The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
5Q 4P J/S
The King of Attolia is Eugenedes, the former Thief of Eddis. He was once the best thief in the land. But Gen isn’t much of a thief now. The only thing he's stolen recently is the Queen of Attolia's heart. The Queen of Attolia. His wife. The woman who had his right hand cut off. This man, this outsider, is the new and hated King of Attolia.
Costis is proud of being a soldier in Attolia. He's a good soldier, too. Good enough to be promoted to a squadron leader in the Queen's Guard much faster than usual. He is also proud of being Attolian, and fiercely loyal and protective of the queen. It pains him to see her married to a "goat-footed, throne-stealing interloper". This king is a joke! He doesn't look like a king, doesn't walk like a king, doesn't stand like a king...he sits on the throne like he's a printer's apprentice in a wine shop, for heaven's sake! He can’t stand it. In a moment of madness, Costis cocks his fist and throws a punch that lands the king on his back. The king! He punched the king! This is treason! He will surely hang for this.
But he doesn't. To his great shock, instead of insisting on that ultimate penalty, the King makes a deal with the Queen and the Captain of her Guard, Telius. Costis becomes the king's lackey. He has to be the king's sparring partner (and the one-armed king is a terrible sword fighter) and follow him around all day doing nothing. It's a terrible comedown for a squadron leader, and the rest of the guard look at him with both pity and scorn. But a strange thing starts happening. Costis hates the king. But it troubles him to see the way his attendants treat him. They put sand in his food and snakes in his bed. They refuse to dress him properly, so his clothes are mismatched and never quite clean. They even maneuver to sic the hunting dogs on him. This isn't right. He is, after all, the King. It's not until these nasty tricks turn into an attempt to assassinate the king that Costis begins to realize that Gen's stealing days aren't quite over. Little by little, he's stealing Costis's heart and his loyalty. But Costis has one more shock coming to him. He’s learned a lot about Gen, but the one thing he hasn’t learned yet is that he always has something up his sleeve. Never, ever underestimate a thief.
Turner’s writing is so good that she makes Gen’s transformation into an ineffectual king seem quite believable. It’s only when you start thinking about what you absolutely know to be true about Gen that you being to wonder just what’s really going on here. The development of the relationship between Costis and Gen and the slowly revealed depth of the relationship between Gen and his queen are well handled, and when the final pieces of the puzzle are dropped into place and we see what’s really been going on, it is deeply satisfying. You do not need to have read the other two books in this series to be caught up by this one, but if you haven't, you've been missing out!
Edited on 9/29/2007 to add: Shannon Hale interviewed Megan Whalen Turner. It's going to be a three-part interview. (Parts two and three aren't up at the time I'm posting this, but I'm sure you'll find them easily once they are.) I can't wait to find out if Shannon asks the all-important "When is the fourth Gen book coming out?" and what Megan's answer is!