Monday, August 28, 2006

The King of Attolia

I digressed from my assigned reading recently to backtrack through Megan Whalen Turner's "The Thief" and "The Queen of Attolia." I'd already read The King of Attolia straight out of the box, though it had been a while since I'd read the first two. It's a testament to her writing that the characters were instantly real again to me, after years. Re-reading the whole trilogy, I'm just astounded at what she pulls off--much as the reader is at her protagonist Eugendies. Her characterization is all about gesture and tone, what is said and what is not. Here's a sample:

"If you are feeling more yourself, there is a problem best addressed immediately," said the queen.
"In my nightshirt?" The king wriggled, as ever, out of straightforward obedience.
"Your attendants. I have spoken to them. You will speak to them as well."
"Ah. They have seen me in my nightshirt." He looked down at his sleeve, embroidered with white flowers. "Not in your nightshirt, though." (page 223 in galleys)

On the surface, this exchange is humorous, and gives you a sense of how the king and queen banter and relate. Within in the context of the situation, there are all sorts of added layers--what the attendants are to be spoken to about...why the queen must press the king to do so...why it actually does matter that they would see him in her nightshirt (because it's not entirely a joke)...and the reader gets all of these layers of intrigue just through the conversational exchange.

There's no doubt to me that this is "distinguished" writing according to the Newbery criteria. What will be interesting is how to defend it in discussion. The Newbery committee is to compare and discuss ONLY books eligible for the award--that is, published this year. When discussing "The King of Attolia," then, the committee should not bring into the conversation either "The Thief" or "The Queen of Attolia." What standards should a sequel be held to? Should it have to stand alone? That seems unreasonable...and other dependent sequels have won the Newbery, including The Grey King by Susan Cooper and The High King by Lloyd Alexander. Given the precedence of sequels with the word "King" in the title...it seems to me this one has a pretty good chance.

3 Comments:

Blogger jess said...

So far, this one would have my vote on strength of writing, quality of imagination, realness of characters. More than distinguished, in my opinion. There are others I've loved, but nothing as strong. And I agree about the sequels/series thing and think this one can stand alone.

3:15 PM  
Blogger donald said...

Though I re-read the first two just before this one, I'm sure it must stand on its own well. In a way it might be even more interesting to first encounter Gen as a king. And the writing, as shown by the passage Nina cited and her comments, is amazing. Sophisticated and subtle, but also accessible to a child reader (well, older child at least). It seems like nothing's happening half the time, until you realize everything is happening, just beneath the surface. Books like "Francine Green" and "Penny from Heaven" are fine enough, but compare "King of Attolia" for a good example of what a truly "distinguished" book is like.

4:13 PM  
Blogger fusenumber8 said...

I did not read the first two books in the series, so I definitely can say without question that this book does not stand on its own. A person who goes through it has a very real sense that this is a remarkable writer with a keen sense of character and place. However, the book feels like there's a big gaping maw in the center of it. Why are these people married? Why are they even important? What the heck is a "Thief" anyway? No, I hate to say it but "King of Attolia" was so complicated and so filled to overfilling with court intrigue that I can't imagine anyone under the age of 15 even getting through the first 5 chapters without ending up mightily confused. 15 and up would probably be able to understand and get through it, but then that wouldn't fall within the necessary Newbery criteria.

7:55 AM  

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