skygiants: Moril from the Dalemark Quartet playing the cwidder (composing hallelujah)
[personal profile] skygiants
I have spent the last five days rereading through Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief books at the rate of one a day, and doing very little else!

If you've missed them, the long arc of the Queen's Thief series features the three warring alt!Grecian kingdoms of Sounis, Eddis and Attolia getting their act together to avoid being absorbed by an alt!Babylonian empire. The books are heavy on well-researched worldbuilding, political complexity, and third-act twists; they are light on divine influence, though the gods do have a plan and they would rather like the protagonists to stop whining about it. Books include:

The Thief: A magus, his two apprentices, a soldier and a thief go on a life-changing field trip to steal a divine king-making relic, and Megan Whalen Turner shows off her unreliable first-person narration.

The Queen of Attolia: All three kingdoms start a slapfight with each other while the series protagonist sulks in his room, except when he's stealing important political figures from other kingdoms. Megan Whalen Turner would like you to know she can dance deftly around significant information just as easily in omniscient third as she can in first.

The King of Attolia: A sweet, honest guardsman punches his king in the face, and proceeds to regret every single one of his life choices. Megan Whalen Turner's like "look, this time I'm using limited third and telling you EXACTLY what my protagonist thinks and believes at any given time, it's not MY fault he only knows like 20% of what's actually going on."

A Conspiracy of Kings: The heir to the kingdom of Sounis is like "I COULD sort out this civil war by becoming king OR I could do hard labor for the rest of my life and honestly the latter sounds more appealing?" Megan Whalen Turner returns to first person but is too busy examining questions of ethics around violence in the political sphere to put all that much effort into setting up twists.


On a reread: dang, Conspiracy of Kings is dark! Queen of Attolia is also, admittedly, fairly dark -- not even much for Gen losing a hand as for Eddis grimly and soberly choosing war, despite knowing the costs -- but it honestly does not compare. And King of Attolia is in some ways almost the most idealistic of the books; it's a book-long exercise in proving that you don't always have to choose the darkest path in order to retain power. "Okay, Becca, but in that book Irene does torture her father figure and nearly executes almost everyone she cares about -" YEAH, BUT THE POINT OF ALL THAT IS THAT EVERYONE LEARNS A VALUABLE LESSON NOT JUST ABOUT KINGSHIP BUT ALSO ABOUT FRIENDSHIP, OKAY. The important lesson that Sophos learns in Conspiracy of King is that no matter how hard you try to escape from it, sometimes violence is the only answer and even if you consider the costs unacceptable, there's no way to avoid them. There's a passage early in Conspiracy where Sophos/Sounis thinks about poor Berrone's habitual acts of kindliness, such as freeing caged birds and saving kittens, and how nobody has the heart to tell her that nothing she does changes anything for the better -- to me, that's about the bleakest passage in the whole series. I do like lots of things about Conspiracy, but it will probably remain my least favorite for that reason.

Anyway, yesterday I finally got to the point where I could read the just-published new book, Thick as Thieves. I am happy to report that Thick of Thieves is way less bleak! We're back in life-changing field trip territory and it's GREAT.

I do love all the books but it was sort of refreshing to have a couple of protagonists who are not royalty, and, while significant in the grand scheme of things, are not wrestling with the Great Burdens of Power. Instead they're just going on a relatively straightforward journey to learn the nature and value of personal freedom, and also love, as expressed through the medium of Gilgamesh fanfic! Two great tastes that go great together.

([personal profile] shati: does eugenides get annoyed gods and kamet get his OTP shipping him back?
me: yes, that's exactly what's happening here. also, i'm adding that to my booklog.
[personal profile] shati: anyway that is exactly what eugenides and kamet respectively deserve)

The only thing about the plot that particularly surprised me was that the guy(/god) who leads Kamet to the docks at the very beginning wasn't sent by Eugenides as part of Operation: Steal Kamet's Entire Life Through Ingenious Lies, as I had initially assumed. That said, at this point in the series, the twists aren't really the point anymore; "yes, Eugenides chessmastered it" should not be a surprise, the point is what we all learn about ourselves while counting down until the point where Eugenides reveals that he chessmastered it!

