Looking in from the outside: Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series

Book cover for THICK AS THIEVES shows boat with masts, white mountains and a tower in the foreground, black background with gold title font.
The newest in Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series.

Thick as Thieves came out this year (Yay! I read it twice in a row!) and I’ve been enjoying re-reading Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series. She’s making me think about the story from an outsider’s perspective.

Megan Whalen Turner’s beloved Eugenides character is showcased in a way that reminds me of Dorothy Dunnett’s well-loved Francis Crawford of Lymond. Both authors have a lovely, twisty plotting style with snappy dialogue to warm any reader’s heart.

Dorothy Dunnett rarely gives the reader an inside glimpse of Lymond’s mind or heart. Rife and contradictory speculation lets the reader discover Lymond’s true character, just the way we get to know people in real life.

In The Queen’s Thief series, Megan Whalen Turner moves the point of view progressively further away from her key character, Eugenides.

The Thief is told in the first person by the Queen’s Thief.

The Queen of Attolia seems to be third person omniscient because we get interior thoughts from both the Thief and from the Queen.

The King of Attolia is told by an Attolian guard who resists being won over by the new King of Attolia.

A Conspiracy of Kings is told from the King of Sounis’s point of view.

Thick as Thieves is a quest story about an Attolian guard told from the point of view of Kamet, the head slave of the Mede Emperor’s nephew, as he figures out what the King of Attolia is really like. The relationship that develops reminds me of the one between Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander.

What are the advantages of an outsider’s perspective for a story?

  1. It makes the reader “an accomplice” and works especially well in a series where we already know and love the main character.

“And this is the genius of Megan Whalen Turner because in book 3, we, the readers, are Eugenides’s accomplices. We sit back and wait for the coin to drop for everybody else as it has dropped for us in books 1 and 2.” —The Book Smugglers

2. The outsider can question what the main character never says (or thinks about). The reader gains a guide and a companion in the story, a Watson to a closed-off and brilliant Sherlock Holmes. Megan Whalen Turner’s Costis does this effectively, as does Kamet.

3. Misdirection, fame, and mystery. An obvious advantage (and disadvantage): we see what the main character looks like from the outside. Megan Whalen Turner uses this to great effect in The King of Attolia when we see what Eugenides looks like to everyone else.

Interestingly, Eugenides’ relationship to the god of thieves is always shown to the reader from the outside. This conveys mystery better than any internal thought process could.

4. Someone to carry the ball. A story that ends in a tragic death can only be told by an outside narrator. Not sure if that’s an advantage. Someone has to be left to do the wrap up. Unless you’d like a Shakespearean monologue after death delivered by your main character. Thankfully, Megan Whalen Turner hasn’t done this yet. (MWT–Please don’t kill off your beloved characters!)

Here’s the link to the whole review by The Book Smugglers which says what I’ve been trying to say about the change in narration and the power of these books, so I’ll stop now. 🙂

What I really want to say is: Read the books!

Here’s another fun mini-interview with Megan Whalen Turner about The Queen’s Thief series. And another one.

Happy reading!


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Why people can’t hear you OR how to write wicked dialogue

Marie Forleo’s video, 5 Reasons People Don’t Take You Seriously, shows how we get in the way of our message, and what to do about it.

My writer-mind couldn’t help thinking how to use these tips in reverse. Inside a novel, conflict built on miscommunication is quite fun.

Here are Marie Forleo’s tips for clear communication and how to use them backwards in fiction:

  1. Fancy words obscure your message. I hadn’t thought about the way verbal playfulness could be misinterpreted and her example makes it deliciously opaque, I mean, clear: Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 11.47.58 AM

Shakespeare gives fancy words to characters who don’t understand them. Now I’d like to add a malaprop-prone character to my work-in-progress.

Taking the opposite approach, Dorothy Dunnett’s character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, uses complicated words and obscure Latin quotes as weapons, tools for seduction, or as a dazzling smoke-screen.

Maybe, the more delightful the language is in a story world, the less useful it is for getting your point across in the real world. And vice versa.

2. Lose the “dumb” disclaimer. Instead say: “What about this?” I’ve seen this speech habit associated with women and girls. Imagine a villain who suggests ideas with disclaimers that turn out to be clues.

P.G. Wodehouse’s character Wooster combines “dumb” disclaimers with fancy words in an endearing way. [If you like Wodehouse, you have to read his lovely interview about the art of fiction.

3. Use “Yes, and” instead of “Yeah, but.” I’m not good at this one, but 🙂 I’ve heard it before. My current heroine could get into a lot of trouble with “Yeah, but” and if I gave her this trait, I might learn it myself. I love the idea of a character trying to get a seat at a table, round or otherwise.

“If you haven’t been invited to give feedback and you really want a seat at the table, “Yes, and” will help you get one.” –Marie Forleo

4. Instead of blasting people with your ideas, get people intrigued first.

Remembering to breathe is key, both in fiction and in real life. This is also the way to pitch a book idea at a writing conference.

The natural tendency is to blast listeners with everything you know and love about your story, to try to anticipate everything that people would want to know, or to list every detail that could entice them into wanting to know about the story. (Did you fall asleep during that sentence?)

The most powerful way to catch someone’s interest is to tell part of a story. And then shut up.

This is called a “hook.” 🙂

5. Follow-up. Don’t apologize and be mousy. Try language like this:  Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 11.55.17 AM

Good advice to follow for query letters.

“Mousy-ness” is the reverse of the character trait in tip #1. It’s another kind of smoke-screen that says: “Don’t look at me too closely.”

What do you think about Marie Forleo’s tips? Do you have favorite fictional characters with confusing speech habits? I’d love to hear about them.

If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.