Friday, August 23, 2013

Author Elizabeth Fama on why The Queen's Thief is her favorite + GIVEAWAY

The Summer Series Challenge is happening now! 
Hosted by Heather @ The Flyleaf Review
Lauren @ Love is not a triangle
Follow #serieschallenge

If you are already a fan of Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief series, I have a huge treat for you. Prepare yourself to fall in love with Gen and his world again.

If you haven't read these books yet, or *gasp* have never heard of them, it's time to jump on the train. 

Even more enticing, this is a guest post, written by Monstrous Beauty author Elizabeth Fama. Her insight and critical mind wows me every time, and her love for The Queen's Thief series is truly unique and inspiring. Plus, she's the nicest, most welcoming person ever.

Beth's enthusiasm for Gen and his story helped encourage me to read these books last December. They are now on the list of my forever favorites.

I'm thrilled to present Elizabeth Fama: 

NOTE: This post does contain some mild spoilers for the series, but none of the BIG ones are present. 

When Lauren invited me to write a post about any of the series I've loved--cheerfully assuming that I must have more than one--I felt a twinge of embarrassment. The truth is that I almost never read series in their entirety. I haven't even finished the Harry Potter series, which might actually be against the law for a young-adult writer.

My reading time has to serve double duty: I don't just read for pleasure, I also read for work. That means I read a lot of non-fiction for research, and I always read fiction with a critical eye: I'm studying the author's voice, characterization, setting, and plot, and asking, "What can I learn from this?" Most often I read the first book or two in a series and feel I've gleaned what I need. Even if I'd enjoy the subsequent books on a recreational basis, it's time to move on. So why is it that I've read all four books in Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series (some more than once)? It's because, quite simply, I continued to learn as I was reading. In fact, you can see Turner herself growing as she writes.

The Thief is a spare piece at around 68,500 words. That's the first thing you learn about Turner's style: every word counts. There's no fluff, and you need to concentrate in order to capture the nuance. The second thing you'll want to study is the opening--because this is how you get someone hooked in only a few pages. It's a deceptively quiet first chapter, but we immediately wonder: Why is the thief so mistrusted by the king that he's the only prisoner chained in his cell? Why is this royal adviser, the magus, interested in him? What treasure is so important that the king is conscripting the thief to steal it? Why did the thief brag with such assurance that he could escape from prison and then not do it? At the same time we see intriguing features of his character: he leaves the manacles on his hands even though he can slip out of them; before his arrest he apparently crawled at will, unnoticed, through the king's megaron without being detected; even when filthy and dominated, he sits in the finest, most comfortable chair in the magus's study; he notices everything, like feet standing behind a curtain, and the character of his interrogator, but seemingly doesn't act on it; he allows the magus to think he's dumb. Then there is the finesse of Turner's prose: how does a character, in first person, manage to keep so much of himself in reserve from readers, as if we can't be trusted yet? And the characterization: each player is fully fleshed out and beautifully flawed, like a real person. Eugenides (Gen) in particular is overly sensitive, passionately loyal, secretly insecure, full of bravado, with outsized skills that he uses with assuredness while still feeling unworthy. And finally, there's the subtlety of the relationships and Turner's unsurpassed ability to show emerging respect between people who are at odds with each other.

Pretty great, huh? But wait, now here's Book Two, The Queen of Attolia, and Turner tests herself--and us--by writing in third person. Oh, no! We're out of our beloved Gen's head! But now we're able to see multiple points of view--which we start to realize is essential to understanding the complex geo-political world Turner is developing. Irene, the queen of Attolia, is a real person, struggling with internal backstabbing, national interests, and personal emotions. We had already grown to love the queen of Eddis, but something becomes compelling about the wounded, guarded Attolia. And Turner does this by daring to slide gently into the POV of multiple characters in the same chapter--a technique that in other hands has the potential to remove us from the story. Here it's done so deftly that we instead see a counterpoint being established. In a kind of alternating dance, Gen is brooding about his wound and its deep implications, while Attolia is sleeping poorly and asking her ambassador for information from Eddis's court. "We begin to see," my friend Mark Flowers pointed out to me, "that Attolia is as obsessed with Gen as vice versa." And yet nothing is as simple as it seems, because only pages later we read:

[Nahuseresh:] "You could have killed this thief."
"I could have," Attolia agreed. "This has been as effective and more...satisfying." She was lying. She already wished that she'd killed Eugenides and been done with him.