I vastly enjoyed Kamet and Kamet's POV, and also the difference between Costis in Costis-POV and Costis in Kamet-POV. Costis: "I'm just your average guy, nothing special about me!" Kamet: "did I mention this Attolian is SIX FEET TALL and SUPER JACKED, also EXTREMELY PRETTY." I'm very glad that Costis got a nice vacation after his very stressful time in King of Attolia. Sure, there were some bumps in the road, and it was all very stressful for Kamet, but Costis is an outdoorsy type! He likes hiking and fighting lions! Anyway what I'm saying is I'm pretty sure that Costis would rather have been kicked in the balls by his bosom companion Kamet A HUNDRED TIMES than face one more agonizing Attolian royal makeout session. I hope the fact that Costis and Kamet have gone off to spy blissfully for Attolia together in another country doesn't mean we'll never see them again in the series!

Date: 2017-05-25 03:37 am (UTC)
sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
From: [personal profile] sovay
Anyway, yesterday I finally got to the point where I could read the just-published new book, Thick as Thieves.

AAAAAH WAIT NOBODY TOLD ME THERE WAS A NEW BOOK HOLY BLAP I MUST FIND AND READ THIS.

Date: 2017-05-25 04:52 am (UTC)
sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
From: [personal profile] sovay
I took the excuse to complete my collection!

It's a good excuse!

NOW I OWN ALL OF THEM

I OWN ALL OF THEM EXCEPT THE ONE I DIDN'T KNOW EXISTED.

Date: 2017-07-07 12:25 am (UTC)
sovay: (I Claudius)
From: [personal profile] sovay
and did NOT own King of Attolia which is probably my favorite, still (though Thick as Thieves is now a close contender.)

I reserve a place of affection for The Thief, which I read the year it came out (I HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING THIS SERIES FOR MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS HOLY BLAP IT'S AS BAD AS THE KENCYRATH), but otherwise The King of Attolia has traditionally been my favorite also, I think for the reasons you pinpoint in your post. Thick as Thieves is just incredibly charming: it's a high-stakes political thriller and can be legitimately summarized as such, but it's also a picaresque love story road trip with a mythological spine and adventure tropes busting out all over the place, like a two-person version of the Anabasis with hilarity on the side. I would have been sad and a little surprised if it had been a pile of Orientalist clichés, but that's always a danger when your antagonist country is an Eastern empire, especially a militaristic one with chattel slavery, and I think Thick as Thieves sidesteps it. I think it's good about its handling of slavery, too, as in the scene where Costis wants to know why Kamet didn't defend himself against an oncoming assassin and Kamet can't even figure out where to start explaining why it is that slaves who want to survive in his culture learn not to let themselves think that way about weapons. But the preeminent emotional aftereffect is still awwwww and that's just impressive, actual plot considering.

Date: 2017-05-25 06:43 am (UTC)
ironymaiden: (Belle)
From: [personal profile] ironymaiden
OMG please come to [community profile] queensthief I would like it to be active.

Date: 2017-05-25 10:15 am (UTC)
schneefink: River walking among trees, from "Safe" (Default)
From: [personal profile] schneefink
Seeing Costis from the outside was super interesting. I think I missed about 80% of the hints about the gods and I almost missed that they showed up at all, I'll need to read it again. Such a hardship.

Date: 2017-05-28 04:32 am (UTC)
conuly: (Default)
From: [personal profile] conuly
But if he's good at looking like a wine merchant, how are you going to know he's really a god?

Date: 2017-05-25 01:44 pm (UTC)
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
From: [personal profile] sophia_sol
does eugenides get annoyed gods and kamet get his OTP shipping him back?

INCREDIBLE, I didn't think of it that way but that's exactly what happens and it's beautiful

(also I appreciate all your thoughts about these books)

Date: 2017-05-25 02:22 pm (UTC)
issenllo: strawberry thief print from William Morris (Default)
From: [personal profile] issenllo
There is a new book. Must go get. I love this series.

Date: 2017-05-25 03:51 pm (UTC)
musesfool: a sword (honour demands it)
From: [personal profile] musesfool
does eugenides get annoyed gods and kamet get his OTP shipping him back?

Ahahahaha that's exactly what happens! *g*

Date: 2017-05-26 04:07 pm (UTC)
musesfool: a sword (honour demands it)
From: [personal profile] musesfool
Ha! Yes.

