And then I swear, I am done. At least for awhile.
So yesterday I re-read it. Yes, the day after I read it the first time. This was mainly motivated by the fact that I had read it in three hours the first time and I felt like I had missed something. I needed to go back and be thorough. What follows here are my notes, somewhat ramble-y. They should be separated by chapter, and all quotes have the page number (obviously from the hardback edition) attached. A few notes:
* Feel free to disagree with any of my theories. Just remember that I reserve the right to delete comments if they’re mean. And by mean, I refer to anything which calls me names, calls MWT names, is profanity ridden etc.
* I’ve followed Sounis-the-community’s abbreviation conventions throughout. So MWT=Megan Whalen Turner, MOW=Minister of War (Gen’s father), KoA=King of Attolia, QoA=Queen of Attolia, both of these last referring to books rather than characters. I don’t think I refer to Conspiracy specifically, but I tend to abbreviate it as CofK.
* Obviously, there will be spoilers. There will also be lj-cuts. The spoilers are more severe than for my previous spoilery review, because they will be more specific. Consider yourself warned.
“Your novel approach made me think secrecy must be important, so I told my captain nothing but that you were to be conveyed quickly and quietly. I just learned that [Teleus] had seen you shooting peas in my face, and I am relieved not to find the two of you hanging by your thumbs.” p. xv
So much KoA backstory here! Granted you can keep reading and understand what’s going on, but the fact that Teleus would be very very upset that anyone had the chance to shoot peas at Gen only comes with the knowledge that he’s just sworn that Gen no longer has to watch his back.
“…after the ground-shaking set-to the three of them had had after my private correspondence was discovered.” p. 1
Did not get this on the first time, but…that’s his private correspondence with Eddis. Who he’s talking to! 🙂
“I looked for Malatesta and, when I didn’t see him, jumped to the worst conclusions” p. 13
Again, didn’t get this the first time through. He’s assuming that Malatesta is the traitor, not that he’s dead.
Basrus keeps calling Sophos a lion. I wonder why. I suspect Sophos himself would think it’s a sardonic comment, but I myself think that Basrus just has insight.
“When he released me, he stepped back carefully. I had seen Pol, captain of my father’s guard, treat an angry Eugenides once with the same caution, and for good reason. it was ridiculous that Basrus would treat me so, and humiliation made me more enraged. I would have run myself into him headfirst if Gorgias hadn’t grabbed me by the arm and held me back…” p. 26
What Sophos is not seeing here is that, whether humiliation or rage is the cause, Gorgias is rightly treating him with the same caution Pol showed towards Gen. In fact, humiliation was quite a bit of the cause in Gen’s case as well. Aw, Sophos! Growing up all Thief-y.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but is Basrus arranging for Sophos’s sale to Berrone by carefully leaving him at the requisite time? I think I’m reading too much into this.
“What do you think of Poers, Bunny?” p. 54
MOIRA calls him Bunny. MOIRA. She is awesome.
“[The magus] was determined that the two countries would be united, and had insisted that Sounis could use [Hamiathe’s Gift] to force an alliance and a marriage upon Eddis. We know how that turned out.” p. 59
“‘Dirnes,’ I said, ‘I don’t want your cake.’ I did, actually. I wanted it a lot.” p. 73
“‘Lend me your shirt for a minute,’ I said.
‘Because if you don’t, I’m going to hit you really hard and take it anyway.'” p. 83
Oh, Sophos. A more relevant question is whether he actually would have hit the other boy. I’m inclined to say that he would.
Please tell me Ochto and Dirnes will reappear in later books, because they are awesome.
“I hadn’t realized how much I had counted on the magus to solve all of Sounis’s problems until I realized we stood shoulder to shoulder and he was not in fact larger than life.” p. 101
I really enjoyed this different glimpse at the magus. Sophos has a tendency to hero-worship, which isn’t always able to stand up to the facts.
