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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Conspiracy Revisited Again

PLOT

Plot is the arrangement of the events in the story, and here Turner has again given us her signature twists and turns with lots of tension and suspense.  The book has some great adrenaline moments–the abduction of Sophos, escaping from the traitorous baron Hanaktos, solidifying power at Elisa, Attolian troops arriving at the eleventh hour–but these are tempered with quieter, reflective  moments–his two periods of captivity and his elaborate diplomatic dances in Attolia.  The reader gradually and patiently comes to appreciate the complex, intricate plot of A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS; it clearly lays claim to being the most distinguished plot.  I do admire the constant flashbacks in KEEPER (a very different kind of book), but the pacing of that one drags just a wee bit for me; it’s a close second.  None of the other commonly mentioned contenders really stand out to me in terms of plot.

CHARACTER

Is there a character in children’s literature this year that undergoes a more dramatic transformation than Sophos?  No, there is not.  His character development, as he changes from a reluctant, bookish heir into a ruthless, but principled king is definitely most distinguished.  Additionally, the characterization (i.e. how well characters think and act and feel in a genuine manner) of Sophos, in particular, and a dozen secondary characters, in general, is also handled extremely well.  Turner is able to communicate so much with so little.  Explaining that Eugenides wisely left Attolia in charge of the daily operation of the government, Eddis says, “He hasn’t the temperament.  He gets angry too often, while she only ever gets angry at him.”  You’ll remember from yesterday that the outside world questions the romantic connection between the king and queen of Attolia, but these little details reveal the truth of the matter to Sophos, while providing a wonderful snapshot of their individual characters.  The book has many such telling details.  To me, the characters in this book are most distinguished, but I’ll admit that there are many books this year with distinguished characters and there are probably half a dozen other books that you could make a convincing argument for.

SETTING

I’m teaching world history this year and one thing we emphasize to our students is that when we’re studying an empire whether it’s Islam, West Africa, China, Japan, or Rome (this semester, for example) the things you need to learn about each civilization are the culture, economy, geography, politics, religion, and society.  If you can learn those six things, then you can be very successful in class.  The world-building in A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS is distinguished because it incorporates all of these elements, providing a three-dimensional effect.  There are many books this year with a distinguished setting, and some few of them may be at this level (KEEPER, perhaps FORGE, some other fantasy books), but none of them are better.

STYLE

Yesterday, we talked about some fleeting literary allusions to previous books, and Martha mentioned she found them confusing.  I would argue that there are lots of things in this book that have the potential to confuse, and that the literary allusions are probably the least of them.  Take the names, for example, the task of keeping everbody straight (i.e. Eugenides=Gen=Attolis=Thief of Eddis=the king of Attolia).

Or take the numerous conversations that we join without any contextual information.  In the following conversation (p. 285-286), Sophos is talking to his body servant from his second period of captivity.  The man is obviously remorseful for his traitorous behavior.  His question–Will you keep me locked up forever?–is answered, but never explicitly asked.  It requires the reader to infer what the two men are discussing.

“Please,” he said with obvious reluctance.  “I hadn’t meant to ask, but is it . . . forever?”  His tears made streaks through the dirt on his face.

I said, “No.  It isn’t forever, but it’s going to be some time.

He nodded.

“When I have other things dealt with, I will deal with you,” I promised him.

Eugenides has paused in conversation with his cousin Eddis (p. 307) before Sophos quietly, but unbeknownst to Gen,  steps in to continue it, but we are not sure of this at the moment we are dropped into the conversation.

“Have you convinced him?” he asked.

“Gen,” said Sounis.

In this moment we are aware that Eugenides appears to be expecting somebody else, and based on what has transpired recently in the novel, the careful reader can infer that he is asking Eddis whether she has convinced Sophos to marry her.  But, again, Turner gives you the tip and makes you find the damn iceberg yourself.  She is the queen of subtext.  Harold Pinter won a Nobel Prize for it.  Is it too much to ask for a Newbery Medal?

Here’s a final example from page 6.

I should have been glad that it might mean peace among our three countries, but my pleasure was more selfish.  My uncle had given up his pursuit of Eddis.  He would marry someone else and might soon produce an heir.  My mother warned me not to put faith in rumors, but I was quite filled with hope.”

