It’s been ages since I reread The Thief, but fortunately the two books don’t rely on each other too much. The Thief introduces Eugenides and the pseudo-Greek world he lives in (along with its other, less congruous features, like pocket watches and the real and tangible presence of gods); The Queen of Attolia goes on to develop the character and his place in the world. It does a skillful job of developing a character who starts off completely unlikeable, slowly unpicking the difficulties of being a queen in a man’s world, of hardening your heart so that you can live to fight another day. And it touches on disability and recovery and betrayal and love, and of course there’s still some political maneuvering, because the characters just can’t resist.
There’s one aspect of the book that, both times, threw me somewhat and made me doubtful that it could pull it off. It does, albeit awkwardly: more with a sense of hope and promise than a sense of security or surety (though that comes later, in The King of Attolia). Eugenides’ relationship with Irene, the Queen of Attolia, is an interesting one, marred by their shared past and the terrible things Irene did in the effort to secure her throne, and yet… perhaps not beyond hope. There are aspects of it that feel a little sudden, like Irene suddenly realising that she actually likes Eugenides, but at the same time, you can look back through the book and see it happening.
It’s certainly not, at least, insta-love, or an easy romance. It always acknowledges that these two people are very different, that they hold power over each other, that they’re playing at politics as much as they’re reacting to each other as people.
Oh, and the Queen of Eddis continues to be awesome, of course.
This is a book that definitely hasn’t suffered from rereading; it was probably more satisfying than I remembered, I think, because reading it a second time just allows you to see the way all the threads come together, the way everything falls into place.