Also as a sense of politics: Sophos’s father is not wary enough of the Medes and the magus might be too wary (okay, yes, justifiably, but he seems a little pessimistic). This one line is also great: “Clearly Father and the magus had had no rapproachment in my absence.” Hee.
What is with the theme of wanting to strangle Mede ambassadors? Granted they’re all as annoying as can be, but specifically strangling. Of course, Sophos actually gets to shoot Akretenesh, while Gen’s problems are complicated by the fact that he can’t strangle Nahuseresh.
“‘You eat more than Gen did after prison,’ he said.
‘I have more sympathy with him all the time. Are you going to finish that drumstick?’ I asked.
‘I am. Stop staring at it.'”
This is a great exchange anyway, but I especially love it considering the context: the new king of Sounis and his minister, arguing over a roast chicken.
“I did think of the changes to my face, but I was sure that Eugenides, if he looked, would know me, and I was more distressed than I can say when he passed by without any sign of recognition.” p. 126
Well, yes, but Sophos. Did you really think he was going to jump out of his carriage and run over to meet you?
I’ve heard some debate over at Sounis-the-community about the balance of power between the king and the queen of Attolia. Personally I’m going for the following theory: they work largely in concert at this point, with Irene the mouthpiece of their hammered out agreement. However, at important moments, Eugenides signals her, in his own way, and she allows him to speak. He has always been more comfortable with secret authority, but make no mistake. He is a power. The Attolians and the Medes may not have entirely recognized it yet–remember that this is all occurring fairly soon after the end of KoA–but it is there all the same.
More matched pairs! So far we’ve had a matched pair of garnets (in the lie Sophos told the robbers) and a matched pair of noses (awww…:D).
“The color rose in Sounis’s cheeks, but he did not look away. He had thought of her every day.”
AWWWW. Also, this points something out I didn’t really pick up on before. That whole long previous section was him telling Eddis the story, right? So did he leave anything else out? Is Sophos more tricky than we expect?
“Eugenides did not expect to be forgiven.” p. 140
I think this is the key to Gen’s later annoyingly aloof behavior. He doesn’t want to get hurt by Sophos’s rejection, so he just doesn’t come near him. Which is stupid because Sophos isn’t going to reject him. Also, he probably feels guilty about sending him off to fight the Mede under false impressions.
“‘Oh, of course I will forgive him. What choice do I have?'” p. 140
There’s a lot in this book about Sophos/Sounis’s choices to forgive or not to forgive, and to truly forgive or to forgive because he has no other choice. He chooses to forgive Ion Nomenus–did anyone catch an interesting echo of Dite and Sejanus there? a kind of conditional forgiveness?–and he certainly chooses to forgive the first Ion.
“We do not, all of us, need to be throwing inkwells.” p. 142
I have loved Helen Eddis since her first appearance on the scene at the end of The Thief. This comment only makes me love her more. Not that I don’t adore Gen and Irene, because I do.
“He wondered how Gen got along with them [Gen’s attendents].” p. 145
Hilarion is awesomely snarky. And snarkily awesome. And also, it’s not like he knew where they were sleeping for most of their marriage.
“The attendent’s ears were all but standing out from his head as he strained to hear what the king’s rooms looked like, but Sounis left the rest of his sentence unsaid. The magus had also seen the resemblance in the plain walls and the plain paneling, and in the king’s desk with its careful arrangement of papers and pens, to the library of the queen of Eddis, where Eugenides had lived as her Thief.” p. 147
Okay, two things. One, this had the same punch-in-the-gut emotional reaction as when Costis realizes that Gen’s in those rooms because he can see where Eddis is, even if he can’t see Eddis (wail). Two, this is why, as much as I truly and utterly adore Costis, it’s great to have the magus and Sounis give their point of view. For all I know, MWT might have been seeing that similarity this whole time, but because Costis couldn’t give us the image, we didn’t know. AUGH. LOVE.
