Review written by Jonathan Lavallee.
The King of Attolia is a huge departure from The Thief and The Queen of Attolia. Not in tone, with its lovingly put together plot and brilliantly defined characters. Not in style, written with major intrigue rather than roaring battles as the focus. It’s a huge departure because the main character of the book isn’t any character that we’ve seen in the previous two books. The main character is a Squad Leader of the Queen of Attolia’s guard named Costis who starts the book doing something that he shouldn’t—he punches Eugenides, the King of Attolia. He knocks down the man he swore to protect and he knows that it means his life.
The Attolians are not happy with their King. Most of the guard felt that they were winning the war between Eddis and Attolia, and now they come back to find Eddisian garrisons all over the country. What’s worse, the Thief of Eddis has stolen the Queen right out from under their noses and married her. It wouldn’t be bad, if he were a King. But he whines, and he complains, and he falls asleep in court, and he does everything he can think of to avoid the responsibility of being a ruler.
Costis survives his exchange with the King. Except now he’s been promoted to Lieutenant and forced to serve at the King’s side. He must deal with the King and his whims and the practical jokes played by the King’s attendants, all while dealing with the added pressure of his new position and learning about the King—who Eugenides is and who he might become.
That’s not to say that the book is all about Costis, only mostly so. It’s also about the relationship of Eugenides and Irene and how they are in love and still figuring out how to be in a relationship. It’s about Eugenides trying to avoid the trap he’s placed himself in, and how he wants his marriage but none of the trappings that go along with it. Meanwhile, everyone from the Queen to the Eddisian Ambassador wants Eugenides to come out and be the King that they think he could be. However, Eugenides has his own plans to keep Attolia, and Irene, safe for now and for the future.
I’ve read this book over and over again, and it’s the highlight of the entire series. Much like the other ones, it isn’t a fantasy story focused on bloodshed and big battles. It’s all about little and big intrigues, personal relationships, fighting what the gods have put before you, and understanding others. It’s done in a style that’s easy to read, keeps the story and the action flowing quickly, and is incredibly entertaining. While the focus isn’t on the characters your tweens have been reading about in the other two books, Costis is a very honest and earnest young man who tries his best to do what’s right even if it’s not going to work out for him in the end. He’s very easy to root for, especially as he gets blown about the political intrigue like a snowflake in a blizzard.
One possible issue is that the chapters are few in number and high in page count. That might be a concern for readers who may be willing, but have a hard time with long page count with no breaks.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
The relationship between Irene and Eugenides is not as complicated as their relationship in The Queen of Attolia but it’s still complicated. She needs him to be a King and he wants to avoid the responsibility. Relius, the Queen’s Master of Spies, says it best: “He didn’t marry you to become King, he became King so he could marry you.” There are moments of tenderness, moments of anger and passion and excitement. They talk about how angry they make each other. When talking about their wedding night, Irene mentions to Relius that she was so angry at something he said that she threw an inkwell at him.
Relius tries to kill himself after he gives a report to the Queen about his spies being captured in Mede. He knows that he’s to blame and he wants to avoid disappointing his Queen, as well as the pain he knows is coming for his failure. They stop him, but they describe the poison that he was going to take.
You don’t see the torture of Relius, but you do get to read about its aftereffects. Relius’ hand is mangled and there’s a pretty vivid description of it. There’s also talk between Eugenides and Relius about Relius’ worry that the King’s relief is just another form of torture. Keep him in a comfortable room for a day and then throw him back in jail. There isn’t any torture beyond that, but if you’ve read the other books, you know torture could be an issue and the fact that it’s hinted at a few times is enough to give you some pause.
There is a plan behind it, but Eugenides gets bullied by his servants all the time. From Costis’ perspective it’s a great big joke, though that joke gets less funny for him the further the book goes. There’s a lot of people who don’t like Eugenides and they go out of their way to make his life miserable, even if he is the king. They do petty things like putting sand in his food, and making sure that he dresses completely inappropriately. It’s got a larger part to play in the plot, but it’s still very much present.
Costis has to deal with his own form of bullying. He feels that Eugenides promoted him so he could bully him since he can’t bully the other courtiers. Costis also has to deal with the response from his fellow soldiers. They tease him about his growing belief in Eugenides and start to shun him when he is seen to be favoring the King.
No tale of Eugenides would be complete if he wasn’t complaining about his responsibilities. Everyone from the Queens—both Attolia and Eddis—to the gods themselves want Eugenides to take up the mantle of authority and he bucks it at every single opportunity. He hides behind a wall of disinterest and apparent apathy. In part, this is because of the reasons that Eugenides had for marrying Attolia—he wanted to marry her, not to become King.
This is my favourite book out of the whole series. If you’ve read the other two books, then you really need to read this one with your tween. If you haven’t read the other two, then you can still read this one and enjoy it as a great story. It won’t have the same kind of effect, but you’ll still enjoy it greatly. There’s still a lot of political intrigue, which may not be fun for your younger tween, but if they like that kind of story then they’ll love The King of Attolia.
The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
Published in 2007 by HarperCollins
Book three of four of the Queen’s Thief series, after The Thief and The Queen of Attolia, followed by A Conspiracy of Kings
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