Immoderately gushing about Megan Whalen Turner

May I begin in justifying myself slightly for the fact that I have not read these books until now although my sister Anna read and recommended them, like, a decade ago?

When I really love a book, I want everyone who I think would like it to read it so that they can love it also.  To this end, I will wheedle and cajole and sometimes manipulatively give the book to them as a gift so they will feel guilty for not reading it.  It’s for their own good.  In short, I cannot rest until the joy has been spread.  I am an evangelist for the books (and films and TV shows) that I love.  I know that marketing principle where you have to remind people a whole bunch of times before you can expect them to take action, and I do it.  Only because I want my loved ones to have the same joyous reading experiences that I have had.

My sister Anna does not operate quite in the same way.  From what I can observe, she has a more live and let live philosophy.  If she tells me a book is good, and I then don’t read it, it’s possible she may never bring it up again.  If she tells me a book is good, and I start it and don’t like it, she will probably leave it at that.  SO NOT LIKE ME!  I will pester the crap out of people until they give my books another chance.  Anna, not so much.  So I can’t always tell from her recommendations the difference between a book that is good and my life is empty without it, and a book that is, you know, fine.

(Or else possibly Anna and I act the exact same way in regard to books we love madly, and I am making up a lot of self-justifying claptrap because I feel that without a reason for my not having read these books years ago the universe is too bleak and wretched to be bothered with.)

I do not necessarily know that your life is empty without Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series.  But mine was.  These books – The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings, which I have not yet read – are set in an ancient-Greece-like (but not ancient Greece) fantasy world with religion and mythology and politics.  They are made up of pure win.  They make me want to stride up and down gesturing energetically and shouting about how good they are.  The politics are twisty and complex and feel realistic but do not bore me to tears.  The characters grow and change, and when they interact with each other, there is all this boilingly tense subtext underneath the actual words that they are saying.

A very true story about me: I love subtext.  I’m mad for subtext.  Considering the epic crush I have on words, I am mighty appreciative of things left unsaid.  Subtext.  The simmery-er, the better.  When I find an author who can make me quiver with tension during a scene where it’s just two people sitting around talking, I’m hers for life.  (Or his, of course!)  I will overlook a lot of flaws in a book that knows how to play its subtext.

Take, for example, Mary Renault’s The Charioteer, a very imperfect book, God knows, but I love it quite passionately for its dialogue, every line of which means at least one thing other than the actual words being said.  Or take nearly any scene between Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane in Dorothy Sayers’s mysteries, and you will see it is rife with beautiful, crackling subtext: see in particular the scene by the riverbank in Gaudy Night.  You know that one?  Damn good scene.

Megan Whalen Turner is also very good at this, so I may have been too high on subtext to spot any flaws.  I have seen reviews that found the plots of (some of) the books in this series slow, but I didn’t mind.  I was too busy enjoying the lovely character interactions.  The central character is a person with a tendency towards self-concealment, and many of the twists in the plot arise from your (or other characters’) (or both) not knowing him as well as you think you do.  This is a very cool kind of plot twist – the kind that makes you go back and reevaluate actions and words that you thought you understood the first time around but you really did not.  (Unless you’re me.  If you’re me, you did. I sneakily find out plot twists ahead of time by causing my sister to tell them to me.)

(While I’m gushing, can I get some love for the phrase “plot twist”? I dunno who came up with that, but that’s a brilliant phrase for it!  It makes a wonderful image in my mind!  TWIST.)

I guess since I have gone on and on about them, I should briefly say what these books are about. They are in a series, and since I know other people who are not me dislike spoilers, I don’t want to say too much about any one book and spoil the ones that came before it.  Very vaguely then: The Queen’s Thief books are about a thief called Eugenides (Gen), who lives in a section of the world that is not altogether unlike ancient Greece (before Alexander the Great, this would be).  For one reason and another, Gen finds himself mixed up with people in high places, and political turmoil, of varying scope and consequence throughout the several books, ensues.