The reader initially thinks that his selfish pleasure is that with the emergence of an heir Sophos will be free to pursue his intellectual hobbies.  It’s only on the second reading that it becomes clear that, while, yes, that may be true, the thing of far greater significance here is that he had given up pursuit of Eddis, his own love interest.  Multiple readings of this book continue to yield a rich appreciation of the text.  Turner demands that her audience works hard to understand the story, a risky move that pays big dividends.

And humor and wit and wisdom–these are all here in spades.  So, in spite of the fact that I’m not crazy about first person, I find the prose style of the writing to be distinguished.  What could be better?  Maybe KEEPER.

THEME

I already mentioned the coming of age theme earlier, but since there are some pretty high profile books with war themes this year (MOCKINGJAY, MONSTERS OF MEN, THE WAR TO END ALL WARS, THINGS A BROTHER KNOWS), I want to mention how much I appreciate this understated, but no less powerful treatment.  Consider these few snippets.

On page 131, Eugenides rudely awakens Sophos to the political reality that complicates their friendship.

“The simplest way to end a war is to admit you have lost it.”

On page 256, Sophos reluctantly embraces violence as a means to prevent further violence.

With my right hand, I reached to the other pocket.  I had known as soon as I lifted the false bottom in the gun case and looked underneath what it meant.  I had tried without ceasing to find some alternative to Attolia’s ruthless advice and I had failed.  Gen’s gift told me that I had not failed for lack of trying.  I’d lifted out the matching gun and read its archaic inscription.  Realisa onum. Not “The queen made me,” but “I can make the king.”

And finally on page 293.

“Sophos,” said Eddis sadly. “I sent my Thief to Attolia, and when she maimed him, and knowing the risk, I sent him back.  I have started a war of my own, sent my cousins to die, taken food from the mouths of widows and children to feed my army.”  She took his hand.  “We are not philosphers; we are sovereigns.  The rules that govern our behavior are not the rules for other men, and our honor, I think, is a different thing entirely, difficult for anyone but the historians and the gods to judge.”

So the themes too are rich and powerful and distinguished, perhaps even most distinguished.

CONCLUSION

I really believe that if the Newbery committee can get past the baggage outlined in the previous post and examine the literary elements and the Newbery criteria then they can clearly see that this is one a small handful of books that qualifies as being the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.  I do not think consensus will be easy to build around this title, and thus I’m somewhat pessimistic about its chances, but I remain firm in my belief that this deserves a sticker on its cover come January.

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Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at hunt_yellow@yahoo.com

Comments

  1. Fantastic! Bravo, bravo!

  2. Sandy D. says:

    I think this is the first post of yours I’ve read where I agree unreservedly on all points. :-)

  3. Nina Lindsay says:

    I still have to collect my notes from my re-read of this, but Jonathan, you and I are on the same page on this one. What I find most remarkable is how Turner seems restrained in her telling (not telling everything), yet seems to pull off some of the most vibrant and duplicitous scene setting. Certain scenes live with remarkable clarity in my memory, and each time I re-read them, I see them from a different angle…as if Pixar used Turner’s brain as the model for software animation modeling.

    THE ATTACK ON THE VILLA. Recall the slo-mo Matrix-like rendering of Sophos’ train of thought: where is his sword? Ok, where is his ex-tutor’s sword? The unfolding of his plan, and the resulting catastrophe. Of course this is all told in retrospect, but you can see it happening from inside in brain, and…in the reader’s retrospect, it is the first clue –really, a very obvious one, though it never seemed that way on first reading b/c he wasn’t victorious, right?– that Sophos has a keen strategic mind, and might have the makings of a king.

    THE ENGINEERED CAPTURE. Ok, make me feel stupid, but I did not see this one. It goes on for pages, the army re-entering Sounis, the battle on the hillside, the retreat, the Magus’ lingering…and throughout Sophos using double-speak in his telling so that the reader is as duped as the Baron’s men into thinking that Sophos’ capture is an accident. I was dumbfounded at how obvious it was on second go. And his telling of it lays it out as if with little figures on a map, which is of course, in retrospect, exactly how he saw and planned and executed it. Turner dupes us b/c still to this point we’ve been concentrating on Sophos’ mistakes, and his reluctance to take charge.

