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Monday, June 11, 2007

Book Review: The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

I'm heading quick into my list. I've already finished off two books on it, and am well on my way into Devilish. So, here is my review of this particular book.I can't say that I really liked The King of Attolia, but neither can I say I hated it. It was so-so for me. One of the interesting things I thought this novel had over other fantasy novels was that it did not revolve around a major military conflict. The conflicts generally seemed to be internal, rather than external to the kingdom of Attolia. In addition to that I found that the world that Turner had created was so believable it was actually real. There is a good reason for this: it is so much like a Greece that never was. There are guns and pocket watches. Think of Greece if it had survived long enough to become an empire much like England became. Can you imagine?
The story is this:
This book takes place some time after her first book The Thief, but stands alone I think. The King of Attolia is an outsider. He's not an Attolian, but an Eddisian from a neighboring kingdom, and not only that, he practically stole the throne. Few respect him, and the Queen herself at one point cut off his hand. But Eugenides must come to grips with the reality of his situation: he is king, whether he likes it or not, and he cannot run away--he must prove that fact to those that are bound to serve him.
Costis is a soldier who has made a terrible mistake. He just struck the King. But to his surprise he is pardoned, and his Captain too. Rather than being exiled he is put under the King's charge as part of the King's attendants. Costis hates the King, and always has. He loves his Queen, but the King is a different story entirely.

That is where the story should have stayed. The problem with the book, a part that makes the story itself a little weak, is that under all of that is threat of invasion from a neighboring kingdom, an uprising among the nobility (Barons), and mounting attempts on the King's life. Now, the last thing worked well in the story. With Costis being a sort of personal guard for the man he loathes, it is an amazing transformation to see how the characters grow through the story. But my biggest beef was that the story focused on something that would seem literally trivial in comparison to the first two subplots. I think trivial hatreds among soldiers is minute in comparison to threat of invasion by a force that the Queen herself knows she cannot repel if the Barons cannot be controlled. So why are we focusing at all on the fact that the King is disliked and has to prove himself? At this point it's almost pointless. Who cares if the King shows that he is worthy of his position, even if he doesn't want it, if by the end of the oncoming war there might not be a King and Queen of Attolia at all? The subplot of war could very well have been left out in my opinion. It only damaged the story.
Turner's writing is solid, except in times when she is intentionally trying to be vague about details. There is a scene in the novel where the King is being attacked by assassins and later in that chapter we learn that the King kills all three, even though he's technically a cripple. Yet, the scene isn't even written. It's almost as if the page was missing that had that action in it. Turner goes on to say that it all happened so fast, but the scene itself shows that the King is being killed. I re-read it a dozen times and still couldn't figure out how we went from King being killed to King killing.
Another issue was the constant jumping around of POV. The only characters I cared about were Costis and Eugenides. Costis is the central character and should have remained the focus. There were a bunch of jumps to characters that weren't really all that important. We didn't need their insights on things because Costis provided enough.
The novel itself ends rather shaky for me. It seems like the novel should have gone on a bit longer in my opinion. It just stopped on a happy note, and that was that. There's no climax, no build up to an ultimate finally. It digs into the story, stays there, and never rises to the occasion.
Other than that I found the novel to be decent enough, if not lacking. Might not be the best novel written, but certainly not the worst. At least the characters and the worlds were believable.

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