I gobbled up The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia this weekend all in one mighty gobble, and then I had to wait and borrow A Conspiracy of Kings from my sister.  I hope the fourth book lives up to the previous ones and does not wrap up everything up tidily but rather leaves many things open for future books that Megan Whalen Turner is going to write swiftly and release promptly.  Thanks to Memory for reading these recently – your reviews tipped me over the edge!

Once again there are too many other reviews of these books for my slow old computer to load and then link to, plus I am tired and want to go to bed early tonight, so if you are yearning to see what the blogosphere thinks of Megan Whalen Turner I refer you to the glorious and oft-consulted-by-me Book Blogs Search Engine.

Because it is rich with mythology and features the gods, I am counting these books towards the Once Upon a Time Challenge, yet another challenge about which I have in no way forgotten.  How could I?  It has such a pretty button!

So how about it, everyone?  Are you a book evangelist?  Once you have made your initial recommendation to your loved ones about a book you adored, do you keep knocking on their doors in suits with copies of the book in your hands, or do you shut up and leave them alone to read whatever they darn well feel like reading?  How good is the phrase “plot twist”?  Are you, too, a subtext junkie?

61 thoughts on “Immoderately gushing about Megan Whalen Turner

  1. So many bloggers I love read and loved these books…I really need to give The Thief another try. How could I not with all your glowing? I’ll have to start over, I think it’s been almost a year since I first started reading it!

    • Yeah, I had tried The Thief once before and wasn’t wild about it. If you don’t find it as good as I’ve made it sound here, go on and read The Queen of Attolia. The Thief is good, but TQoA is (in my opinion) miles better. I hope you like them!

  2. Personally, I love when people come to me with suggestions of books that they adore – it opens up a whole other world of books I may have not come across on my own. As for myself, I only recommend a book if it absolutely swept me away, and to specific people.

    • Well, I only recommend books to people if I think they’ll like them. I wouldn’t recommend every book I loved to every person I know. But I love it when people have enthusiastic book recommendations for me too! I think I’m getting better at heeding them now that I’m older and wiser than I was as a lass. :p

  3. I told you at the time not just that it was good but that it was very good and had a plot twist like you would like. But did you listen to me? NoooOOOOooo. Even when I offered to lend it to you another time when you were moaning about not having new books to read. I am indeed more live and let live, recognizing that different people have different tastes, but I did suggest it more than once: I resuggested it while we were in Maine and I found the Queen of Attolia on sale while we were visiting our first cousin once removed and first cousinonceremovedinlaw. And still you would not read even though we were in Maine and our selection was smaller than usual. I love gloating.

    You are quite correct that I do not evangelize about books, I learned that people should read books in their own time, even if you know they’re being annoyingly stubborn.

    • To be fair, though, do I ever fail to give you the satisfaction of telling you that you were right and I was wrong? I don’t! I tell you, and then I tell you again every time the subject comes up. So. You know. My way of being a good person after stubbornly refusing to listen to your advice.

      Also, I did try The Thief once before. You have to admit it’s slow to start! I got bored with it the first time. And also also, we don’t always have the same taste in books. That’s why I didn’t hit it up again.

      Out of curiosity, do I frequently recommend books to you that you then don’t like? I immediately lose track of who I’ve recommended books to once they give in and don’t need me pestering them anymore.

      • that’s a bit hard to answer, since mostly in our childhood I ignored you, and categorized you and mom in the same reading group, so I never remember if it was you or mom who recommended a book if I didn’t read it right then and there (which, mostly, I didn’t). After I read Daddy-Long-Legs, I did remember you recommending that. Actually I remember you and mom both enthusiastically recommending it and telling me that I should get over my no books of letters thing, at the same time. I did like it once I read it, years later. You don’t actually recommend books to me very often. The one I remember most recently that was a direct, not me reading your book blog and going “huh” recommendation was the knife of never letting go. Still haven’t managed to get a copy, so……

  4. Like your sister, I let people be about books (ask Teresa, who needs to read THESE books. Sometime.) Love Megan Whalen Turner! I recommend these every time someone asks me for good YA.