Date: 2017-05-25 03:55 pm (UTC)
whimsyful: arang_1 (Default)
From: [personal profile] whimsyful
I have Thick as Thieves on hold at the library, so in the meantime I am impatiently waiting and studiously avoiding the spoilery parts of everyone's reviews.

Date: 2017-05-25 07:56 pm (UTC)
cahn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cahn
I am so torn, part of me wants to go out and get this book immediately so I can read spoilery reviews and squee about it! The other part of me wants to save it because it will be years and years and Years until we get another one...

...I'll probably just compromise by waiting until the hold at the library comes in...

Date: 2017-05-28 04:37 am (UTC)
conuly: (Default)
From: [personal profile] conuly
She might surprise us.

Date: 2017-05-25 09:14 pm (UTC)
lizbee: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lizbee
I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING IN THIS POST.

Kamet: "did I mention this Attolian is SIX FEET TALL and SUPER JACKED, also EXTREMELY PRETTY."

"Clearly he is doing it with the King of Attolia and was sent away for his own safety because he's JUST SO PRETTY!"

That conviction of Kamet's is never actually contradicted, I note.

Date: 2017-05-28 05:24 am (UTC)
conuly: (Default)
From: [personal profile] conuly
*snrk*

Any chance I could post that at [community profile] metaquotes?

Date: 2017-05-28 05:42 am (UTC)
conuly: (Default)
From: [personal profile] conuly

Date: 2017-05-26 01:07 am (UTC)
rymenhild: Manuscript page from British Library MS Harley 913 (Default)
From: [personal profile] rymenhild
But why don't they use their words to say "boyfriend"? There really, really should not be a taboo on homosexuality in either one of their cultures, given the literatures and religions we see. Costis and Kamet should be going right out and having a relationship chat on the page. Why aren't they?

Date: 2017-05-28 12:45 am (UTC)
esmenet: Little!Anthy with swords (Default)
From: [personal profile] esmenet
I'M SO GLAD YOU ENJOYED THIS BOOK TOO! like, conspiracy of kings was alright, but i didn't LIKE it that much?? while thick as thieves may have dethroned queen of attolia as my favorite queen's thief book. kamet and costis' gilgamesh-and-enkidu gay road trip, and all the new stuff about the mede empire and fictional north africa, and the immakuk amd ennikar bits.... it was really good!!

and it was nice to get a book about people who aren't royalty. (which is one of the reasons i didn't mind too much that the romance wasn't explicitly stated -- in queen's thief books it tends to come up mostly in the context of marriage alliances and heirs.)

Date: 2017-05-29 06:52 pm (UTC)
esmenet: rain on the garden that is movie-Akio's grave (rose garden)
From: [personal profile] esmenet
honestly i'm really glad the only reveal we got was gen as the kitchen boy -- and i would have been fine without that one, even. i'm so glad kamet is just, like, a a normal person.

(and it is HILARIOUS to me that while in king of attolia we see costis as, y'know, a normal dude, kind of dumb, completely unable to keep up with all of the intricate political machinations going on around him -- and now through kamet's eyes he's all, like.....big, strong, handsome, can and will fight anything, kills five men with his bare hands, has Depths.... still very much the same character but wow: what a difference not being out of your depth makes!*)

*double hilarious that costis is perfectly absolutely fine being tracked by the emperor's hired killers across an entire empire while hiking through the wilderness with no food and about $2 in pocket money, while protecting someone who's pretty much never been outside an urban area, like, that's just another day at the office, but having to hold even one conversation with eugenides is A Problem

Date: 2017-07-07 12:03 am (UTC)
sovay: (I Claudius)
From: [personal profile] sovay
It turns out Costis is my favorite, I guess. Like I guess I sort of knew that already but now there is absolutely no doubt.

I genuinely like Eugenides and would enjoy another book from his perspective, even though I know that will be astronomically harder on the author now than it was in The Thief. I really want to know how he looks to himself.

Date: 2017-07-07 12:03 am (UTC)
sovay: (I Claudius)
From: [personal profile] sovay
and all the new stuff about the mede empire and fictional north africa

The worldbuilding took several levels this book. I liked how even the maps were in character.

