So, so, so. After discovering that there was more than one sequel to The Thief about a decade after every other Megan Whalen Turner fan, I’ve gotten caught up on The Queen’s Thief series by devouring A Conspiracy of Kings (a weekend spent on the couch occasionally putting down the book to exclaim “ugh how is it so GOOD”) and Thick as Thieves (tearing up at my desk over the final pages). I was emotionally wrung out but also in the perfect headspace to pick up the sixth (and final, alas) book in this consistently brilliant and heartbreaking series.
Unfortunately, Return of The Thief just moved its publication date from March 2019 to summer 2020; however, considering the average five-year wait between installments, this delay is but a short wait to weather. Anyone who has been astounded by the twists and revelations in the past five volumes would agree that Return of The Thief will be well worth the time it takes to craft. And in the meantime, we readers can craft our wishlists for the series conclusion twenty-plus years in the making!
All we have to go on is our knowledge of the previous books and this maddeningly short catalog copy that nonetheless communicates how far the Thief of Eddis has come and how much further he has left to go:
Neither accepted nor beloved, Eugenides is the uneasy linchpin of a truce on the Lesser Peninsula, where he has risen to be high king of Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis. As the treacherous Baron Erondites schemes anew and a prophecy appears to foretell the death of the king, the ruthless Mede empire prepares to strike.
I’m less worried about either the Medes or the Erondites because both serve the same purpose: an opponent for Attolis Eugenides a.k.a. Annux (that’s king of kings) to outsmart—and hey, Attolia, Sounis, and Eddis are no slackers in the outmaneuvering category either. What I’m more looking forward to (and crossing my fingers, and praying to this universe’s proto-Greek gods) is observing these characters at work and witnessing how the personal—relationships, baggage, quirks—informs the political.
There’s a line in A Conspiracy of Kings that warns against refusing gifts from the gods or bargaining with boons granted from a place of generosity. That’s sort of how I feel here—I’m delighted enough that there is another Queen’s Thief novel, but if I may, I have a few requests.
More Special Friendship Times
Over the course of five books, each adopting a new perspective, Turner has forged new friendships between all manner of opposites—in some cases, reforging a friendship to make it into something wholly different based on the passage of time and new variables. Eugenides and Sophos’ shifting alliance comes to mind, as when they meet one another as Attolis and Sounis, despite the fact that they should have more in common as both were thrust into kingship, they actually relate less and so much differently than when they were on the road with the magus. Similarly, watching Attolia and Eddis move away from the stereotypical rivalry (more set up by their male subjects) as two drastically different queens to comrades and even confidantes makes me want to sit in on more of these kinds of conversations.
Then there’s darling puppy-dog Costis, who I was sure couldn’t find someone who could better vex and delight him than Gen, until he spent all of Thick as Thieves on the road with the Immakuk to his Ennikar, Kamet. Turner has crafted these knotty, complex bonds between thieves-turned-kings and heirs-turned-slaves and slaves-turned-freedmen men and queens struggling to be more than the personas their nations demand of them, but we only just get to know the nuances of one friendship before another is introduced. Knowing what we know about how these people all engage with one another, let’s revisit the dynamics that make these characters so unforgettable even twenty years later.
No Dei Ex Machina
I confess that the cameos from the pantheon of gods are my least favorite part of the series, though I completely see why a divine hand is occasionally needed to nudge certain pieces on the existential board. The operative word here being nudges: Ennikar and Immakuk appearing to Kamet as, respectively, a simple wine merchant yep nothing to see here and oh hi I’m just a prosperous gentleman who has some sage advice about maybe not letting your friend die in a well gave his flight from the Mede Empire some much-needed levity but also the push he needed to actually abandon his life of comfort as a slave for an uncertain future freedom, which brings some pathos to his personal journey. Or the fact that had the gods not alerted Attolia to Gen’s presence in The Queen of Attolia, she would not have chopped off his hand—and they would not be married. Both of these are far more interesting emotional arcs than if the Great Goddess Hephestia or Eugenides (Gen’s namesake and the god of thieves) were to just descend into the action and choose the winners or losers.
Also, it’s just plain amusing when the gods help, but only to a certain extent—say, when Gen wishes for something and then, to his consternation, that wish comes true. Perhaps, then, a compromise…
Hit Us with More Visions
Eddis’ disclosure in A Conspiracy of Kings that a vision of the Sacred Mountain erupting is part of what pushed her to willingly put Eddis under Attolia’s control was one of my favorite revelations of the series, but also one that felt like it came out of left field. Even considering how often the gods interfere in the mortals’ lives, said mortal actually getting a vision of the future feels like the first real crossover into Greek tragedy territory. Though thankfully, Eddis seems not to be going the way of Cassandra. But that’s why I’d love to see more of a mere human gaining access to such powerful knowledge, especially if it helps with standing against the encroaching Mede threat. Perhaps that’s what role the mysterious prophecy about the king’s health (omg Gen no) will play in the story. Perhaps it will harm more than it helps. Who can say! These characters utilize so many different tools to advance their plans—some they steal—and I want to see what they do when given something of this value.
Also, I just want more Eddis. Despite her key part in A Conspiracy of Kings, she’s the one whose head we’ve spent the least amount of time in.
Please Don’t Kill My Faves
Last we saw Attolia, she was recovering from a miscarriage and cautiously optimistic that “the river would rise in its time,” yet still looking the worse for wear. That catalog copy gives me no hope combined with the rumors Kamet hears (and later verifies?) about the king’s poor health. Eddis is having those aforementioned visions of Pompeii-like ruin, but suffice to say she’s seeing death everywhere she looks. Plus, it’s the last book of a series—and while I wouldn’t expect the “let’s end the series with at least one meaningful death” move from Turner, it is a trope for a reason. These rulers are already too young to bear the world-changing responsibilities of their respective countries; is it too much to ask that they all make it through the final book without having to grieve one another?
Fool Me One More Time
This will be the trickiest feat to pull off. Eugenides has fooled readers more times than he should have gotten away with—aided by the element of surprise and some very deliberate first-person narration in The Thief; through dizzying reversals and double-speak under our noses in The Queen of Attolia; by relying on the reader to adopt poor, sweet Costis’ perspective in The King of Attolia; and even a handful of well-timed tricks in Thick as Thieves. By the end of the novel, nearly every character knows not to underestimate Eugenides; even if the Mede emperor remains willfully ignorant, we have been primed to read between the lines in every word spoken by Gen. It should be impossible for him to pull one over on us after all this time.
Except. He’s one of the POV characters in Return of The Thief, which means of course he’ll be charming and obfuscating even while speaking directly to the readers. Whether he’s finding a hidden loophole to exploit this damn prophecy, or turning love for his queen and his fellow rulers and his subjects into a weapon, I fully believe that the Thief of Eddis has one at least one more trick up his sleeve. If it takes looking the other way, canny as I’ve become to his machinations, I’ll do it—and let’s be honest, he’ll be anticipating that anyway.
I am both ready and not ready for this series to end, but either way I can’t wait.
What do you hope against hope will (or won’t) happen in Return of The Thief? Who do you want to see again, and how do you want to see the Little Peninsula changed? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Natalie Zutter started shipping Costis/Gen/Attolia hard after her last piece on The Queen’s Thief, but now she’s also partial to Costis/Kamet. While away the wait until Return of The Thief with her on Twitter!