Friday 22 October 2021

#CBR13 Book 43: "The King of Attolia" by Megan Whalen Turner

Page count: 432 pages
Audio book length: 10 hrs 23 mins
Rating: 4.5 stars

CBR13 Bingo: Landscape

Costis is one of the Attolian guards, fiercely loyal to his beloved (if fearsome) queen and skeptical and disdainful of his so-called king, the former Thief of Eddis, who through trickery and guile ended up married to their queen. Nevertheless, when he foolishly loses his temper and ends up striking the king in the face, he's mortified and expects to be sent home in disgrace if he's lucky, executed if he
's unlucky. Yet the strange, new young king surprises everyone, by demanding that Costis become one of his retainers, somehow the most humiliating fate of all to the soldier. 

No longer a soldier, clearly the odd one out among the king's other noble retainers, Costis is miserable. Many of his duties just involve tagging along after the king, practicing incredibly basic weapons drills with him and generally just wondering how his life took such an unfortunate turn. It's obvious to everyone with eyes in their head that the king's retainers despise him just as much as the soldiers and while they perform their duties, they keep showing their disrespect by bringing him inappropriate outfits, bringing him food that he's unable to eat unaided and generally making snide remarks to the king's face, and outright semi-treasonous remarks when they think no one is listening. 

Yet the queen doesn't seem like she's suffering some politically advantageous marriage of convenience, and the Eddisian ambassador talks to and about the king not as if he's the petulant, lazy, and vain young man he seems to be. Costis has begun to understand that not everything is as it appears with the former Eddisian king of Attolia and that his strange behaviour is calculated to a degree. He doesn't realise just how much until there is an assassination attempt on the one-handed king, who despite showing only rudimentary weapons skills in the public practice sessions, takes out three assassins unassisted while left alone in the palace gardens. In the second half of the book, Costis (and most other people who had been seriously underestimating the king) comes to discover just what a clever and patient strategist Eugenides actually is. 

I read the first three books in what is now known as The Queen's Thief series back in 2012. My reviews for The Thief and The Queen of Attolia are from back then. So while this is the second time I read The King of Attolia, I don't seem to have reviewed it the last time around. I was unable to find out who narrated the audios I listened to back in 2012, but I can say that I much preferred Steve West's narration. 

While there are a lot of very simplistic and rather shallow examples of YA fantasy out there, there are also some really great books that in no way underestimate the intelligence and cleverness of their readers. These books keep subverting the readers' expectations and there are twists and turns and all manner of political machinations. While the pacing can seem slow in places, especially in the first half of this book, where Costis is still angry and confused (and the readers see everything from his POV), Whalen Turner always rewards the readers' patience and all the subtle groundwork being laid in the first half of the books tend to pay off spectacularly in terms of third and fourth act revelations. By this third book in the series, the author has also established an increasing recurring cast in the books - including Eugenides, Helen, Irene and several others who I enjoy "spending time" with. I'm really looking forward to either my nephews or my son being old enough to enjoy these books, so I can relive them through someone else's eyes. 

Judging a book by its cover: While the new covers for the series don't match the early books I own (isn't that always the case with series that take ages to be completed?), I am really very fond of these simple, yet elegant covers, almost like dioramas of some kind. All the audiobooks I now own have these covers, so that will have to comfort me since my paperbacks are never going to match up now unless I get rid of the first four books and replace them all with the new covers. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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