Warning: May be minor spoilers! They will not ruin your enjoyment of any of her books.
“Calf love,” said the queen.
“Calf love doesn’t usually survive amputation, Your Majesty.”
“A good thing I cut off your hand, then, instead of cutting out your heart,” said Attolia cruelly. “You think you still love me?”
“And you think I’ll believe you?”
Eugenides shrugged. “You can kill me here, Your Majesty, and be done with this. Or you can believe me.” He’d seen her in a pale dress dancing in the moonlight, pretending an entire troupe of dancers danced the harvest circle with her, her arms open to embrace the sisters and friends who existed only in her imagination, and he’d never seen anything so beautiful or so sad. He’d remembered that moment when he’d seen her flush at being called cruel. Afterward, when the magus offered to send him information more current than that in his own library, Eugenides had accepted gladly and read carefully, trying to see whether Attolia could be the monster in human guise she was accused of being, or only a woman who ruled without the support of her barons. In the end he had taken advice his grandfather had given him years before and gone to see for himself.
“I love you,” he said. “You could believe me.”
Attolia looked at him a moment longer, still holding the knife ready. Then she slid it back into its padded sleeve in the front of her dress and stepped forward. She laid one hand on his cheek. He stood as if he were frozen.
“This is what I believe,” she said. “I believe that at the top of the stairs you have friends waiting, and if I climb those stairs without you, I will surely die at the top.”
The Queen of Attolia is the second book in the Queen’s Thief series. At the start of this book, Eugenides, the Thief of the neighbouring country Eddis, has been captured by Attolia’s queen. Eugenides is not just any thief, but Eddis’ Thief and the confidante of the Queen of Eddis. Attolia (as the Queen of Attolia is known) proceeds to cut his hand off in the ritual punishment for thieves. Then she sends him home.
Thus begins the war between Attolia and Eddis that drags the whole area into civil unrest and threatens to allow the powerful Mede Empire to gain a foothold in the area. In the end, Eugenides proposes the following solution: He will steal the Queen of Attolia.
And it is at the point where he has successfully kidnapped Attolia that he offers her his knives and his life, and this scene takes place. This sudden revelation is not so sudden, for it began when they were but children, and the previous Thief, Eugenides’ grandfather, was showing him how to navigate Attolia’s palace: He’d seen her in a pale dress dancing in the moonlight, pretending an entire troupe of dancers danced the harvest circle with her, her arms open to embrace the sisters and friends who existed only in her imagination…
With such a simple scene, we see into the hearts of these two people. We see their loneliness–hers in the dance, his in how it draws him to her. We don’t need to be told it explicitly. It’s right there between the lines, if only we look.
Megan Whalen Turner handles it with a light, deft touch. In the conversation between the two, we see someone who refuses to believe she could be loved, for a very good reason—she’s had to be cruel and ruthless over the years, to keep her throne. She’s cut off the hand of the very person declaring his love. Yet we see, from Eugenides’ memory, how much she wants to have friends and be loved. Eugenides doesn’t simply offer a confession; he offers her the chance to believe she is worthy of love. “You could believe me,” he says.
When Attolia doesn’t kill him, but reaches out instead, we can see that she wants to connect. We can also see the sincerity of the Thief–who’s known throughout the lands for his lies–when he freezes beneath her touch. It’s a fantastic example of showing instead of telling, and it’s a hallmark of Megan Whalen Turner’s books.
Love can be shown in the lift of an eyebrow, an offhand comment, in the subtleties of a dance. As can conspiracy, or betrayal. You won’t know what you’re looking for until the event has passed, and going back over earlier chapters reveals how much was happening beneath the surface.
Of course, love doesn’t come so easily. Attolia doesn’t jump into Eugenides’ arms and declare her undying love, and they don’t ride off into the dawn. No, she pulls back, as anyone who’s locked away their emotions for so many years would. She finds reasons not to believe: “I believe that at the top of the stairs you have friends waiting, and if I climb those stairs without you, I will surely die at the top.”
The scene ends with her proposing they climb the stairs together… and Attolia turning away from him. It’s a juxtaposition that perfectly represents her internal turmoil. She longs for it, but prudence pulls her away.
To say so much with so little; that’s the goal of any writer. The Queen’s Thief is a series worth studying for this art alone. As for me, I’ve used nearly a thousand words to get to that point… so I’m going to say no more, and let her writing speak for itself.
Leanne Yong is an aspiring author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.