Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series - though perhaps what I should really say is that I am a huge fan of her clever thief Eugenides. Ever since Ms. Turner turned my world upside-down after reading The King of Attolia, I have been waiting none too patiently for another installment of Gen. So it should come as no surprise that I'll admit to being the teeniest bit disappointed upon learning that the bulk of A Conspiracy of Kings follows the bookish Sophos from The Thief instead of Gen. And then I gave myself a mental face-slap and got down to business after reminding myself: it's Megan Whalen Turner and I will follow that woman anywhere she leads.
There is sooo very much that I want to say about A Conspiracy of Kings (all very good) but like Ana over The Book Smugglers said, I'm just not going to here. To do justice to these books, I'm trying to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible since every reader should have the opportunity to take the delicious path of discovery that Megan Whalen Turner lays out for her readers. She parcels out revelations bit by bit and it's one of the main reasons I love these books so much. So I'm going to restrain myself from going on and on about my favorite parts because I want YOU to be able to discover them for yourself. So what are you waiting for? Go read it. Now. You'll thank me later, I promise.
Sophos has never really wanted his life. Next in line to the throne of Sounis, he'd rather spend his days reading poetry than learning how to fight or the best way to converse with an ambassador. But to Sophos' credit, he's still trying to learn all that his father and uncle, the king, want - knowing even as he does so, that he's still a disappointment to them. But when his family is unexpectedly attacked by rebels - his sisters and mother gone and Sophos himself captured and brutalized and sold into slavery - does Sophos find himself relying on his training as a fighter and a leader in order to find the strength to fight for the country he loves.
What I love most about Megan Whalen Turner's books is that she expects a lot from her readers. She expects everyone to be intelligent as Sophos, the Magus, and Gen (although no one really ever could be as smart as Gen). Consequently I find myself often rereading passages so brilliant in their subtly that are never predictable except in their ability to render me speechless. And of course, there are many references to Gen - throwing ink pots and adoring his boots - but Sophos is the real star of A Conspiracy of Kings and he lives up to his role absolutely. Sophos is so genuine and determined and I love his humor and loyalty without hesitation.
Most likely due to his rough upbringing, Sophos is constantly plagued with feelings of self-doubt coupled with an immense sense of duty. Although he would much prefer to be left alone with his poetry and books, Sophos never ever backs down from his responsibilities to country and family. Even to the detriment of his own happiness. Take this passage on making tough decisions for example:
What would I choose if I could have anything? Well, I wouldn't be useless. I would be the statesman my father wanted and the prince my country needed. But that wasn't what I was offered. I was still the same poor excuse for a prince that I had always been. Quite likely I would fail to be of any use at all -- to my father or anyone. When the rebelling barons were put down, I would see my uncle marry and produce an heir far superior to me, and I would be despised and useless and unwelcome even in my own home. That was what I was choosing.Sophos is sitting there, about to make what will become the most life-altering decision of his life and even though he knows it will be hard and will make him unhappy, he still CHOOSES WHAT IS HARDEST because he knows it to be the most necessary. And it's not just this once Sophos does this: he makes these hard choices again and again - knowing people may not love him for it, but knowing that it just needs to be done. A better man you could not find.
I wonder if people always choose what will make them unhappy.
Also: The cover artwork for A Conspiracy of Kings is simply beautiful - the entire series has had superb covers actually, each one subtly foreshadowing little bits of the story perfectly. In this case, I think the man on the horse is a little too pretty to be Sophos but you have to agree that his detailed red coat is stunning and the movement of the horse and rider exquisite. Although what draws me to this cover above all is the tightly clenched fist, firmly wearing the golden lion signet ring. There is such power and determination in that single fist that captures Sophos spot-on.*
series reading order:
~ The Thief
~ The Queen of Attolia
~ The King of Attolia
~ A Conspiracy of Kings
Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Book Harbinger review
The Book Smugglers review
Chachic's Book Nook review
book source: my local library
*UPDATE: Thanks to the good folks at Greenwillow, I realized that I had inadvertently posted the incorrect cover art for A Conspiracy of Kings here. Oh Nos. I've gone ahead and updated the image shown and am pleased to note that this new version is in all ways vastly superior to the one I had gotten online. Obviously. Thanks for keeping me on the strait and narrow guys!