Book: “A Conspiracy of Kings” by Megan Whalen Turner
Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins Publishers, March 2010
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: Sophos, under the guidance of yet another tutor, practices his swordplay and strategizes escape scenarios should his father’s villa come under attack. How would he save his mother? His sisters? Himself? Could he reach the horses in time? Where would he go? But nothing prepares him for the day armed men, silent as thieves, swarm the villa courtyard ready to kill, to capture, to kidnap. Sophos, the heir to the throne of Sounis, disappears without a trace.
In Attolia, Eugenides, the new and unlikely king, has never stopped wondering what happened to Sophos. Nor has the Queen of Eddis. They send spies. They pay informants. They appeal to the gods. But as time goes by, it becomes less and less certain that they will ever see their friend alive again.
Across the small peninsula battles are fought, bribes are offered, and conspiracies are set in motion. Darkening the horizon, the Mede Empire threatens, always, from across the sea. And Sophos, anonymous and alone, bides his time. Sophos, drawing on his memories of Gen, Pol, the Magus and Eddis, sets out on an adventure that will change all of their lives forever.
Review: After blazing through the first three books in this series last fall, I decided I needed to pump the brakes so I could stand the wait until the fifth book’s publication this spring. Delayed gratification and all of that. But by now the next book has dropped, I’m on the waiting list at my library, and it’s time to finally catch up with the last book in the series to this point.
One thing that I have commented about in all of the previous books in this series, is the way the author plays where her narrator and narrative method. For a series that has such a strong character as Gen, it’s a brave choice to focus the story on periphery characters and leave your star player benched, essentially, for large chunks of the story. Here, she takes an even bolder risk by throwing the story into the hands of Sophos, a character who played a large role in the plot of the first book “The Thief” but has been entirely absent, apart from random asides, throughout the rest of the series. He was an interesting enough character there, but it is always hard to tell how truly compelling any character is on their own when they’re working of the character of Gen who seems to draw out the best parts of many characters. So if you’d asked me whether I was interested in an entire book seen through his eyes and regarding his struggles with family and kingship, I’d probably have been like “…meh?” But, as usual, I should never have doubted!
One of the few things I remembered about Sophos as a character was his crippling insecurity. Here, after the events of “The Thief” and back in his home country under a new tutor, we can see why he struggles with this. His father is completely disappointed in him as a son and heir and never misses an opportunity to rub this fact in. So in many ways this is a story of self-discovery and self-confidence, all wrapped beneath an action packed plot. After Sophos’ family is attacked and he is sold into slavery, he finds himself completely alone in the world, and, for the first time, anonymous. How can he escape his current situation and re-claim his throne? And, more importantly, does he even want to?
As I mentioned earlier, Whalen Turned doesn’t just change up narrators between books, but she also changes the way she tells the story. Here, very early on, it is clear that Sophos is relating his experience to a listener, but it is not clear who that listener was. This plot device was both interesting and endlessly frustrating as I kept coming up with guesses for who he was talking to and the purpose of telling the story the way he was.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that yes, he eventually does meet up with Gen, Attolia, and, most importantly Eddis again. As leaders of their own countries, each are valuable allies for the displaced Sophos. But much has happened since he last left them, most importantly the upstart theif Gen is now King of Attolia. And Eddis…he’s not quite sure where he stands with her. I loved seeing all of these characters through the eyes of Sophos who has been gone for much of the series and missed the progression of change that we the readers have had time to come to terms with. Further, all three rulers have different approaches to what it means to lead a country and how they go about it. I loved the insights they each provided Sophos as he began to realize the depth of the decisions before him.
The only thing that knocks this book down from a perfect score is the complicated politics of the regions. And I even hesitate to mention it because this aspect of the series is also one that makes it stand out and has been one of the draws for me as a reader. And it still is here. However, there were times when the plans and actions of the characters were confusing to me and I had to re-read portions to fully understand how everyone knew what when. But, like I said, I’d rather things be more complicated than be spoon-fed the plot, so take this “criticism” how you will.
Surprising no one, I loved this book. And surprising no one, all the doubts I had going in where laid fully to rest. I will now go back to obsessively refreshing my library hold account page to see if the line of people before me is dwindling for the next book “Thick as Thieves.”
Rating 9: Another great entry in a great series!
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