Round 1, Match 5: The King of Attolia vs. King of Shadows

1_5Judged by Steph • find her on Goodreads

So I’m going to be 100% honest and say that the two books I was given, King of Shadows and The King of Attolia, I would have never picked up on my own. Partly because I am not a huge fantasy/adventure reader (the only ones I read are at the recs of friends) and partly because I wasn’t too impressed with either book’s inside cover blurb when I read it (The King of Attolia just confused me). That said, I ended up enjoying both books to different extents.

King of Shadows is about eleven year-old Nat, an aspiring theater actor who wakes up one morning and realizes he has gone back four hundred years in time to 1599 and has to act alongside William Shakespeare (!!!). And yes, Nat is just as freaked out about that time jump (and Shakespeare) as you would imagine. Nat is really personable and I really grew to like him by the time I finished reading. I will admit that I found the book a bit slow with too many characters in both centuries, and the explanation for his time travel jump at the end made me squint a bit as well. I think twelve-year-old me would have liked this book a lot more than current me (if that makes sense), and so I closed this book with a skeptical face more than anything else. However, I will say that scene with young Nate sobbing in Shakespeare’s arms just did me in. Just did me in, I tell you. (It also made me want to gave Shakespeare a hug because, wow, what a nice man to comfort a little boy so out of place.)

He put his arm over my shoulders and gave me a quick hug. And to my absolute horror, I fell apart. It was the sudden warmth and sympathy, the fact that somebody understood – and not just anybody, but him. I heard myself give a great big ugly snorting sob, and suddenly, hating it, I was in a flood of tears.

Will Shakespeare was astonished and probably appalled. By accident, he’d released and emotional overload far bigger than he expected –and far bigger than I could ever explain to him. Not that he have a thought to explanation; he sat down abruptly on the stage, pulling me down with him, and sat there with his back against the great wooden pillar while I sobbed into his shoulder. He didn’t try to stop me; he just waited, patting me gently, saying softly once in a while, like a mother to a very small child, “There. There now.”

The King of Attolia is the third book in series of four. It is about a thief who marries the Queen of a neighboring country and is now King. Okay, so I will admit I did not realize that it was part of a series until after I started reading and at first I was all, “Why, Beth, why?” because I hate jumping into series out of order, but then I sucked it up like the mature adult I am (ahem) and I just kept reading without trying to figure out who is who/what happened in the first two novels, do I like the King/do I not, etc. It actually worked out really well, a lot better than I thought at first, because this book takes place (mostly) through the eyes of a third party, a young guard named Costis, who gets sucked into being the new King’s personal guard and ends up with the same questions as me: “What is up with this new King? Is he as stupid as he seems? Does he love the Queen? Did he force her to marry him?” So with no knowledge of the previous books, I took this journey alongside Costis as he tried to figure out those answers.


I feel like I should preface this whole upcoming paragraph with the fact that happily married couples are a favorite trope of mine. Like, seriously. And they are rare to find in fiction because nobody writes after the wedding because who wants boring marital adorableness like that? (Um, me.) So halfway through the book, after an assassination attempt, we got this moment and I FREAKED OUT.

The king lifted a hand to her cheek and kissed her. It was not a kiss between strangers, not even a kiss between a bride and a groom. It was a kiss between a man and his wife, and when it was over, the king closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the hollow of the queen’s shoulder, like a man seeking respite, like a man reaching home at the end of the day.

Yep, there is love and affection between these two (!!!). I love that the reader realizes that alongside Costis. I don’t want to give away too many details, but there is one scene where the queen tells Costis that the king didn’t marry her to become King. He wanted to marry her and he became King by default. (I’m sorry, but the romantic, Disney-princess-loving sap in me LOVED that.) So this book is about the two of them and Costis and the rest of the royal household and neighboring people trying to figure out the true colors of the king, and where he stands in relation to his wife, and where his loyalties lie, and hers, etc. It’s really well written, and character building happens which I LOVE, and that is why I am choosing this book to advance to the next round. Because come on, royal marrieds through the eyes of a third party is not as creepy as it sounds!

Congratulations to The King of Attolia, which moves on to Round 2!


26 thoughts on “Round 1, Match 5: The King of Attolia vs. King of Shadows

  1. MARRIED ARE THE BEST. UGH I am just so glad you enjoyed King of Attolia and Gen’s stupid face and his relationship with Attolia (IRENE) and just SCREAMING.

  2. Well now you CERTAINLY have to go back and read the rest of the series! You basically nailed the appeal of King of Attolia for me. MARRIEDS THROUGH A THIRD PERSON POV!!!! SO GREAT!

    I ended up really loving King of Shadows, but I do think 12 year old me would’ve loved it more.

  3. I realize I’m forever alone on this series (good, not great), but I’m really not sure this is the “fairest” book to start with. Because yes, what Steph says about their relationship is true. And normally I’m all about established relationship stuff and marrieds, but having read the first two books first, there was just no way I was ever going to be at all okay with their relationship. Never ever ever ever ever.

    Just, no.

    1. I was thinking the same thing, though I’m on the other side from you, since I loved their relationship. It does change how you see their marriage if you’ve read the first two books, and it made me wonder how the match would have gone in that case.

      1. First, full disclaimer: I loved their relationship, too. EMOTIONS, ON MY FACE. However, I personally feel that while the first books in the series add history and depth to their relationship, it isn’t until THE KING OF ATTOLIA that the true raison d’etre of who they are as a couple is exposed and explored. I think it’s directly related to that third-party POV thing; having an outside perspective on a relationship that until that point has only been presented from the POVs of the individuals involved—it shows how the relationship works without justification or emotion.