    THE SHOT THAT MADE THE KING. I cheered like a teenage boy at an action movie. I don’t think any author has ever made me do that.

  4. David Ziegler says:

    I so hope those on the Newbery Committee reason as you do! Turner is indeed masterful in her plot. I do fear the sequel element may deter some voters, but I agree with your logic. Having recently finished Mockingjay, the level of sophistication, suspense, and twists regarding political intrigue in Conspiracy leaves Mockingjay far behind in my opinion.

  5. Nina Lindsay says:

    So glad to hear someone make this comparison. I really enjoyed the Hunger Games trilogy for what it was… but Mockingjay is like a decent burger to Conspiracy of King’s Filet Mignon at The French Laundry.

  6. Mr. H says:

    Two questions (keep in mind I have only read THE THIEF and none others in this series) . . .

    1. The characterization of Sophos . . . is his transformation more meaningful to you as a reader because you are a fan of the series and are familiar with him as a character in previous books? Or does he literally change as much as you claim within the pages of this one book? Where does this fall in the “sequel debate”?

    2. When you say that none of the other settings you mentioned from other books are “better”, isn’t that a little subjective? And isn’t it true that some books don’t necessarily have to be “better”? They just need to be distinguished in regard to the type of book they are, the audience they are aimed at, etc. For instance, I’m gonna use TURTLE IN PARADISE (count to ten, suppress your anger), TURTLE IN PARADISE doesn’t necessarily compete with A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, it competes with itself, correct? A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS is written for the upper age range of the Newbery so it’s setting needs to be distinguished to that age group right? Whereas TURTLE IN PARADISE doesn’t necessarily have to have a more distinguished setting than A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, it just needs to have a distinguished, Depression-era setting, aimed at and depicted for a lower age range. Do I have that correct?

    Personally, I have read THE THIEF and I did enjoy it. I do have to say that some of it went right over my head. I did not study its text and pages though so with a more careful reread, I’m sure any confusion I had would be cleared up.

    I do think, if A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS is anything like THE THIEF in terms of writing style, I’m worried more about it being far too old than I am it being a sequel.

  7. Jonathan Hunt says:

    1. To my recollection, Sophos is not in THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA or THE KING OF ATTOLIA. We haven’t seen him since THE THIEF. Since he narrates his story in first person his character development is self-contained in this volume.

    2. Well, yes, books compete against themselves, but, no, they also compete against each other. When we are asked to find the *most* distinguished contribution, we are looking for a relative standard rather than an absolute one. We can all be A students (absolute standard); we can’t all be the valedictorian (relative standard).

    Ultimately, I do think you have to compare the books against each other. Now an “older” book can make more demands of its reader than a “younger” book can so we would be wrong be seduced by an “older” book. So, let me ask you a follow up question, do you think the setting in TURTLE IN PARADISE is better than COUNTDOWN, ONE CRAZY SUMMER, or KEEPER?

    There are many things in A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS that require a sophisticated reader, but setting is not one of them. Your average 4th to 6th grade reader would probably be challenged by many aspects of the book, but an appreciation of the setting is not one of them.

  8. Mr. H says:

    Of those four, I actually thought ONE CRAZY SUMMER was the WEAKEST in terms of setting. TURTLE IN PARADISE and KEEPER stand out to me much more . . . COUNTDOWN’s setting was strong but it had to be because it was such an important part of the plot.

  9. Mr. H says:

    And in regards to the book being to old, I would really have no idea because I haven’t read it. But it would appear that an “average” 4th-6th grade reader would really struggle through this, keeping track of Whalen-Turner’s sophisticated plot. I wasn’t just referring to the setting in this regard. I was speaking about the book in general. It’s plot. The politics. Etc.

    I just know that I’ve been suggesting THE THIEF to a handful of my top students every year and not once, have I gotten a kid to finish it. I teach 5th grade. But I’m just one small sample.

