Brooklyn Arden Rave: The Attolia Books by Megan Whalen Turner

(Some material cross-posted from my reviews on Goodreads, and lots o' spoilers below.)

Not long after I read the manuscript for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows last year, I thought, Well, there's one more thing off my Death List. The Death List, or "Bucket List," as the recent film with Jack Nicholson calls it, is the list of things one must complete before one dies; and if I had died before knowing how Harry, Ron, Hermione, et al.'s fates resolved, I would have been one seriously hacked-off corpse. This Death List thought was followed by the depressing realization that I didn't really have any more series books on the Death List. . . . I mean, I'm curious about The Book of Dust, certainly, but if I am out ice-fishing, say, and an angry polar bear attacks, I will not think Dammit, I don't know what happens to Lyra as it chases me across the ice.

Well, I am happy to say a literary reason to live has been restored to me, and he is named Eugenides. Eugenides is the hero of a trilogy of books written by Megan Whalen Turner, beginning with The Thief and continuing on in The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia, and I adore him. In The Thief he first appears as a young idiot-braggart-criminal dragged through a vaguely Byzantine world on a mission to steal the national treasure of Eddis, with a fair number of excursions into the mythology and topography of that country. I admit I got halfway through this and asked Monica and Donna, "Eh, I'm feeling kind of bored, should I keep going?" The answers were resounding yesses, so I did. And I enjoyed the payoff to all the stories thoroughly, although the book also ends up doing that annoying Walk Two Moons trick where the reader doesn't get information the first-person narrator knows, solely because the author wants to keep it from you -- which makes me feel tricked by the narrator, which I dislike. However, I was impressed enough by the writing, the world-building, and the characterizations to go on and read the sequel, The Queen of Attolia . . .

And glory, I loved The Queen. It is written in third person, which removed my cause for annoyance in The Thief, as I don't mind third-person narrators (that is, the author) keeping information back from me until they deem appropriate, as long as they deploy said information intelligently. And the intelligence here! I felt like Ms. Turner was accomplishing the fictional equivalent of playing a perfect chess game or composing a Mozartian sonata, so carefully is each piece of information provided to the reader at precisely the right time and in precisely the right order. This incredible complexity is given emotional warmth and depth through the slowly developing love story between the Queen and Eugenides -- a romance at first impossible to believe* (she cuts off his hand in the opening pages), but one that pays off beautifully by the end. I especially recommend this to fans of Possession or Gaudy Night or Fire and Hemlock, as, while this isn't as self-conscious a literary romance as any of those, the Queen and Gen operate at a similar level of intelligence to the lovers in those novels. Fabulous, fabulous.

Then, finally, I loved The King of Attolia even more than The Queen. There's all the chess-game pleasure of the politics again, and the mystery of Eugenides's motives and behavior, which this time is seen entirely from the outside, and primarily through the perspective of a young Attolian guard named Costis, who finds it impossible to believe his Queen could love such an idiotic Eddisian. The emotional pleasure here derives from Costis's (and the entire court's) slowly growing respect and liking for him, the deep romantic satisfaction of seeing the Attolian royal marriage develop into all it promised, and Gen's own growth into the king he is meant to be. And as in the previous two books, Ms. Turner beautifully combines the ways of gods and man.

My guess is that the fourth book (and please please please let there be a fourth book) will focus on what happened to Sophos; why Eddis is the last Eddis as per the short story included with the King paperback (because surely that country must be combined with Attolia under Gen's rule, right?), and the coming war with the Medes. And then, perhaps, the birth of an heir to Attolia? Given the intricacy of Ms. Turner's plot construction, I understand why she has taken so long between books, but lord, I hope I don't have to wait four years for this next one. I could get chased by an angry polar bear before then, after all -- and then, dammit, I wouldn't know what happens to Eugenides! And Megan Whalen Turner does not want my icebound zombie stalking her house.

In other words, Ms. Turner: Write faster.

*A friend remarked that she experienced a bit of what I was feeling about The Thief's first-person narration in Eugenides's mid-book declaration of love -- that Turner had cheated with her use of POV and hadn't set up these feelings in his character -- but I think the book stays far enough out of his mind much of the time, allowing him his privacy, almost, that it's believable, especially considering the extreme intelligence and reserve of these two lovers/combatants. And I've reread all three books twice now, I think -- the first time in a long time I've finished a series and immediately gone right back to the beginning -- and the second time through, I picked up on a lot more of the extremely subtle clues to his feelings I missed on a first read. (And in fact, having written all this, I really want to read them all again.)