          (Going to say also that to me, the series isn’t the story of their relationship and I found it kind of surprising at the end of Queen of Attolia, because I thought the ending wasn’t supported until the this book – but it’s SUCH an important part of this book, and like Steph said, I love seeing it through a third party who’s just as confused as we are.

      2. I actually read King of Attolia first – I wonder if that made it easier for me to understand their relationship? And I LOVE it, too. It’s so MESSY and HARD and UGH SO AMAZING.

    2. Jess – what do you mean by reading the first two first? Because this one is pretty clear that she cut off his hand, too.

      That conversation with the soldiers in the guard about that KILLS ME EVERY TIME.

      1. Mostly that you don’t see Gen dealing with the aftermath as much. He still has nightmares, but you actually SEE the hand chopping and no, there was no coming back from that for me.

        (Which is not to say I don’t get why she did it, I do, but maiming pretty much kills ships for me.)

        1. I totally hear that and kind of feel like it SHOULD bother me, too, but it doesn’t. Instead of getting confused I will just say POLITICS and WRITING, because way more than the relationship, that’s what I read for. (Which is not meant to put down your issue with the relationship!)

        2. It’s the fact that she chops his hand off and then realizes she loves him that does it for me. That whole idea of realizing just how far you’ve gone, when you didn’t know what was at stake–and then the fact that he can forgive her and she can forgive herself…I just find that so moving.

        3. @Beth

          The politics were great. If these were purely political books, I’d have been a lot more happy with the reading experience. But the author was asking us to buy into the relationship too, as part of that, and apparently torture is one of those lines I’m not willing to come back from.


          In general, I’m not the most forgiving person in the world, which may have been part of why I couldn’t understand his forgiveness. Because again, I got why she did it. I just couldn’t accept this in the aftermath.

          1. What I love about the forgiveness aspect of these books is that it isn’t just about him forgiving her. She has to accept that forgiveness. And that is such a hard thing to do. Watching her in that struggle-the admission that she needs it, the sacrifice of her pride, the hard road that comes from allowing someone to love you after you have committed such an atrocious act. That is what I love about her character journey in particular.

            If they had had anything but a political relationship prior to this act I would totally be against their relationship. But given that she did, while horrible, was not out of bounds for a monarch to do with a foreign spy she caught in her own palace, it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I love that he is able to separate the woman from the queen and try to pull her out of the prison she built for herself. And I also love that it is so not easy for either of them. (YAY for married life in a book!)

            1. But given that she did, while horrible, was not out of bounds for a monarch to do with a foreign spy she caught in her own palace, it doesn’t bother me.

              Oh YES. Thank you for pinning that down for me. I think that’s a huge reason it doesn’t bother me. She doesn’t do it to her future husband, she does to to an enemy.

              Re: forgiveness – For me, it’s not so much about whether I can forgive Attolia, but whether Gen can. (Though I could probably come up with examples where I can’t separate myself like that.)

        4. TRUE, but he also BROKE INTO HER CASTLE AND SPIED ON HER. And what always seemed most important to me was the fact that Gen ultimately is able to forgive her—forgive her in spite of the fact that she destroys him in some ways and because he loves her and in her finds himself again???


          But really, this is just my issue. I’m glad it’s a thing that works for other people. It’s just not a thing that works for me.

          1. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone whose response to the series fell into the middle ground–it’s always either “Oh it’s so beautiful” or “Oh it’s so very WRONG.” I think that’s interesting.

          2. @JESS — OKAY TRUE. I just mean to point out that Gen was at least partially culpable for what happened to him: it wasn’t a strike out of the blue. He spied on her knowing there would be consequences if he were caught. Absolutely those consequences were extreme, and absolutely they were violent, and absolutely they were horrible, but it wasn’t a vindictive masochistic thing Attolia did for her own pleasure. Her maiming of Gen was a product of a whole host of situations, including but not limited to their political situation, his spying, her shaky hold of her crown, the threat of war between Eddis and Attolia—it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, which (to me, at least) gives the event shades of gray that ultimately make it a forgivable offense.

            @Melissa — It is a very polarizing series! I love the complexity it presents in that way, and how it is never truly beautiful or grotesque—it’s this shadowy knot of a thing that leaves everything up to the audience.

          3. Kris – I hadn’t thought of this before, but it’s actually amazing at how impersonal Attolia is, how careful she was to choose something with – historical justification, I guess – given she knew he walked through her bedroom and the “You are more beautiful/she is more kind” comment.

    3. And now I’m debating whether I should try and read the first two books along with this one before round 3. It’s an interesting conundrum (and one that may be determined by time constraints more than anything).

      1. It’s a different experience, definitely. I think, if you have time, it might be a good idea, but really–it’s not necessary. Though I think Gen’s character in King of Attolia is so much more endearing if you know what kind of person he is from the first two books, because then you’re going “I cannot BELIEVE they don’t see through him!!!” and stuff like that.

  4. Holy crap. I totally forgot my review was scheduled for today until like 10 minutes ago and I came on here to see all these comments and couldn’t understand why. But alas, after reading them all I get it. And I have to admit, knowing their backstory and he snuck in to spy on her and that she cut off his hand (see, this is why I read series in order!) gives me misgivings. I actually really want to read the first two books now, just to see if they lessen or heighten my enjoyment of this one. Because ROYAL MARRIEDS!

    1. I think Brandy’s and Melissa’s points are important, too, though! Context is everything. You need to read the first two books and then come back to me, because I just erased a bunch of spoilery comments about it and apparently I can’t elaborate without spoilers 🙂

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