Attolia apparently hates Gen, or more likely hates the very obsession we're witnessing bloom in her. These are complicated relationships evolving in front of us, and subtlety of emotion through economy of words is Turner's genius. Take for instance Gen's self-pity that he can no longer be a thief, and Eddis's awareness of it (and peculiar mix of empathy and intolerance), conveyed in five brief lines:

[Eddis] held out a hand, and he stepped down the stairs and across the throne room to take it and bow over it.
"My Queen," he said.
"My Thief," she answered.
He lifted his head. She squeezed his hand, and he forbore to argue with her.
"Dinner, I think," said the queen....

In Book Three, The King of Attolia, the narration switches again to be primarily from the point of view of--huh?--an unknown palace guard? Who the heck is Costis? But soon we see how clever this is: Costis doesn't trust Eugenides or like him; Gen has been forced on him, which we grow to realize is the metaphor for an entire country. Brilliant.

Finally, Book Four, A Conspiracy of Kings, is Sophos's story, the heir to Sounis, told mostly in first-person. The other characters are important players--and there’s a charming love story with obstacles--but we're squarely following Sophos's personal and political growth and the continuing overarching game of thrones (yes, I said it). My favorite part is, as usual, the masterful use of "more is less" in Turner's language; specifically, the way we see that Sophos is growing into a force to be reckoned with, even though he envisions himself as the boy who cried when his tutor smacked his fingers with a switch. Sophos says self-deprecating things like, "I screamed at them every curse I'd ever practiced when I was alone, trying to imitate the Thief of Eddis, but I doubt I sounded anything but hysterical." Meanwhile, he fails to internalize the fact that the slaver hired to kidnap him persists in calling him "lionhearted" and "lion," and street-tough men give him a wide berth. Sophos describes, but doesn't see, that he has to look down on almost everyone because of his new adult height. It's not until well into his own story that he realizes the "man-killer" moniker is not a misguided description of him; that he has in fact killed two men.

While writing this post I found myself re-reading portions of the series, surfacing a day later before I knew what had happened. Turner's work has that effect. As an author she seems to feed her own creative energy by experimenting with points-of-view, and by unfolding emotions and relationships sparely and subtly. The effect for readers is a journey that holds your attention, that challenges you to read carefully, that encourages repeated visits.

THANK YOU, Beth for that inspiring post! 
Now I want to go back and reread the series. 

*Keep scrolling for info on Beth's upcoming book and an awesome GIVEAWAY*

Elizabeth Fama is the author of 3 books. OVERBOARD (Cricket Books, 2002) was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, MONSTROUS BEAUTY was an Odyssey honor winner and on YALSA's 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults list. Her upcoming novel, PLUS ONE will be published next spring by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR).

Follow: Twitter | Goodreads | Blog 

Elizabeth Fama's upcoming novel Plus One releases next spring! Although there's no cover yet, here's the Edelweiss description. I'm salivating already!

"Divided by day and night and on the run from authorities, star-crossed young lovers unearth a sinister conspiracy in this compelling romantic thriller. 

Seventeen-year-old Soleil Le Coeur is a Smudge—a night dweller prohibited by law from going out during the day. When she fakes an injury in order to get access to and kidnap her newborn niece—a day dweller, or Ray—she sets in motion a fast-paced adventure that will bring her into conflict with the powerful lawmakers who order her world, and draw her together with the boy she was destined to fall in love with, but who is also a Ray.

Set in a vivid alternate reality and peopled with complex, deeply human characters on both sides of the day-night divide, Plus One is a brilliantly imagined drama of individual liberty and civil rights, and a fast-paced romantic adventure story."

Add Plus One to your Goodreads


One signed paperback copy of Monstrous Beauty

Just look at that beautiful new cover. 
The paperback edition of Monstrous Beauty releases October 1, 2013. 
If you win, your book will be mailed at that time. 