    • I will duly pester Teresa at every available opportunity about these books. :p These are a great YA recommendation, among many, although I’m never sure what counts as YA and what doesn’t. The deciders of these things are mysterious.

  5. I’m not a book evangelist, but when a friend or family member asks for rec’s, I’m delighted to give them the ‘perfect’ personal suggestions. :D

    I’m in the middle of Armadale, and the next chapter is entitled ‘The Plot Thickens.’ It made me lurve Wilkie Collins even more, which I didn’t think was possible!

    • All these non-evangelists in my comments are making me feel annoying, but mainly if I’m going to pester, I’ll be pestering my sisters and mother. And maybe a few of my friends, if I truly truly think they’ll love them.

      Oh, Wilkie Collins. I love him!

  6. I’m live and let live too, BUT what I really came here to say was that I was delighted to see the word ‘boilingly’ out and about in your post. When he was little my son also used it as a general adjective representing anything extreme – ‘this puzzle is boiling hard!’ etc. It’s a word that has never reached its full potential in the English language, clearly.

    Oh and the books sound very good too.

    • So many adjectives would make good strengthening adverbs, if people would just seize the opportunities. :p

      They are good! You should read them!

  7. I have six copies of ‘Wuthering Heights’ all given to me by people who are determined that I should read it and love it. I have read it, didn’t love it and however many more copies people give me I am not going to read it again:)

    • *laughs* Well, Wuthering Heights, I wouldn’t bother anybody with. I hated that damn book the first time I tried it and didn’t finish, and I hated it even more when I tried it again and did finish. If I give somebody a book and they read it, and they hate it, it’s possible I’ll leave them alone thereafter. Although if I myself disliked the book in question before growing to love it, I’d assume they were in the same situation and not give up.

  8. Nobody recommended these books to ME. What am I, chopped liver? They sound marvelous.

    Jen, I find your book-touting endearingly hopeful rather than mosquito-like. Personally, I have been completely crushed when I recommended a book enthusiastically to someone and their reaction was, “Meh.” It has significantly affected my attitude toward book-pushing.

    Wuthering Heights! Oooh, LOATHED it my first time around; LOVED it the second. Inexplicable.

    • I DID SO! I SO TOTALLY DID RECOMMEND THE BOOKS TO YOU! I recommended it to you first and more enthusiastically than I did to Jenny! you then read the cover, listened to some of what I’d described, guessed the twist and said it was utterly predictable. AND CRUSHED ME.

    • I’ve been crushed too but hope springs eternal. Laura, for instance, asked me why I had given her The Knife of Never Letting Go. I still think you should read it, however! The thing that upset her so much would probably not affect you the same way.

      P.S. It is harsh what you said to Anna about the book.

      • I remember now. I tried it and got bored immediately ( you must admit, it has a slooooow start.) And now, even tho it is years later, when I read it again, I totally figured out the Big Plot Twist about a third of the way thru. So I cannot give this quite the ringing endorsement you did.

  9. After reading so many fantastic reviews of this series, I went out and bought the first book. I am hoping that I am able to get the chance to read it this summer and also to read the rest of the series. I am so glad that you’ve found a set of books to be an evangelist for and that you loved them so much! Often I am very pushy about the books I love as well, but since I know very few readers in my real life, my advice is always taken with a grain of salt. Very nice review!

    • The two non-family people I used to always swap recommendations with kind of have grown into different reading tastes than mine, sadly. I still recommend books for them, but with more discretion than I used to do.

      I hope you get to read The Thief soon! And if you like it but are not blown away, I encourage you to carry on to The Queen of Attolia. It is better.

  10. I am a book evangelist to the point where people start refusing to read the books I recommend because they’re worried that they won’t like them and I’ll be crushed. I’ve tried to explain that my world won’t absolutely collapse if my friends don’t like Kim, but they don’t seem to want to take the risk. By the way, please read Kim.

    • Kim, really? Is Rudyard Kipling not full of colonialist crap? I have never read anything by him, apart from the Just-So Stories (love love love) and some very silly poems.