  10. Jonathan Hunt says:

    1. So what makes the setting in TURTLE IN PARADISE distinguished? Dialect? Check. Historical allusions? Check. Description of physical places? Check. So TURTLE is an A student, but what makes her the valedictorian? What makes her rise above the other books, both in terms of setting and in general?

    2. The audience for A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS is not best defined in terms of age. The “average” 7th-9th grade reader might struggle with the book, too. This is a book for a specific type of reader, a “not average” reader, and the Newbery criteria allow for that.

  11. Wendy says:

    While Turtle in Paradise isn’t on my own list of Newbery hopefuls, I do think it’s distinguished for its setting and that’s the main (really, only) reason I recommend it. Not that it’s a bad book, it’s a perfectly good book, but for the adult reader that’s the only thing I find truly outstanding about it. (And I think it’s more distinguished in this aspect than any of the other books you mention.) It’s transporting; every page lives and breathes the Florida Keys. This book could not be set anywhere else, yet details about dialect, foods, customs, etc are worked into the plot, not shoehorned in. I did find some of the time period references a little forced (Shirley Temple, for instance), and I know that’s part of the setting, too, but that almost sets off how well-done the physical/cultural setting is written. Countdown, on the other hand, seemed forced on every page. The references to time period often seemed placed as a marker of setting rather than something organic to the plot or characters. It’s like Back to the Future.

    I didn’t think the setting was not distinguished in either One Crazy Summer or Keeper, but the setting, while important, is not quite the highlight in those books the way it is in Turtle in Paradise.

  12. Michal says:

    I deeply, deeply hope that the Newbery Committee can see what so many can see, and you so elegantly explained, about “Conspiracy of Kings.” (“Mockingjay” cannot hold a candle to Megan Whalen Turner and her exquisite skill as an author.)

  13. Deb says:

    The restraint Turner uses in telling the story is a compliment to her readers. She allows students to experience reading at a sophisticated level if they are up to it. If they are not, the story is still vivid and enjoyable.
    I hope that Conspiracy of Kings gets a medal!

  14. Sondy says:

    I love what Megan Whalen Turner said at the Horn Book Colloquium — She feels she has failed if her readers don’t read the book more than once. All of her books get better and better with each re-reading. You catch how masterfully plotted it is, and the story reads differently with your new perspective. Nina pointed out some examples in this book (some I hadn’t noticed yet!).

    Here’s hoping that will sit well with the Newbery committee, who will surely reread the top contenders!

  15. Just finished A Conspiracy of Kings. I read The Thief a few years ago but haven’t read book 2 or 3. I had very little recollection of the plot or even the characters from The Thief but did remember liking (but not loving) the book.
    Throughout the first 100 or so pages of Conspiracy of Kings I had to fight off the urge to go to Wikipedia and look up a synopsis of The Thief. I thought Turner’s use of multiple names for every character (some time alternating within the same paragraph) unnecessarily convoluted (especially for a reader who is not previously familiar with the characters). This is not a flaw in the book itself since Turner is not writing a book that must stand alone so that it can fit nicely into the newbery criteria, but i do see this as making the stand alone argument at the newbery table more difficult. Readers familiar with the previous books would undoubtedly have no trouble with the multiple name thing.

    Jonathan talked about the setting in a previous post but as I read Conspiracy of Kings I did not find the setting to be nearly as distinguished as Jonathan has. I’ll agree that Turner’s prose does an excellent job describing the individual locations where story events occur. (I particularly enjoyed the depiction of Hanaktos’ property where Sophos was held as a slave and I thought the way in which Turner managed to describe the geography of Sophos complex on Letnos while the fighting was taking place was smartly done). Unfortunately I was not able to place all of the individual locations in relation to each other because never in the pages of Conspiracy of Kings does Turner offer a description of the overall geography. Eventually we come to understand that Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis are small kingdoms on a peninsula. The geographical relationship of said peninsula and the adversarial Mede and Melenze kingdoms is not revealed either. There is also references to the Great Powers on the Continent, yet the names of these countries or what borders they share with which kingdoms are also left unrevealed. All of these problems could have been overcome quite simply with a single map. Going back to The Thief (after finishing Conspiracy) I found much better descriptions of the overall geography of the peninsula. As well as some political history of the kingdoms, which again are missing in Conspiracy. Turner is not writing a story that needs to stand on its own or fit the criteria for the newbery medal, she can expect the reader to be familiar with the characters and events found in the first three novels as well as be familiar with the world she has already built. The “problems” I had with Conspiracy are not faults of the book or the series but are impediments to the book’s “standaloneness.”