Don't forget to link up your August reviews! The month is quickly coming to a close. 


  1. I have not read this series Lauren and Beth, and that is clearly a mistake of epic proportions! I've seen it around on several blogs, but for some reason never picked it up. Fail. I love stories that force me to read carefully and take note of every word and its relationship to the next because I know the author did everything they did with purpose:)

    Also, I do believe not finishing Harry Potter is against the law for sure. Just saying ;-)

    1. Jenny, yes it's an actual crime that I haven't finished the HP series! I promise, promise, promise that I will. You should definitely make time for The Queen's Thief series. It's rare to find books you want to gobble up that are also so *smart*.

  2. Gah! This is such a fabulous guest post! I love Beth's insight into this series--I'm nodding my head in agreement with everything she has said in regards to The Thief and The Queen of Attolia, the two books I have read, especially when she talks about every word counting and this:

    "Then there is the finesse of Turner's prose: how does a character, in first person, manage to keep so much of himself in reserve from readers, as if we can't be trusted yet?"


    And I am SO excited to have Sophos return in the fourth book--it makes me feel a bit like I did when I read the Luamtere Chronicles (who I know were greatly inspired by Turner's work) when I fell in love with Finnikin and then fell even MORE in love with Froi later on. Such amazing characters in both of those series:)

    And I can't wait to read Plus One. 'Smudge'--why do I love that word so much?? Makes me think of Noah, L:) It's already on my TBR but this is the first time I have read the synopsis:)

    FANTASTIC guest post Beth and Lauren:) And the cover of Monstrous Beauty's paperback is stunning:))

    1. Oh, series that inspires me--so many:) Since I mentioned it maybe Marchetta's Lumatere Chronicles :)

    2. Heather--it's a tricky path to walk, having Gen withhold or obscure information without violating the contract with the reader, but in my opinion it works, especially in the context of the subsequent books in the series. I could probably write another guest treatise on that subject alone.

      I enjoyed Froi in the first Lumatere book (and forgave him, which I know some readers didn't). I especially liked the way he sometimes outwardly did the right thing, or mimicked honorable behavior, or even accidentally did it, all while not really identifying with it. But by being included in the group he began to develop certain loyalties that made him understand the beginnings of his own ethics. It would be fun to watch his growth in the second book. I'll try to get to it!

      I'm so glad you like the word "Smudge." My son (my novelist/graphic-novelist son) thinks it's hokey. Ha! Keeping me humble.

  3. First off, Monstrous Beauty has GORGEOUS covers! Anyway, Lauren, you already know I love this series to death and beyond, so reading a post all about it makes me giddy with excitement! Thanks for sharing - I thoroughly enjoyed this one!(:

    1. Keertana, I'm thrilled about the new paperback cover. I love the hardcover--it's especially striking in sunlight--but it's hard to see in dark bookstores. The spine disappears on the shelf! There also seems to be a whole class of people who don't think they're interested in mermaid books, and for me the mermaid aspect of MB is only a small part of the story. I'll be interested to see which new readers might pick it up when there's no fin on the cover!

  4. Admittedly, I somewhat gasped when I read that Ms. Fama hadn't finished the Harry Potter books. If we're talking about deceptive details in the story, JK Rowling is a good example of that and more.

    It's interesting that she discusses the first chapter. I actually found myself kind of bored by the beginning because there was quite a bit of info-dumping to introduce the situation. The questions raised - like why he's such a good thief, why the King will send *him* to find the treasure - were intriguing but not so much for me as the other quiet moments when Gen clearly comments on the characters around him but refuses to let them see how smart he is. The writing was also what convinced me that even if the Thief wasn't my favorite book, I'd have to buy Queen of Attolia.

