by Megan Whalen Turner
This is one of those series of books that you really ought to read in order. While each book can and does stand alone, this is a tale that unfolds like a flower, one petal at a time, and you owe it to yourself to let yourself enjoy it the way it was meant to be enjoyed. Take Humpty-Dumpty’s advice. Begin at the beginning, go on to the end, then stop — and then wish that there was more to the tale!
So: Imagine a land that looks like Greece but isn’t, inhabited by a people with Greek sounding names, who worship gods with Greek sounding names, but who have pocket watches, window glass, and flintlocks. They speak a common language, worship common gods, but have divided themselves into three separate states: Sounis, Eddis and Attolia: The queendom* of Eddis is both protected and trapped within its mountainous geography. It is sandwiched between the kingdom of Sounis on one hand, and the queendom of Attolia on the other. The king of Sounis covets Attolia, Eddis, and especially Eddis’ queen. The Queen of Attolia is struggling to keep her throne and her power against the machinations of the large empire of Mede across the sea to the south. Like the wolf at the door, Mede is hungry to get a foothold on their shores by using intrigue and influence to gain control of all three states, and another powerful empire to the north of them is equally determined not to let this happen.
The tale starts with The Thief, whose name is Gen, locked in the palace dungeons of the king of Sounis for being what he is, a thief. It’s a heist tale, suspenseful and exciting; it sets the stage for everything that comes after. By the end of it we have come to understand the where’s and why’s of the story, and have met all the important who’s but one.
The second book continues the career of Gen the thief, and introduces us to the last of the key players, The Queen of Attolia, a woman who must walk a tightrope to stay one step ahead of the machinations of the Mede ambassador who already sees himself as Attolia’s next king. When Gen falls into her clutches, she takes something important from him, but he steals something much more important from her.
In The King of Attolia, the third book, Attolia gets the king it needs but doesn’t want, and in order for Gen the thief to obtain the one thing he wants most, he also has to take what comes with it — which is the last thing he wants
I think the story was originally supposed to end here, but I can see how Ms. Turner couldn’t let it go. There was still one person who needed to tell his story.
In the fourth book, A Conspiracy of Kings, the chief advisor of Sounis’ young apprentice, whom we met in The Thief, gets to tell his tale. It is the story of how a boy becomes a man, how a man becomes a king, and how the young apprentice puts the heir of Sounis on his throne.
I suspect that Ms. Turner succumbed to the plea that every story teller hopes to hear, “Just one more story! Please!” That “one more story” is Thick as Thieves. In it, the chief slave of the former Mede ambassador to the court of Attolia tells how Attolia’s king enacted his revenge on both master and slave.
I was lucky that the first three books were already out when I started The Thief. I only had to wait two days for the second and third books to arrive from Amazon. I read them again when the fourth book came out, and have just finished reading them all again now that the fifth book is out. I know at some point I’ll want to read them all again. Yes, they are that good. By the end of the first chapter of The Thief, the characters had stepped off the page and into the miniseries that was playing in my head as I continued reading. As I said at the start of this, do yourself a favor and read the books in order. Just when you think you know how the tale is going to go, the tale takes an unexpected twist. Things are not what they seem, and people are not who you think they are.
Oh, and did I mention the volcano?