    In terms of the age thing, I thought think that the story is no older than a book like House of the Scorpion which earned both a newbery and printz. Though I do think that if the committee makes the claim that A Conspiracy of Kings appeals to a certain set of 14 year olds or 9th graders or whatever, then they must also include Ship Breaker in their discussions as it does not, at least to me, seem any older than A Conspiracy of Kings.

  16. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Eric, I really appreciate your comments and agree with them, but I would add that setting is more than the physical description of the places. For example, when Sophos has his dreams in slavery and then discusses them with Eddis–all contributes to the religion, and hence the world-building (i.e. setting). The customs and traditions of diplomacy both in Sounis and Attolia, that is, the politics contribute to the setting. The particulars of the economy, slavery, olives, etc. So it’s not just the physical description of the geography, it’s the entire world of the novel.

    And this applies to other books as well. For example, when the girls in ONE CRAZY SUMMER go to Black Panther camp, there isn’t necessarily a wonderful physical description of the building, but the activities they are engaged in contribute to the setting of the novel. Sometimes there is a sense of community that arises more from the relationships between the people in the novel rather than a physical setting. For example, Brooklyn in ONE CRAZY SUMMER is defined by Big Ma and Pa than by any physical setting, and yet Brooklyn is constantly and effectively used as a foil for Oakland, not in the physical setting, but in the way people behave. So I’d encourage you to think about setting a little bit more broadly.

    I, too, think SHIP BREAKER should be under Newbery consideration. It doesn’t strike me as older than A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS. I find that, similarly, the physical setting of the action is wonderful described, but that far off places are only alluded to. I could compromise on SHIP BREAKER and a number of titles for older readers, but, really, when push comes to shove CONSPIRACY and SUGAR are the ones I can live and die by.

  17. I fully understand that a place’s physical geography is only one aspect of the setting but I also think that writers of high fantasy have a duty toward the reader to describe the physical place their characters inhabit (at least if the author is going to have his/her characters meaningfully navigating through said world). The political games played by the characters in A Conspiracy of Kings are at their core very much about the physical land they occupy and as a reader I would have liked to have the author provide a better realized picture of said physical land.
    In terms of “standaloneness” I would argue that The Thief does much more work in developing the socio-politico-cultural/customs & traditions aspects (as well as the physical lay of the land) of Turner’s world than A Conspiracy does. And as a series this is completely within Turner’s rights as she can and should expect readers of the fourth book in her series to have read the prior three books where she has spent (i assume books 2 and 3 further flesh out this world) time building this world and therefore should not have to fully re-describe the physical or cultural setting. However if we want to argue that the book stands alone, then the contents of A Conspiracy of Kings alone should develop the people and places of the created world without relying on previously disclosed information.

    Grey King is also a fourth installment of a series (sequence) but it also takes place in an altogether different location. Cooper fully describes the this area of Whales. The action of the novel requires the reader to understand the location of various farms and roads/pathways so Cooper puts in the time to fully describe the physical setting so that the reader can better understand the action. Because Cooper so expertly describes the physical locals and their relation to each other one does not miss the lack of a map.
    I would argue that Turner’s novel also requires the reader to understand the physical locations of the 3 small kingdoms in relation to each other and the other competing nations/empires. I’m not sure a reader of only A Conspiracy of Kings (i.e. the Newbery committee) is given enough information from Turner to piece together the physical world Turner is creating. Again this is not Turner’s responsibility nor does this necessarily point to an actual flaw in the book if the prior three novels develop the physical lay of the land sufficiently. Its only a “potential” flaw in the eyes of a reader who is relying only on the text of this book alone. Is this unfair for series books? Probably, but them the rules.

