This is the sixth and final book in the Queen’s Thief fantasy series, which the author has produced over a twenty-four-year time span. I read the first five books some years ago, and wish I had waited to read them all together. After I read the first though, I was hooked, and kept on reading them. In any event, now readers of the previous books have a great reason to start the series all over again.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what made me love these books so much, especially because I tended to get a bit confused by all the byzantine plotting of those wrangling for power in the stories. But one can’t help, I think, falling in love with the main characters in the series, especially Eugenides – called Gen – “the Thief” and now King of Attolia.
Each book has a different narrator – in this case it is Pheris, the heir to Baron Erondites, one of Gen’s enemies. Pheris was born speechless and physically disabled, but not mentally impaired, as so many immediately assumed (but never Gen). Erondites agreed to let his heir be raised in the palace – not disclosing Pheris’s birth defects – thinking he pulled one over Gen. More than that, Erondites hoped Gen would have Pheris killed, so that he could pass the older boy’s inheritance to Pheris’s younger and more seemingly “normal” brother. Erondites was aware that Gen could be ruthless, but was less cognizant that Gen was also compassionate and smarter than he let on (in a nice parallel to the tendency of Pheris to play the role of the “idiot” so he could move around with more impunity). Gen sees behind Pheris’s physical disabilities, and sets about educating and training him to realize his capabilities.
In this book there is also a power struggle among the nations surrounding Attolia and a war to resolve it. It makes up a great deal of the action but in the main serves as a device to highlight the natures of, and interactions between, all involved. When Gen comments on the war, for example, we also see how he regards power dynamics generally: “‘Oh yes, of course,’ said Eugenides bitterly. ‘If you have the might to do it, you have the right to do it. The most important rule of all.’”
In addition, we learn more about the marriage of Gen and Irene, the Queen of Attolia. This is not an idealized relationship like those so common in fantasy novels, but rather a mature and realistic partnership with all the ups and downs you find in real life. It is also marked by respect and care that is deeply touching, even though rarely explicitly articulated.
The supernatural elements of the story, i.e., the occasional influence of the gods, are also very well done, with subtlety and surprise. Unlike stories about the Greek gods, these gods make clear that human intention will play a large role in human fate; the gods may set something in motion, but the rest is up to the players.
Evaluation: This is an excellent book that caps off an outstanding series. If you have not started it, you are in for a treat, for you may now read them all at once and in order. (The first of the series is The Thief.) The author has gotten many prizes for her books, and they are well deserved.
Rating: 4/5 [Given my memory deficits, I rated it as a standalone, and I did indeed forget a lot that was not fully recapitulated by the author.]
Published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2020