No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, March 29, 2010

2010/25: The Queen of Attolia -- Megan Whalen Turner

She was the shadow princess, dull and quiet. She waited with every appearance of passivity as a funeral was arranged for her father and a wedding for herself. Then, at the wedding feast, while the lords and ladies of her court looked on, Attolia poisoned her bridegroom. (p.227)

Second in the trilogy* that began with The Thief, whose hero Gen (Eugenides) finds himself, at the beginning of The Queen of Attolia, the captive of the eponymous ruler -- a cruel and merciless young woman who cannot afford compassion if she's to maintain her position as ruler of Attolia and rival to Eugenides' cousin, the queen of Eddis. (Rulers take the names of their countries, so the queen of Attolia is referred to throughout simply as 'Attolia'.)

Eddis, on Eugenides' return to his homeland, won't permit him to sink into apathy. She bids him steal her something precious: peace. What she doesn't realise (and probably nor does he) is that he has already stolen something else, something that will affect the changing balance of power between Attolia, Eddis and the other nations vying for supremacy in this quasi-Mediterranean world.

There are some grim scenes in this novel, and some thoroughly twisty plotting: it's a far darker book than The Thief. In a world where the gods are, if not omnipresent or omnipotent, at least accessible to their human worshippers, Eugenides has plenty of questions to ask them. Is he merely their puppet? Is there a purpose to all he's lost and what he's gained?

The two queens, Eddis and Attolia, are well-balanced counterparts: both strong and powerful women in different ways, both fairly young but already experienced in statecraft, and both concerned with Eugenides and his fate. Perhaps the nature of Attolia's concern, when revealed, comes as too much of a surprise -- but I'd rather be surprised than find a novel predictable, and it does make sense, both for the character(s) and for the plot.

Turner's writing is smooth and unpretentious: it fits well with the classical flavour of the setting. It's not the Greece of myth and legend: the geography, politics, gender roles are different, but there's still a Helen who provoked a devastating war.

*actually a quartet now -- A Conspiracy of Kings, following The King of Attolia, was published ... er, last week.

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