Megan Whalen Turner
Ms. Turner takes a step away from her previous books in A Conspiracy of Kings, the fourth book in her Thief series. I think it was necessary given the length of the series and the ever-complicating universe she's created - and it works - but I'm not sure I entirely like it. This is the first book that doesn't center around Eugenides (though he still plays an important role), instead following Sophos and his road to becoming king. This is a little complicated, so I'm going to break my review into what I liked, didn't, and what I was iffy on. Only slight spoilers for the earlier books.
What I Liked: As always, the characters in this are great. Ms. Turner does an excellent job with making all her characters multi-faceted -- except for perhaps the Medes, there's no singularly evil character. And not only are they not shallow, they also develop realistically. This is crucial, since the book essentially follows Sophos' development. Sophos has his own unique voice that carries the book forward wonderfully. I didn't like it quite as much as Eugenides or Costis - it doesn't have quite the level of depth of the previous ones - but I did like it.
The structure was interesting: it begins with a prologue in third person, goes back a couple weeks until it arrives at the prologue (all in 1st person), continues further in 3rd, and finishes in first again (I think that's right, at least). Anyway, I liked the effect - it didn't have quite the surprise of the first three books, but I think it worked out as well, if not better. Similarly, the twist wasn't as dramatic as the previous books (it didn't have much retrograde effect), but it was still satisfying.
What I Didn't Like: There was only one thing I really didn't like - the names. Most of the names are multi-syllabic, complicated, and hard to remember, when we get names at all. The kings and queens are alternately referred to by their actual names and country names, with variations (Queen Attolia v. King Attolis, King Sounis but Queen Eddis). This gets a little awkward referring to previous kings/queens (your uncle who was Sounis). Sophos' family was also hard to keep straight - I could never tell which uncle they were talking about, or who had been killed in which conspiracy.
What I'm Not Sure On: The romance and the politics. The romance (between Eddis and Sophos) was better than between Attolia and Eugenides (considerably less dark, for one), but like the earlier romance, much of it occurs offscreen. Despite all the character development, very little happens between characters. The characters themselves personally change - and it's all shown - but between characters? Very little is shown. I also don't like the final result (spoilers) of Eddis & Sophos eventually coming under Eugenides' control. I know the series centers around Eugenides, but without his narration, I'm not thrilled with it. The politics make the book; there's no doubt of that. The politics make it considerably deeper and more interesting, but it's also ridiculously complicated. I got a little lost by the end, trying to figure out which baron supported which faction. Without the politics, the story wouldn't have been nearly as interesting, but I think it could have been toned down, just a bit.
Ms. Turner departed from her earlier works with this one, with mixed success. It's still good, there's no doubt of that, but I don't think it's quite as good as The Thief or The King of Attolia. I haven't seen whether this will have a sequel, but I'm pretty certain it will.
The Queen of Attolia
The King of Attolia
A Conspiracy of Kings