“Eddis did not say what she was thinking: that Sophos held Gen’s heart in his hand, that he was one of very few poeple who could destroy the king of Attolia, and that Attolia knew it.” p. 154
I need to think about this more, but wow. That gives me new insight into all the relationships involved. (And I wonder who the rest of the few are. I’d assume herself [duh], Eddis. Maybe the magus. Maybe Costis [like he would]. Maybe Relius. Maybe the minister of war.)
“…the magus far behind them, walking with one of Eddis’s attendants on one arm and one of Attolia’s on the other” p. 155
MAGUS! I am shocked!
“No doubt she had overcome her own rebels with ten men and a penknife.” p. 158
*dies laughing* This is just…so perfect, both for Irene and for how Sophos views her.
“The pockets are sewn on the inside.” p. 161
Another thing I didn’t understand on the first go. They’re made to fit the guns. How brilliant. How Gen, letting poor Sophos figure it out on his own. I wonder if that’s why he cried when he saw Gen’s present.
“When the king of Sounis was gone, Eugenides’s attendants, waiting in the guardroom, heard the wine cup smash.
Philologos stood, saying wearily, ‘I’ll clean it up,’ and went to fetch a cloth.” p. 161
This is MWT at her best. So few words, yet how much they reveal to careful attention. 1) Gen is upset, presumably because he and Sophos continue to have awkward, stilted conversations with each other 2) Gen’s attendants are used to him smashing things in a rage (of course they are–this is nothing to the time he shredded his room).
“The captain of the Royal Guard crossed the open court to meet them. He was a prickly man, and Sounis sensed a nonspecific disapproval, for Eugenides, the training, the morning, the sun in the sky, Sounis wasn’t sure what.” p. 172
Poor old Teleus. Your author is always being unkind to you. I suspect it’s fear that Gen will manage to get himself killed and then Attolia will hang the guard. But who knows?
THE MINISTER OF WAR! Is awesome as usual! I will admit to quietly fangirling him.
“Gen…took the practice sword from him, deliberately grabbing it across its edgeless blade…” p. 175
To quote: Gen, you viper. He’s baiting poor Teleus, probably because Costis isn’t around.
I have no words for how awesome Sophos is when he trips Gen. Yaaaay.
Chapter 14 is 40 pages. They are getting longer and more complicated as we go along.
“‘Sophos, you sleep with a knife under your pillow? I’m hurt.’
‘I was joking. Wake up the rest of the way, would you?’
‘Gen, it’s the middle of the night.’
‘I know.'” p. 182
LOVE. This makes up for the lack of Gen/Costis banter. Sophos/Gen banter is as good, if not better.
“My queen and I sleep with a matched set under our pillows, as well as handguns in pockets on the bedposts.” p. 182
… I am speechless.
“‘Gen, what are you doing in my bedroom in the middle of the night?’
‘Going out of my mind.'” p. 183
AUGH. Must stop quoting everything they say!
Gen knows the exact rotation of every single guard in his palace. Just saying. He’s scary.
ARIS! Tell Costis we miss him!
Conversation between Gen and Sophos about him and Irene? Is awesome.
Gen! Your companions love you! Wake up!
Who is the mysterious sand bestower? When did she meet Gen? AUGH!
OH. Okay, so I was really bothered the first time through by this: “He and Eugenides had talked through his strategy in the tavern. It had been their one chance for a private exchange.” p. 205 It just felt like needless hand-holding. But it’s actually referring to the strategy of him saying this so as to confuse the Mede, which makes me feel much better about it.
“She felt Attolia reach out and take her hand. To the court it was unexceptional, hardly noticed, but to Eddis it was an anchor, and she held on to it as if to a lifeline…Throughout, the queen of Attolia never let go of Eddis’s hand.” p. 206
Okay, love that whole description of the way Eddis feels, and IRENE! How sweet is that? It’s a totally superfluous gesture, but remember how Eddis tried to comfort her when she thought Gen was dead (at the end of QoA)? It’s like she’s trying to do that for Eddis now. I also love the connection to Gen’s earlier description of the moment he fell in love with Irene.
