Wednesday, April 7, 2010

April Book Review Club

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@Barrie Summy

Look at me! Three posts in six days! Don't get used to it--life is bound to intrude at some point. Anyway, it's April, and our thoughts are outside, so we need an especially compelling reason to settle down with a good book. This is it. Go get it.

Don't forget to click the icon for the rest of The Book Review Club!

A Conspiracy of Kings
By Megan Whelan Turner
Greenwillow, April 2010

I’ll have to be careful reviewing this book, the fourth in the Queen’s Thief series that debuted with 1997 Newbery honoree THE THIEF. If you haven’t read the earlier books—which you should, right now—I’d hate to spoil any surprises. Surprises are all Turner has going for her—apart from spectacular writing, deeply compelling characters, thoroughly imagined setting, and fearless plotting,.

The books follow the fortunes of Gen, the eponymous thief, in three neighboring kingdoms whose shared culture is ancient Greece with guns. Their rulers—two queens and a king, who assume a kingdom’s name upon ascending the throne—have spent the series jockeying for position and strategizing to keep larger empires from gobbling them up. The gods sometimes interfere, surprising the disbelievers.

This fourth book reunites us with Sophos, whom we met in THE THIEF as a student and heir to the throne of the kingdom of Sounis. Like the other high-born characters in the book, he must thread his way through a treacherous world, attempting to resolve the conflict between his dreams and desires and those of a leader. It’s a deeply personal coming-of-age story, but it’s painted on a broad canvas with bold, rich color.

As usual, Turner is a point-of-view trickster. We shift from third person to first person and back again, occasionally dropping into second person, gods help us. What makes this especially impressive is Turner’s ability to make us think we share a person’s every thought and then whack us with a plot twist or character revelation that we probably should have seen coming. Why didn’t we? The woman’s evil, that’s why.

She’s also gutsy. She introduces a mystery and doesn’t much worry about whether she’s confused us. There’s so much going on that we’re content to move along, confident that we’ll figure it all out eventually.

There’s romance, there’s humor… but all with an undercurrent of utter tragedy, constant, almost overwhelming. You sense that, in the end, all this maneuvering will come to nothing—or maybe the gods have some steely-eyed plan that discounts human happiness. The characters sense this, too. And then we all have a good laugh together.

I’m not sure whether these are middle-grade or young-adult fantasy. The Newbery folks obviously thought THE THIEF was for kids rather than teens, and Amazon has them at ages 9-12. Almost everyone else seems to assume they’re young adult. There is a bit of swearing here and there, but although the romance is pretty intense in places there’s no overt sex. Reading comprehension would have to be pretty good.

Regardless of the reader’s age, though, I can’t recommend these books enough.


Sarah Laurence said...

It sounds like a fun series. It is hard sometimes to figure out what is MG vs. YA.

Staci said...

What an excellent review!! For some crazy reason these books don't get checked out very often at my middle school library. I've meant to read them and have yet to do that. I often wonder who decides the appropriate age for books and do they ever take into consideration comprehension!! Sounds like a great series and one that I need to bring home!!

Keri Mikulski said...

I agree with Sarah.. It is hard sometimes to see the line. Thanks for the great review on a interesting series.

Barrie said...

Ellen, you always post such wonderful reviews! I admire people who can write really good fantasy.

Stacy Nyikos said...

Adding to the list! It sounds like a rompingly great read.

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