Friday, May 18, 2007

The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner

I have to start by saying that I am not a big fan of "fantasy" type fiction, especially books like this that take place in the past, in a fictional land that is a combination of ancient Greece and medieval England. I must be getting old, because this is exactly the sort of book that I would have reached out for as a child.

Despite my bias, I found The King of Attolia to be a mostly enjoyable read. It has an entertaining plot that follows up on events and characters depicted in two novels that Turner wrote previously: The Thief (a Newbery Honor Book) and The Queen of Attolia. Readers of these previous books will definitely find this continuation of the series satisfying. It is on the 2007 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults list put out by the American Library Association.

As a newcomer to Turner's work, I found it a bit difficult to work my way into this novel. Maybe this was due to my middle-aged pretensions. Or perhaps the structure of the novel--and therefore the relationship constructed between reader and characters--is not as tight as it could be.

The best part of the book is definitely the middle passage, where most of the important action takes place. The last part of the book appears designed to open the way to a continuation of the series; the action diminishes, and readers get insight on the larger regional conflicts that threaten the new king and his kingdom.

Even though The King of Attolia is set in the past, in an imaginary world, it does tap into some core ideas relevant to the contemporary world, for example, how to negotiate relationships to family and friends, and undesired roles and responsibilities. In addition, it contains an interesting message about the use of force in support of the establishment of authority. It could be me, but I read the book as an interesting commentary on political leadership today in the United States, and other parts of the world.

Teachers and parents shouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to readers in grades 6-10, and I would feel comfortable giving it to advanced readers in lower grades. Because the characters are adults and intrigue is what this novel is all about, there are several references to clandestine couplings involving men and women, but all of this is very subtle and only noticeable to those who already know or care about such things.

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