  11. I came across your blog through the Once Upon a Time challenge. I have seen these books around but haven’t yet been convinced that they would interest me. Now after seeing how enthusiastic you are about them I think I’ll give them a try.
    If I want someone to read a book I lend it to them to make sure that they do read it, and it usually works. Though if they don’t like it they can spell the end of our relationship…(j/k. kind of)

    • Hi! Welcome! I’m glad my loud and relentless shrieking has had a positive effect – I wouldn’t shriek for books that are less than wonderful, though, I promise. :)

  12. There are some books I’m a total evangelist for as well. Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar being the one that jumps immediately to mind! I love this series, too- so glad you enjoyed it!

    • I still want to read that. I started it a while ago at the bookshop, but I felt too guilty to read the entire thing while I was in. Now that I have a library card (hooray! hooray!), I’m going to see if I can get it from the library.

    • I’m looking forward to seeing what you think! Like I’ve said to others, if you don’t think The Thief is quite worth all my enthusiasm, do continue to The Queen of Attolia. Megan Whalen Turner slaps down quite a game-changer in the first few chapters of The Queen of Attolia.

    • If you do get them, you will have lots of bloggers around to discuss them with – largely the reason I read these now was that I’ve seen a LOT of good reviews of them since I started blogging.

  13. Yay, Megan Whalen Turner! Yay, you for reading Megan Whalen Turner! Yays all around!

    I’m kind of an on-again-off-again book evangelist. There are some books, like TIGANA or the Queen’s Thief series, that I push on people, like, all the time. I feel like I repeat myself over and over and over and over and over and over and over again when I’m talking about them, because I really want to make sure that people get it. I really want them to understand how much I love the book(s). Then I want them to rush out and buy it/them and read it/them as soon as it/they legally belongs to them. (Which is way too many thems. I apologize. Grammar escapes me tonight).

    These are usually books with a low potential for offense, though. I’ve got a whole slew of potentially offensive books that I’d really like to tell the world about, but I don’t tend to trot these out as often because I don’t want to horrify people. Like, I love the hell out of Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series, and I recommend them left, right and centre in a general sense, but I hardly ever recommend them to specific individuals because they’re very dark and that makes things tricky. I also love R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt books, but I never recommend them because they’re quite poorly written and I don’t want people to think that I think they can only handle trashy stuff, if that makes any sense. (I also don’t want them to think that I myself only read trashy stuff).

    So recommendations and evangelism are tricky. I walk the line between full-on and full-off.

    Moving on: plot twist is an awesome phrase, and I’m a subtext addict. I live for subtext.

    • Yay YOU for reading Megan Whalen Turner! Would not have read these books if not for you, and also if not for living in a town with a crappy public library. :p

      You’re supposed to repeat yourself over and over, even to the point of being annoying. I have now had lots of different marketing people explain this principle to me, and book blogging has proved it to me fifty thousand times: the more reviews I see of a book, the more likely it is I’ll see one review that sparks my interest.

      I completely understand about the offensive v. non-offensive books. I love Mary Renault’s The Charioteer, but I never recommend it without a caveat about her treatment of effeminate dudes. Not good. Some smoochies for #teamboyskissing, though, and sexy sexy subtext. It’s all subtext, because it’s set in a British army hospital during WWII, and the characters can’t be too forthcoming about their sexuality. Veeeeeery good book.

      (Did you see how smoothly I did that, turned our discussion of book evangelism into actual book evangelism?)

      • My sister’s approach does not always work. Often the more effective approach can be to talk simply about how good the book is without pressure on someone to read it. Indirect pressure vs direct pressure. Let it catch people’s interest so that they can decide for themselves they want to read it.

