I figured we should start the new year out right. And what better way to do that than with a review of what is quite possibly my most anticipated title of 2010? Thanks to my lovely book fairy and the benevolent folks at Greenwillow, I was the giddy recipient of a coveted ARC of Megan Whalen Turner's upcoming A Conspiracy of Kings. For those not in the know, this is the fourth novel in the spectacular Queen's Thief series. The series that effectively robbed me of the ability to form coherent thoughts and/or sentences last February. The series that cast a complete spell over me and whose praises I have felt compelled to sing ever since. The series Ana and I had more than one spontaneous Twitter lovefest over. The series that was, hands down, my best discovery of 2009. So. Here we go.
Sophos has had it rough since parting ways with his old friend Gen after the adventures of The Thief and their narrow escape from the Queen of Attolia's dungeon. In fact, things have gone rather downhill from there for the reluctant heir to the throne of Sounis. Having once again disappointed his father by preferring poetry and philosophy to politics and strategy, Sophos finds himself tutorless and packed off home in disgrace. But when an unidentified armed force storms his family's estate, his mother and sisters disappear and Sophos himself is abducted and sold into slavery. And suddenly the choice of whether or not to take up the mantle of his responsibilities is taken out of his hands and he is able to exist in blissful anonymity, doing manual labor building walls during the day and entertaining his fellow laborers with epic poems and tales around the fire at night. But life will not hold still for Sophos and even he can't fool himself into believing he can watch his country tear itself apart and not want to fight to save it. And so he chooses to fight and to step into the role he's been dreading his whole life. And when it comes to intrigue and subterfuge and playing a part, Sophos knows just the person he can call on.
There is nothing like reading a Megan Whalen Turner book. I mean nothing. You open the book to that first page and you just feel so at peace. Don't get me wrong, you're filled with an almost unbearable paroxysm of anticipation, joy, and anxiety on behalf of these characters you've come to care about so much it's almost a surprise to remember they're not real and you've never met. But you feel at peace, secure in the knowledge that everything is going to play out so beautifully, so perfectly, so achingly subtle, that there's no fear on your part. It's an unmatched reading experience and one to be treasured and taken out on cold nights and experienced all over again. I knew I was going to fall in love with Sophos in this volume. He was clearly so full of potential in book one, a few tantalizing hints here and there, and then he disappeared so utterly that I knew when he did come back, he would come back with a vengeance. And so he does. And so does Gen. And they're all four there in their Sounisian, Eddisian, and Attolian individuality and awesomeness and I quite honestly found it difficult not to stand up and applaud after reading each scene where they're talking or plotting or just sending each other meaningful glances and thinly veiled threats. Which, of course, is kind of every five pages or so. And I tried, I tried to stay on top of things, marking who was scheming what and which hidden motivations belonged to whom. And still, still they all surprised me! Which, of course, is exactly the way I hoped it would be. And the ending? The ending is perfect. The kind of perfect that makes me smile and clasp the book to my chest.
I fretted over which bit to quote for you here. I couldn't not select just one passage to give you a glimpse into what we're dealing with here with Sophos. And so I chose a small scene fairly early on that contains no spoilers except, perhaps, for The Thief. So if you haven't read the first book, definitely skip this bit, which is taken from the uncorrected ARC. Otherwise, enjoy.
When we were adventuring after Hamiathes's Gift, I had watched the magus beat Eugenides. We'd thought he was no more than a common thief named Gen from Sounis's gutters, and had listened to him whine and complain for days. When food was missing, it was easy to blame him. The magus used a riding crop on his back, and holy sacrificial lambs, Gen had come up off the ground like he'd been catapulted. It was as if he was a different person, some stranger who'd manifested in Gen's body. He'd dumped Pol flat onto his back--something I never thought I'd see--and gone for the magus. If Pol hadn't been up again so quickly, the magus was ready to run and dignity be damned. Even with Pol between him and Gen, the magus had been wary.I thought later that this was the real Gen revealed, the person who'd been hiding behind a screen of complaints and needling humor. But I spent whole days with Eugenides after our adventures, and that Eugenides was exactly the Gen I had traveled with. Maybe I don't know which Gen is real. But I know there was nothing feigned about his emotions after he had been beaten.Where, I wondered, was my wounded pride? Where was my outrage? My self-respect? Nowhere, it seemed. My back hurt. I lay there on my pallet, hoping it would improve soon and wondering, in a distant, unreproachful sort of way, if I was any kind of man at all and decided that I probably wasn't.
Oh, Sophos. You are so earnest and self-deprecating and you have a good heart. I loved making this journey with you.