Date: 2017-05-28 01:24 am (UTC)
esmenet: Little!Anthy with swords (Default)
From: [personal profile] esmenet
ALSO: there's a metaphor kamet uses about costis when he thinks costis is dead that explicitly parallels two used by attolia about eugenides during queen of attolia, which is super cool.

(i love.....that kamet and costis' version of ennikar literally dying and having to be rescued from the actual land of the dead is 'costis falls down a well and kamet has to pull him out')

Date: 2017-05-29 06:35 pm (UTC)
esmenet: Little!Anthy with swords (Default)
From: [personal profile] esmenet
they think they're immakuk and ennikar, and they're not wrong, but they're the HIGH SCHOOL AU OF IMMAKUK AND ENNIKAR

Date: 2017-05-30 06:32 am (UTC)
starlady: Raven on a MacBook (Default)
From: [personal profile] starlady
I loved this book so much. I straight-up thought the wine merchant at the beginning was Eugenides' father the minister of war.

Date: 2017-07-06 11:42 pm (UTC)
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
From: [personal profile] sovay
I just read Thick as Thieves this afternoon, so I can finally comment on this post!

I do like lots of things about Conspiracy, but it will probably remain my least favorite for that reason.

I found A Conspiracy of Kings valuable in terms of the series because there needed to be at least one book where no one could brilliantly strategize their way out of a bunch of bad options and the best of a bunch of bad options was still actually quite bad, but that doesn't mean that I enjoyed it. I had noticed even before this section of my library went into storage that it was the only one of the series I hadn't re-read.

and also love, as expressed through the medium of Gilgamesh fanfic!

With a side order of Ištar's Descent. There's a passage in the story of Immakuk rescuing Ennikar from the land of Death (which is more than Gilgamesh managed for Enkidu) that is almost a verbatim translation from the epic, where the goddess journeys

ina bīti etê šubat dIrkalla
ana bīti ša ēribušu lā aṣû
ana ḫārrani ša alaktaša lā tayyarat
ana bīti ša ēribušu zummū nūra
ašar epru bubūssunu akalšunu ṭiṭṭu

to the dark house, the seat of Irkalla,
to the house whose entrants do not come out again,
to the road whose way is without return,
to the house whose entrants are deprived of light,
where dust is their nourishment and clay their food.


A lot of the rest is Mesopotamian remix as much as the myths of the Little Peninsula are remixed Greek, but that passage leapt out at me. I am only a little sad there was no shout-out to the zombies of the underworld.

shati: does eugenides get annoyed gods and kamet get his OTP shipping him back?

Even the chance-met slave who aids and betrays them reads them as a couple! Their relationship is such a done deal that they don't even have a conversation about it: Costis simply turns up on the docks with his kit bag on his shoulder and says that he'll look pretty silly if Kamet doesn't actually want him to follow him across half the known world and Kamet doesn't say he doesn't, because he doesn't. "Idiot. Us."

The only thing about the plot that particularly surprised me was that the guy(/god) who leads Kamet to the docks at the very beginning wasn't sent by Eugenides as part of Operation: Steal Kamet's Entire Life Through Ingenious Lies, as I had initially assumed.

Same: I was frustrated with myself for not recognizing him from earlier in the series because the soldierly bearing, the scars, and the missing eye felt like obvious tells, but I haven't re-read any of the books since 2014 and I wasn't going to bet against him having been introduced in A Conspiracy of Kings anyway. I didn't clock his actual identity until Kamet told the story of the battle with Unse-Sek. Ennikar more or less announced himself when he appeared, but I don't blame Kamet for not noticing: he thought Costis was dead.

Costis: "I'm just your average guy, nothing special about me!" Kamet: "did I mention this Attolian is SIX FEET TALL and SUPER JACKED, also EXTREMELY PRETTY."

That was delightful. I'm waiting for someone else's perspective in the next book to tell me what Kamet looks like, because all he ever mentions about himself is nearsightedness and occasional scars.

I am a little disappointed that the Persian War has not yet happened in this history, because it has been almost happening ever since The Queen of Attolia, but I assume it will be worth it when it arrives.
Edited (close-tags are the devil) Date: 2017-07-06 11:46 pm (UTC)

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