      • A lot of the books I end up loving have hard-to-explain premises, or premises that do not sound awesome when you just say them. State of Play, my new favorite BBC thing ever, is a political thriller! I hate political thrillers! If I had said “Oh State of Play, it’s a political thriller that is good,” would Robyn and Capt. Hammer have watched it with me? No! But instead of that I said “State of Play is wondrous, we will watch it! We’ll watch it, let’s watch it, hey guys, let’s watch it!” so we did and they loved it. As they inevitably must cause it’s swell. I often cannot tell from your level of enthusiasm how much you really feel a book has made your life better.

    • How could I not? I thought of your review of Gaudy Night when I was writing that – I loved it that you mentioned that particular scene. When Peter looks up suddenly, and Harriet turns scarlet, damn. Dorothy Sayers.

  14. I enjoyed Thief and am now waiting (a bit impatiently I might add) for the library holds system to tell when I can pick up the other two.

    As for being a book evangelist, I am but probably more like your sister. I won’t pester too much but I always want to know what someone thinks of a book I gave them, especially if it’s one I loved.

    • Good news: There’s three after The Thief. A Conspiracy of Kings is the most recent one, just came out this year or last year, I think. I haven’t read it yet so I can’t speak for its quality, but it better be good, because I expect it’ll be years before Turner releases another.

      I like knowing what people think of books I’ve given them, if only because it helps me refine my ideas of what their tastes are like. I love giving books as presents, but it’s dangerous if I don’t have a pretty good idea of what people are going to like and dislike.

    • They’re so lovely, aren’t they? If only we had gerundives in English. I enjoyed doing gerundives in Latin – they always had “ando” or “endo” and were thus easy to identify.

      I just looked up gerundive on Wikipedia to see what they had to say, and they gave as an example, “The cat is feed-ando” for “The cat needs to be fed.” I feel like I’m going to start saying things like feed-ando. Jenny is feed-ando some delicious baklava.

  15. The words “plot twist” always make me think of a soft serve ice cream where they swirl the chocolate and vanilla together into a perfect bi-colored towering form.

    The word “gerund” always makes me think of Gary Cooper. (?!)

    The word “subtext” the perfect word to describe the difference between the two ways of liking these books. There is the normal way of liking them, and the crazed subtext maniac way. Speaking as a crazed subtext maniac.

    Love your gush posts!

    • I…don’t know who Gary Cooper is. Although Wikipedia (how would I live without this website?) says that he was born on my birthday.

      I don’t know if it’s all about subtext, but there are different ways to appreciate these books for sure. I thought the bulk of The King of Attolia was quite sad, and my sister thought it was very very funny. Because of how Eugenides was steady messing with all the Attolians.

      • Matinee idol. He played shy, sweet, strong men with a hidden fiery streak and intelligence, which the crisis and or the heroine would bring out. The slow-talking good guy. Not an actor with a huge range–he was hopeless at comedy. War heros, sheltered professors, doomed baseball stars, and cowboy sheriffs tortured by ethical conundrums. Have you not seen High Noon? I hesitate to recommend movies far more than books but….

        So, I guess I have the same soft spot fir gerunds as I do toward shy masculine long-dead movie stars with prominent eyelashes.

      • Sad in a good way?

        Funny I sort of get, but not completely, because Eugenides didn’t have one up on the Attolians except in a limited way. His whole personal life was still completely vulnerable to them. He was voluntarily imprisoned in his new life.

        I guess the life of a thief wasn’t too comfortable either.

      • I haven’t seen High Noon – I’ll have to rent it when I get back home. My little sister and I bond by watching films together, so this can be a good one for us. :)

        Absolutely sad in a good way! I sort of get funny, too, but as you say, his ability to one-up the Attolians was so limited by his unwillingness to a) rule (esp. tyrannically) and b) let his wife see what was going on, that it was still sort of sad.

  16. I am not a book evangelist in general, I think. But I really loved your post. It shows how enthusiastic you are about these books perfectly.

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    • You know there’s a fourth book that came out this year, or last year maybe? A Conspiracy of Kings. Sophos comes back!

      I will confess to being disproportionately invested in Eugenides’s success in the YA fantasy showdown. But it’s come down to Howl vs. Eugenides and I can’t say I think much of Gen’s chances in that sort of a battle. :p

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