    "intriguing features of his character: he leaves the manacles on his hands even though he can slip out of them; before his arrest he apparently crawled at will, unnoticed, through the king's megaron without being detected; even when filthy and dominated, he sits in the finest, most comfortable chair in the magus's study; he notices everything, like feet standing behind a curtain, and the character of his interrogator, but seemingly doesn't act on it; he allows the magus to think he's dumb." <-- Gen was my favorite character by far. Maybe one of my favorites in all of YA lit. It's hard to write a character who we feel we know well but who we also know is hiding stuff from us and who we still love. Such a fine balance between sympathy, mystery, and intrigue. There are few authors who can do that - the only time I've come close, but not SUPER close, to getting that same feeling was with the False Prince.

    Oooh, I didn't know that the later books are told from Sophos's and a guard's perspectives. I hadn't looked at the summaries yet, but that sounds exciting. A lot of people said that Ms. Turner experimented with narrative techniques, but I wasn't quite sure what they meant. And now I really want to start in on my Queen of Attolia copy!

    The series that inspires me? Harry Potter. All the way. Every time I reread those books I feel like I'm unraveling another layer in the story.

    1. Oops, I forgot to comment on the new cover - I was just that excited about discussing the Queen's Thief series :D. Was that released recently? I must admit, I did like the other cover, but I like this one better just for the colors, the texture, and the title font.

    2. Christina, the paperback will be released on October 1. There was no big cover reveal anywhere, which is kind of my speed! As for THE FALSE PRINCE, I've read it and I was dismayed to see that it's being made into a film rather than MWT's THIEF, which has more sophisticated world-building and originated this particular form of unreliable narrator. For years I'd been hoping that some brilliant producer would see the potential of The Queen's Thief as a movie series, and now I fear the thunder has been stolen.

  5. I've gotten to be absolutely horrible about reading series in their entirety. There are just too many of them! I've kept up with a lot more UF than YA series...not sure why. But don't feel alone in the not finishing series!

    Love the gorgeous new cover!

    1. Mary--I'm sure Lauren, Asheley, and Heather were hoping their summer challenge would get us to finish some of those neglected series (and start a discussion about some of the reasons we don't). I still feel like I have to guard my reading energy, and I love the "contained art" of standalones, but I have renewed purpose about finishing the HP series, and picking up FROI!

  6. I have always meant to read this series and Beth's post inspires me to get going!

    As a blogger, I try to read with a critical eye. I find that there are some books that I enjoy but don't admire as a piece of writing-- and vice versa. When I find I book that I can admire and enjoy reading, I've found a keeper!

    But I also agree with Christina -- there are a few writers (J.K. Rowling and John Green are the best examples I can think of off the top of my head) that make what they do seem so natural and effortless that I just enjoy the story and don't stop to appreciate how much skill has gone into telling it. Then it's not until I read other, less successful comp titles that I realize how very, very good they are at what they do.

    1. Oh, definitely make time for this series, Jen. Think of it as if you were back in college, majoring in YA lit this time, and you can't graduate without without reading the classics!

  7. The Queen's Thief, of course! There IS NO BETTER SERIES, in my opinion. I love it so.

  8. As another commenter stated, Harry Potter. It's what got me into reading. Period. Hands down, my go to series to dive in to!

  9. i inspired by arcane society's series by amanda quick...

  10. The books Juniper, Wise Child and Coleman by Monica Furlong (not sure what the series name is)pretty much inspired me to be a writer. They're so intense and magical.

  11. Oh god, you AND Angie AND Chachic AND Beth Fama, all have been singing this series' praises forever and a day. Did you post this just to torment me? I have books waiting to be reviewed. *glares*

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

    PS--no need to enter me in the giveaway. Already have that gorgeous, gorgeous book! Good luck to everyone. :)

    1. I'll magically create time for you, Wendy: when the date rolls around to request an ARC of PLUS ONE, you should read THE THIEF instead. That's how important I think this series is!

    2. Well, now I'll never read it, because I'm not putting anything aside over PLUS ONE. Poor MWT. Such a dreadful bargain to strike.

  12. This post is perfection. Fama nails literally every aspect I love about this series. I haven't read Fama's book yet, but reading her guest post makes me even more eager to give it a try. I love it when authors love the same authors I do! I'm making my boyfriend read this series right now and that, paired with this incredibly insightful and lovely post, makes me think a The Queen's Thief series reread will be coming up very shortly. :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...