I just finished a marathon of The King of Attolia (twice), The Thief, and The Queen of Attolia. In that order, which is the wrong order because I read the last one first. Megan Whalen Turner, you are my hero. You are what I aspire to be in modern literature. You are hands-down the best young adult/children's author in modern times (post-1960s). Here's how I know.
Several years ago, I pulled The King of Attolia from the library shelf without a clue that there were more. I read it, could barely find my way up from down, and fell in love. That is truly good writing. I adored it without knowing that Eugenides, not Costis, was the main character, without knowing that there was back-story. Yes, of course, I knew that there were things behind it; you have to guess that because they keep referring to things. But I just thought...I guess I thought it was one of those things that happen to readers who just trust the authors. It was beautiful. I was honestly lost a couple of times, but I still thought it was beautiful. That's how good the writing is.
Some time later, I discovered that there were two books that came before. I read The Thief and wasn't too impressed. Looking back, the reality of pagan gods really disturbed me. But I did go on to read The Queen of Attolia, and though I only ended up remembering one scene (the kidnapping of the queen on the boat), and that vividly, the reality of the gods also made me take a step back though I decided that The Queen was almost as good as The King. But it was The King of Attolia that had a special place in my heart.
I read them again this past week. In all honesty, I have yet to be really drawn into The Thief. I am in awe of Turner's ability to mold the book without lying but capable of springing that surprise at the end. It was different reading it through this time, because I knew the secret that has plenty of hints...if you are looking. Are you looking? But the story just still doesn't grab me, and I don't know why. Still, I admire it; if I could write that well, I would be very happy.
But then she gets better. And not just a little better, but ten times better, with The Queen of Attolia. The third chapter is heartwrenching, gutwrenching, absolutely stunning. Stunning in its ferocity, its viciousness, its capability to make you cry by telling bare facts, not feelings. You don't realize how much you love Eugenides until then. Through The Thief, he was lazy and sarcastic, loyal but hard to love. But then, in just three chapters, Turner makes you cry for him. It's stunning. I had forgotten just how wonderful it was.
I can't say enough about The King of Attolia. With twists just like its predecessors, it draws you yet into other loyalties. There were no loyalties in The Thief until the end, and then in The Queen of Attolia, you find yourself loyal to Eddis. And somehow, just like she made you love Eugenides in The Queen, Turner binds you to Attolia. How does she do it? How does she do it? That's all I want to say if I ever meet her. How on earth did you do it?
(On one other note, I kind of like the way I was introduced to Eugenides and Attolia. Costis is the main character in The King of Attolia, thrust into it without any knowledge of the backstory, just like me. We experienced it together, a distrust for Eugenides before an aching admiration for him grew in our hearts. It was a marvelous way of writing it. It never occurred to me when I read it for that first time that there might be more. Costis and I, we were both new on the scene. We're chums.)
One answer to how she does it is this: The Thief was published in 1996, The Queen of Attolia in 2000, and The King of Attolia in 2006. Those are really big gaps in the writing world, long enough to be forgotten by your readers. Dare I believe that she spent all that time writing and rewriting? It's possible, though she also has kids. But each of her books are insanely better than anything else out there. Is that the secret to having marvelous books? Spend years on them? It's a thought.
And now A Conspiracy of Kings has arrived in 2010. What is so very odd about this is that it never occurred to me that there might be something to come after The King of Attolia. There was no cliffhanger, the book ended with all the pomp and ceremony that a proper book ending should have. It felt like it was over. In fact, this is how The Thief ended, as well as The Queen of Attolia. You finish the books feeling like everything that needs to be said has been said. And Turner is able to make you believe it, since it will be another four or six years until the next book. She's able to finish the book without you ever thinking about the the threat of the Medes or the fact that Sounis' heir is missing. I mean, she wraps up these books without wrapping up these topics and - here's the amazing part - the reader doesn't even notice!
I'm in awe. That's all I have to say. And this isn't a passing fancy; this has been with me ever since I picked up The King of Attolia, several years ago. Thank you, Megan Whalen Turner, for writing good books. This is a greater complement than you know.