First up, one of the books—or rather series of books—that inspired LHI4BW (whew, that’s an acronym for ya): Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series. This series follows the (mis)adventures of Eugenides, the titular thief from guttersnipe to King and everywhere in between.
Gen, as he is occasionally called, begins as a no-name thief one step from the gallows, but soon reveals himself as the Thief of Eddis and cousin to the queen of that land. Across the currently published four books in the series, he steals back a national treasure, loses a hand, starts a war, ends it, marries the Queen of Attolia (a rival country), is a terrible king, is a great king, and generally surprises everyone. The thing about Gen that everyone (including the reader) always manages to forget is that even though he’s young, he’s pretty much smarter than everyone around him, and is always at least five steps ahead.
I’m going to focus on the third book in the series, The King of Attolia, because it is my particular favorite, and will prove my earlier point. At the end of the previous book, Gen married the Queen of Attolia who had previously chopped off his hand. Awkward. Now he finds himself king of an unfamiliar and unwelcoming land, and seems to be doing a rather poor job—falling asleep in briefings, making rude remarks, and allowing himself to be bullied by his personal attendants. But Gen’s biggest weapon is lulling everyone into thinking they have his number and thus underestimating his power. By the end of the book, Gen has won over the Royal Guard, killed an assassin, rooted out a traitor, diffused his attendants, and proved himself not only a capable king but a masterful one.
Take for example, a quick episode that happens in the middle: Gen is nearly poisoned and openly confronts the obvious culprit, the leader of his malicious attendants and son of a troublesome baron, Sejanus. But Gen doesn’t accuse Sejanus, instead he accuses his younger brother Dite, who is desperately in love with the Queen, and thus has motive. Desperate to save his brother, Sejanus confesses to the crime even though he didn’t commit it, in exchange for Dite only being exiled.
After the beaten Sejanus is hauled off to a life-long prison sentence, Gen reveals that Dite didn’t poison him, Gen poisoned himself in order to imprison Sejanus and get rid of Dite, leaving their troublesome father without an heir, and thus destroying their family’s power completely. Then the Queen remarks that though he predicted six months, it only took him three to destroy that family, and you realize Gen had been planning this all along. The bullying that he seemed unable to control enabled him to build a case against Sejanus, in order to take down his father.
In my mind, Gen is like a Byzantine-era Sherlock Holmes. He plays the long game: his moves are at least eight ahead of what is actually happening, and his behavior in the present is always dependent on what he wants the ultimate result in the future to be. Furthermore, despite lacking a hand, he is an adept fighter (even beating the captain of the queen’s personal guard in single combat), plus all his spy-skills—acrobatics, climbing, disguise, memorization. Plus, when he questions the gods, they answer, for better or for worse.
But his awesomeness is tempered by the fact that though we’re not told his age (I believe he starts the first book at fourteen), we know he’s very young. He sulks, is insufferably stubborn, and suffers horrific nightmares—made more complicated by the fact that they spring from when the Queen (now his wife) cut off his hand. He genuinely loves the Queen (which was sprung on us a little abruptly) and their bond is quiet and deep, for she is as cunning as he is and they are well-matched but have a very bizarre history. All of this works to avoid the cheeky thief stereotype, and instead Turner presents us with a hero and plots that are both sophisticated and completely unpredictable and generally great reads. She always throws in a big twist at the end that will throw you for a loop!
Turner integrates a lot of pastiche-type myths into the books—the setting is comparable to ancient Greece, plus a lot more technology like guns and glass windows and such, as are the names and the pantheon of gods. It fits that the myths told by various characters feel very much like actually Greek or Roman mythology. Personally, I find that the plots are so captivating that I begrudge any break in the story, but I have to admit that they’re well-crafted and entertaining.
The books in the series to-date and in order are: The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings. Turner publishes a new one every four years, and since the latest one just came out in 2010, I fear we’re in for a long wait before the next one. But if that’s what it takes to pull off such intricate plots, I suppose I can forgive her!