I hadn’t realized Return had a bright red cover, while all the previous books have now been given darker covers. Not a bad design choice, I suppose, though I did like the original covers for the series. But fine.
I liked the book a lot. Let me see … I guess my personal ordering goes like this:
- King of Attolia
- Queen of Attolia
- Conspiracy of Kings
- Return of the Thief
- The Thief
- Thick as Thieves
I expect everyone’s got a somewhat different ordering. I liked Thick as Thieves, but I don’t think it’s as good as the others and I, like most readers, probably, was disappointed not to see more of Gen.
We don’t have that problem here. Eugenides isn’t the viewpoint character, but Pheris places him constantly at the center of the story he’s telling.
I liked Pheris a lot, and I liked that he wasn’t magically fixed at any point. Physically disabled and mute at the beginning, physically disabled and mute at the end, but since he is the one writing the account long after the fact, of course it’s clear that Pheris not only survives, but will eventually do very well.
Pheris is one of the most physically disabled protagonists I can ever remember encountering in SFF. I think MWT pulled off writing him quite well. He was believable and sympathetic, though far from perfect. Though the attitudes that surround him are tough to deal with at first, those attitudes are entirely believable for the world, too. He also begins as a stranger to Gen and to the story so far, serving as a new eye to see all the primary characters and their relationships and events already familiar to the reader.
I have an important question about Pheris, though. How old is he?
Did MWT ever tell us that? I had a hard time settling on an age. Ten? Twelve? Younger than that? Older than that? His brother is “less than a year” younger, and I had the impression the brother is more like fourteen, but that can’t be right unless Pheris is very small for his age as well as disabled.
Now, Pheris aside … I like how MWT worked in events from the other books, especially Thick as Thieves, and showed the reader how those events impacted everything else. I liked how she the handled the war, too, although … I have another important question:
Does nobody other than the people of the Little Peninsula recognize divine intervention when the gods plainly have their thumb firmly on the scales? Because it seems to me that the Medes should have said at some point, Uh, okay, you know what, we didn’t really want to invade anyway. For example, when Gen wakes up the morning after the “trial” and discovers he feels fine. Do the Medes not have spies who reported that moment? Because it seriously seems to me that would have been a good time for the Medes to start considering options other than pressing ahead.
Certainly the lightning strike. If I’d been the Mede in charge after the lightning strike, I would probably have said, “Huh, look at that. Well, the gods are clearly not on our side here, so let’s retreat!” That would have caused a lot less wear and tear on everyone.
Third question: if you were king of one of the Continental Powers, just how safe would you feel in your bed at night, given the flow of events?
Best plot element: I’m a sucker for redemption arcs. I was therefore very happy with the way things worked out with Sejanus.
Worst plot element: I guess in war a lot of people die. But I got kinda fond of some of Gen’s attendants and was sorry so many of them were lost.
Best line: It’s hard to beat, “I promise, he has all the fighting spirit of an apricot.” Also, it’s fun how Gen wound up using that horse’s complete lack of fighting spirit that one time.