We wanted to create a way where we could read a few books, learn about many titles and have fun doing it! The tournament style reading of the Mighty Smackdown means that in the first round each participant reads two books, discusses both in a blog post, selecting one book to move on to the next round. Teachers are asked to commit to one round but most, if not all, continue on. We will read to the end when we will have only one book left standing!
I must admit that I spent a lot of this book confused, and not just at the beginning. I thought I was just losing it until I researched the author and found out that AConspiracy of Kings is actually the 4th (and last) in a series, so I hadn’t missed something along the way while I was reading, the narrator was simply referring to past happenings that I hadn’t had the opportunity to read about. Add to these missing pieces of the puzzle that fact that some of the major characters have three different names (their name, a nickname, their title, and the fact that they can just be called by the name of their country/state – “Hey, Canada, how’s life today?” and therefore prior ruling relatives have the same name).There is a list of “Some Persons of Greater and Lesser Consequence” in the back of the book; however, it would have been helpful to have it in the front of the book so the reader would know it was there to refer to in times of need.
Another problem was that the point of view shifts at times. The novel begins with a 3rd person prologue and then shifts to a first person narration addressing the reader as you (as in “but you already know this...”), but it’s not really the reader, of course, it’s some other person in the novel that we figure out much, much later - if we are on top of things and thinking! I had to reread the place where the switch and identification takes place three times to ensure that I was getting it right...partly because as a reader of the 4th instalment, I was unaware of this couple’s previous relationship.
Another thing that bothered me was the fact that the first person narrator is initially portrayed as this huge family disappointment – he’s all into reading poetry and philosophy and isn’t much into learning battle strategies or fighting skills, flinches at loud noises, and avoids “any situation that might require a physical effort.”However, when he is captured and becomes a slave, he easily falls into the work routine and goes on to save the day in many and various physical and intellectual ways, showing a very mature understanding of military strategy and battlefield psychology which seems, to me, far beyond his years and experience.
I also would have really appreciated a map so that I could keep clear in my head all the different countries and their rulers and the regions which they controlled and fought over continually so that I could trace the movements of the characters throughout the novel (and in the past).
So, what’s my verdict? I’m not in any rush to run out and read the previous three novels, The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia, but I did find that I was reading with some degree of pleasure and curiosity the majority of the time. I don’t really appreciate political manoeuvres or battle scenes, and there were lots of these. On the other hand, the female characters were strong and even got to rule some countries. I think there is a lot here that a competent (probably male) reader would appreciate – espionage, trickery, battles, and male friendship; and the author has certainly created a believable (if convoluted) setting with societal mores, ancient mythologies, and histories. I certainly appreciate the effort and imagination that Megan Whalen Turner has obviously invested in creating this imaginary yet plausible world, and I think that the book is a great escape from real life without all the trappings and suspension of disbelief required of fantasy.