from Sherwood. It highlights some of the reasons why I love MWT’s books. Do you agree or disagree with what Sherwood said? Let’s hear it in the comments!

Queen’s Thief Week: How I Discovered the Series

The Queen’s Thief Week is finally here! *does happy little dance* I’ve been excited for this event for the past few weeks – I even created a #QueensThiefWeek hashtag on Twitter. Starting January 22, up until January 29, I will be hosting a blog event to celebrate one of my favorite series of all time: the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner (MWT). The books in the series are The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia and A Conspiracy of Kings. If you haven’t heard of the series, I urge you to look it up and read the books as soon as you can. Oh but avoid reading summaries for the books because they might contain spoilers. The less you know, the better the reading experience. Then come back here once you’ve read the books so we can discuss them. 🙂 I’m hoping that the Queen’s Thief Week will be a fun event for fans of the series and that it would encourage other readers to pick up the books.

Let’s get down to business. Since this is the first post for the week, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about how we all discovered MWT’s books. I first found out about the series through another favorite author, Shannon Hale. Don’t you love it when a favorite author recommends books that he or she enjoyed reading? It always makes me curious about the recommendations that they mention. Nowadays, whenever I see MWT recommend a book, I go into MUST READ mode. Back in September of 2007, Shannon had a three-part interview with MWT that convinced me to read the Queen’s Thief books as soon as I could. Links: part 1, part 2 and part 3. If you’ve never read the conversation between Shannon and MWT, hurry and check it out. They talk about some fascinating things – what’s it like to be an author, how difficult it is to write while taking care of kids and what’s the proper attire for authors (e.g. capes). I read that interview, looked for MWT’s books the next time I was in a local bookstore and was delighted to discover that they’re available here in the Philippines. Grabbed paperback copies of the first three books (the fourth one wasn’t out at that time) and read them as soon as I could. I fell in love with the series and I remember having a book hangover – I couldn’t stop thinking about the books days after I finished reading them. I have been recommending them to everyone I know ever since.

What about the rest of you, how did you discover the series? Was it recommended by someone or did you discover it by chance? If you haven’t read the series but have heard about it, how did you find out about the books? More importantly, are you planning to read them soon? Feel free to leave a comment! If you’d rather write about ANYTHING related to MWT’s books in your own blog, grab the poster or the button and include it in your post. Let me know when it’s up so I can link it here.

The Queen’s Thief Week: January 22 to 29

One of my absolute favorite series of all time is the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, which I discovered back in 2007. This series is the reason why I love thieves in fiction. I even gave away signed copies of the books December of 2010 because I wanted to share the love. Instead of hosting another giveaway, I thought a week-long blog event is a better way of spreading the word about the series and encouraging more readers to pick up the books. I’m delighted to announce the first ever blog event here in Chachic’s Book Nook: The Queen’s Thief Week, which will occur on January 22 to 29.

The lovely poster was designed by my good friend Chris of Ficsation, based on the cover of the Japanese edition of The Queen of Attolia. Isn’t it beautiful? I know the event is still a few weeks away but I’m announcing it early for several reasons. First, I’m really excited about it and I wanted to share the excitement with you guys! I have guests posts lined up from fellow fans of the series – a couple of bloggers and some favorite authors. The details of the posts still need to be finalized but I have a feeling they’re going to be amazing. Second, there’s enough time for everyone to reread the series before the event. Or if you haven’t read the series, THIS IS YOUR CHANCE! Read the books so you can join the fun. You won’t regret it. Third, I wanted to invite so many bloggers and readers who love the series but I don’t think I can fit everyone in just one week. So here’s what I’m suggesting: if you’re interested in writing ANYTHING related to the series, please grab the poster, include it in your post and publish it anytime within the event’s duration. Send me the link and I promise to include it in round-up posts and will promote it through social networking sites. Oh and I’ll comment, of course.

Comments? Questions? Are you as excited about this as I am? Let me know what you think!