Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Review: A Conspiracy of Kings (reread)

About four years ago I came across the first book in this series, The Thief, at my local library and I liked it rather well. However, the library system didn't have the second book and upon reading the blurb for the third book (which they did have) I determined this was not a good series to read out of order. So there wasn't much I could do, I checked every now and again but, to the best of my knowledge, the library still hasn't gotten the second book. But sometime last year I came across fanart for The Thief and got linked to a fan club for it*which informed me that the series wasn't a trilogy, like I'd thought, but instead was going to be a six book series with the fourth book coming out this past spring. Went to the college library and hey, there's the second book! They got the fourth book in pretty fast too so I read that last spring and didn't think about it again until I was thinking about my top three books of the year and realized that was on the list. Right after that I came across a copy of it in the used book store and decided now was as good a time as ever for a re-read!

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

I really like the covers for this series. Even though each cover is rather different from the previous one they still feel thematically similar and manage to reflect what's going on in the book itself. Also found this funny little post about the making of the cover which is pretty cool.
Summary: Sophos has been missing for a while now and all of his friends are worried. So this is Sophos story, how he became a slave, became a king, and then had to do the hardest thing of all, win back his country.

The Good: MWT took a big risk with the second book (and the rest) by not focusing on Gen (the protagonist and narrator of the first book) and instead having other characters narrate and it's really paying off (as a side note, I think this is the only book I've read that's at least partially in the second person which is pretty awesome). Each of the main characters is strong and well-defined and, while the fans do love Gen the best, this book really proves that the series can stand without him being the focus. She's set up a complex world with plenty of subtle details that have double meanings that the fans love to work out. I also really liked all the politics present in the book and it's well balanced out by all the action, plus the politics stays simple enough that even people without an interest in it should be able to follow it. Finally, a set of books is only called a series if they have some overarching theme (defeat this villain, uncover that mystery, ect), otherwise you have a main book and companion books to it. While the books have felt like a series before there was one small scene at the end that confirmed what the real focus in this series is. To say more would be spoliery (especially if you haven't read the series) but it was reassuring to see that MWT knows where she wants the last two books to go.

The Bad: While I normally like all the little details with double meanings there were a couple of ones I didn't understand the first read-through, mainly those concerning Gen. Even the other characters remark that he's got a case of "well we've changed, now where do we stand with each other because I'm scared to find out"and the stilted communication makes it really hard to get into Gen's head (although it does make it even easier to sympathize with Sophos and Gen was meant to be written like that). Still, if I couldn't figure out some things after two readings and some thinking that's not a good sign. Also, this series really needs a map by now, can we pretty please have one in the next book?  

So, good plot, interesting characters, nice setting (basically it's alternate Greece in the Renaissance, just Greece as three different countries), different kind of narration from normal, and plenty of room for speculation? Yep, totally my kind of book and I'd recommend it to almost anyone who enjoys YA fantasy. It's going to be another couple of years before the fifth book is out but as long as it's less than eight years (the longest I've ever had to wait for a book, thanks Bruce Coville) I'll be a happy camper. Just as a final quick note, I managed to avoid all but one or two spoilers in this review (mainly because you can't describe the book without at least one) but this series (the title of which is actually a bit of a spoiler) has a big twist at the end of the first book and one at the beginning and another at the end of the second book so just be careful when looking up reviews of them!

*Sounis, they're on livejournal and are the nuttiest fandom I have ever seen for any series, book or otherwise, hands down and believe me, I've seen some crazy fandoms.

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