Gen on the roof with Eddis is awesome! Man. For once he’s not being oblivious or stupid or anything. He knows exactly what she needs, and he knows how to give it to her.
“He couldn’t offend the gods with a pointed stick.” p. 208
*dies laughing again*
“And so by late afternoon I was in Brimedius, almost exactly as I’d originally planned.” p. 217
I’m not sure how to read this sentence. Is he being sarcastic and in fact he is there but NOT as originally planned? Or is he being totally serious and this is all part of the big Scheme he and Gen cooked up in the tavern?
“Also I hated the scent of his hair oil…” p. 227
Sophos would be horrified to hear this, but he and Attolia have something in common. 🙂 And I’m 95% certain that’s why Eddis is laughing.
Basrus is kind of awesome too. I hope he reappears.
So why does Sophos cry over Gen’s gift? Relief? Not wanting to be a man-killer? Disappointment? Something else entirely? I think it must have been relief, given what he says on page 258 (“Gen’s gift reassured me that I had not failed for lack of trying. He had seen no other solution himself.”)
And our last matched pair: the guns Attolia and Attolis give Sounis.
We’re back to the lion theme–I know that it must be part of the cultural symbolism of Sounis-the-country, but it’s an interesting concept to apply to Sophos.
Oh ho! It was a cunning scheme! I thought that retreat seemed a little…easy…considering it’s the Attolians and Eddisians. More sneakiness and underestimating going on. Oh Medes. When will you learn?
“Tell whoever you can that I am not wiping any slates clean. I will hold people responsible for their actions, now and in the future, but there will be, for every transgression, a remedy in the next few days.” p. 267
The forgiveness theme recurs, with interesting variations. I’m still not sure what I think of Nomenus and Sophos’s treatment of him. I think time will have to tell, assuming that he comes back in the future.
“If he has saved Attolia, then she has saved him as well…” p. 296
This was a really interesting comment on Gen and Irene’s relationship.
Awww, Sophos’s parents!
* I really love Sophos. I love the fact that he took something that could have been difficult (slavery) and made himself a better person and ultimately a better king because of it. I love the fact that he hero-worships Gen like crazy. I love the fact that he’s a little more human than Gen
* I didn’t notice any Rosemary Sutcliff references in this one. 😦 Although the bit about building walls sounds like her, I don’t think it actually is.
* After the re-read I found myself liking it a lot more. I mean, I love MWT. I’ll read anything she writes and probably love it too. (I’m not super keen on Instead of Three Wishes, but I love her other short stories.) I love this world. I love Sophos. So, I loved it. But I did worry that it lacked some of the subtlety of KoA and QoA. Now I don’t think that’s actually true. Is it different? Yes. Does it read younger? I’d say, yes. I’ll be interested to see where she goes next. I hope that she follows the same sort of trajectory as Thief to QoA (NOT that I want Sophos’s hand chopped!), but we’ll see what happens.
* Matched pairs! There are so many! Besides the explicit ones noted, there are the sets of rulers. The MOW and Sophos’s father–both fathers of kings who are themselves not rulers. The brother ambassadors–which doesn’t mean they’re related–of the Medes. The magus and Relius.
* Some of the themes from the first three books carry over–secrets, royalty, forgiveness. Some seem to have disappeared. I missed the moon’s promises.
* The general trend does seem to be Gen becoming more and more distant. Nooooooo! I love Sophos, I really do. But Gen is the reason I read the series. Well. Not exactly. But yes. I’m so worried that MWT is going to kill him off in a tragic battle with the Medes that he wins but loses his life in (very Nelson/Bonnie Dundee). Nooooooo!! For one thing, Irene would go on a murderous rampage, and no one wants that.