Book Review: Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia Trilogy

Some of the best writers today can be found in the Young Adult (YA) section of the library or bookstore.  Be they horror, humor, or fantasy stories, the books these YA writers create tend to grab the reader’s interest before the end of the first page and maintain a pace that keeps them engaged.  The YA readers include  “tweens” with advanced reading skills and teens with hundreds of competing interests.  They are the hardest reading audience to target because reading competes with sports, hormones, and the endless social dramas of daily life.  It’s a tough audience, and it requires bold authors.

One of the finest examples of such an author is Megan Whalen Turner.

Whalen’s debut novel, The Thief, published 1996, promptly earned a well-deserved Newbery Honor award.  The Thief is a fantasy novel: the setting is similar-to but not our own, with new mythologies, new landscapes, and an interesting blend of ancient Greece and Medieval Europe technologies.  Told in first-person narrative, it is the story of a braggart thief sprung from prison to steal an item that has not been seen in 500 years.  He has limited options: travel with the Magus on this dubious mission or rot in prison.  No run-of-the-mill heroic quest, story is populated with characters of the finest portrayal, both honorable and despicable, and all capable of transformation over the course of events.  I read the book in a single sitting, savoring every word, and desperately hunting for more by this author.  Alas, there was nothing else back then but her short fiction collection.  I had to cultivate patience.

Four years elapsed — four years!  But those were four years of amazing maturation for Turner’s writing.  The Queen of Attolia hit the shelves in 2000, and proved to be no mere sequel.  No longer told in the first person, the story explores the world of The Thief, introducing new characters alongside those we remember from the first book, all older, wiser, and perhaps more tragic.  We learned the countries of Turner’s world in her first novel, but now we travel more widely, and interact more with the citizens.  Queen is significantly more intense and thought-provoking, and I deeply cared about the outcome of events.

Six years later — 2006 — Turner did it again:  The King of Attolia arrived, with stunning cover art and something fresh and new in store!  In King, Turner does not simply bring back familiar characters from the first two books, she fleshes them out and explores the interrelationships with dramatic results.  This is no stale trilogy; there is no “formula” to this storyline.  Turner allows her characters to undergo changes many authors would never consider — never dare — and in doing so she leaves them free to portray a kaleidoscope of human behaviors and the full spectrum of emotions.

All three books are excellent reading: I purchased all three of them, twice, in hardcover.  Paperbacks would wear out too easily, as these stories are glorious adventures, even on repeat readings, and they will never gather dust on my shelves.