Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA doesn't even feel like it's written by the same person as THE THIEF-- and not in a good way. One of the things I loved about THE THIEF was (Eu)Gen(ides)'s narration. Gen is such a great narrator: he's witty, wry, and through his POV, we get to see the fascinating worlds of Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis. It's written in first person so we get to experience everything through Gen's eyes, and even though the concepts of court intrigue and political coups are a bit mature, Gen's narration has just enough humor that he feels young enough (despite being, I think, an older teenager) that a preteen could relate to them. I would categorize THE THIEF has highbrow literary middle grade, like THE GOLDEN GOBLET or THE CAY.

THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA, on the other hand, is narrated in the third person and feels like it's geared towards an older audience (older teens). All of the charming wit and humor I loved in the first book is mostly gone, except as an occasional aside, and the story is much, much darker. In the beginning of the book, something terrible happens to one of the main characters and it's honestly like something out of Game of Thrones. I was so upset I put the book down and stopped reading for a day, and even though I was able to eventually get back into the book, I wasn't prepared for that tonal shift, and I'm sure it would be way worse for a kid to see a character suffer like that.

Once I got over my disappointment at the lack of a Gen-focused narrative, I did warm to the story. Turner plots very intensely and there were so many great twists that were carefully planned. It's one of the smartest young adult fantasy novels I've read in years-- everything was done so well, and I felt like all of the characters were developed in a way that felt real. Attolia's backstory, for example, felt like something a young queen might do if she were essentially a captive in her own palace and was willing to do anything to get her freedom back. Eddis was the perfect blend of cunning brutality and motherly kindness that one would expect to see in a queen that ruled with kindness but wanted to keep her throne safe from invaders. And Eugenides's depression was-- well, let's just say that it was warranted, realistic, and potentially triggering to anyone who has ever had a depressive episode or struggled with grief/loss.

Regarding that one missing star-- I think this is a book that, despite being incredibly successful and popular, doesn't really seem to have a specific audience. It will appeal to precocious younger teens and adults who love YA that doesn't feel dumbed down, but I also don't think it really seems to be a middle grade series anymore like the first one. I was also a little confused about the world-building because the first book made it clear that this was a Greek-inspired fantasy world, with its own Greek-inspired pantheon of the gods, and yet in this book, Gen is studying Euclid at one point, and the Queen of Eddis makes a sly reference to Helen of Troy. So, what-- do the Greeks actually exist in this world and this is just a made up set of countries that exist nearby them, the way Genovia was a made-up country in Europe created for the sake of the Princess Diaries? It was very odd, and I spent way too much time thinking about that as I read, because I'm compulsive like that.

I also felt like ~that one love story~ appeared out of nowhere, and I didn't really feel the chemistry between the two of them at all. I certainly wouldn't fall in love with my torturer and it was really weird and kind of uncomfortable for me. Flip the genders and people would be losing their minds over the abusive plot, and yet because the perpetrator of violence in this book was a woman people are like YAAAASS WHAT A STRONG QUEEN. I never really forgave her for what she did and was not impressed with that ending. I can't say anymore because spoilers but if you've read the book, you know what I mean.

Huge thanks to Erika for reading this series with me. I'm having a lot of fun.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars


  1. I hated the romance too. There’s even a line where the narrator notes how the character “shivers” in the presence of their torturer, so I always got the impression it was Stockholm Syndrome as opposed to any semblance of genuine romance

    1. I like your interpretation better than the canon romance lol


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