    Yes physical geography is only one aspect of the setting but if knowing the lay of the land is important to understand Sophos’ story then it is a crucial aspect.

    More on Maps
    I can’t imagine reading The Lord of the Rings or Narnia without the accompanying maps which help the reader place the characters along their journeys. Not that Tolkien and Lewis don’t do this within their prose as well, but the maps are wonderful aids in understanding and appreciating the story. More recent examples may be Gracing/Fire and The Lost Conspiracy in which maps are included to help the author more completely in their task of world creation.
    Forge also uses a map so that readers can better understand the layout of the Valley Forge encampment. While the newbery committee can not take a map into consideration, readers not bound by those rules can.
    I wouldnt argue that a book like Night Fairy with only one location needs a map or a book Neither does Incarceron where the physical geography of the prison is purposely unknowable and the outside world that the reader needs to understand is not physically complex. The Percy Jackson books do not require a map either because they inhabit a world that on the surface is physically identical to ours. (Ship Breaker and Raider’s Ransom also exist of a future earth which shares our geography [even so Raider's Ransom includes a map clearly showing how England's borders have been affected by the raising sea levels])

  18. Leslie says:

    Eric Carpenter wrote: “Eventually we come to understand that Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis are small kingdoms on a peninsula. The geographical relationship of said peninsula and the adversarial Mede and Melenze kingdoms is not revealed either. There is also references to the Great Powers on the Continent, yet the names of these countries or what borders they share with which kingdoms are also left unrevealed. All of these problems could have been overcome quite simply with a single map” and, later, “I fully understand that a place’s physical geography is only one aspect of the setting but I also think that writers of high fantasy have a duty toward the reader to describe the physical place their characters inhabit (at least if the author is going to have his/her characters meaningfully navigating through said world). ”

    I disagree, and for a couple of reasons; and I think it’s because there are different kinds of readers.

    Eric did come to realize that Eddis, Attolia, and Sounis are small nations on a peninsula. That’s really all you need to know to understand the book, and Turner provided the information. The exact location of the Medes, the names and the locations of the Great Powers of the Continent don’t really matter; they exist, we know the affect they have on our three small kingdoms and on the plot, and all other information is extraneous.

    I don’t think authors of high fantasy or any other kind of fiction have a duty to describe the physical place, and that’s where the two-different-kinds-of-people theory comes in. I’ll give you an example: I love Antonia Forest’s books about the Marlow family, and have read them avidly and repeatedly for about 25 years. And yet never has it entered my mind to wonder exactly where different locations are in relation to others, either towns and homes, or the different buildings, playing fields, and so on of Kingscote School. Of all the questions I asked or wanted to ask Miss Forest, physical location ones were completely absent. But another fan, who has written a book called “The Marlows and Their Maker,” spends a fair amount of space analyzing different clues and coming up with maps and diagrams of the locations. I find it interesting to look at her reasoning and at her maps, but then I promptly forget both and just focus on reading the books in my own way.

    In the same way, if a map of the Peninsula and the Continent and the Mede Empire, with all sites neatly labeled and located, were provided with Turner’s books, I doubt that I’d pay much attention because to me it really doesn’t matter. What I actually need to know is provided in the text. I’m clearly not a map-person. Others, apparently, are. It doesn’t seem fair to insist that all books have to cater to the map-persons’ tastes in order to qualify for awards.

  19. Leslie says:

    Ummm. “Effect,” not “affect.”

  20. Leslie, it’s always good to be reminded that we all read differently. Thank you. I would call your attention to the fact that the concluding action of A Conspiracy of Kings is about the movements of armies. I feel like in this case the relative locations of Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis are important to understanding Sophos’ (and Gen’s) military strategies.

    Most stories do not have their characters moving strategically through their geography so the relative location of discrete settings are inconsequential. The various locals visited throughout Deathly Hollows, for instance, can exist discretely because the characters simply transports themselves to these places magically. Kasta and Po’s travels in the final third of Graceling, however, are carefully planned and therefore the referenced locations must be geographically understood by the reader. (thankfully Cashore provides the reader with a map). I would argue that the character in A Conspiracy of Kings make strategic choices based on geographic factors. This being the case, i think Turner should have provided the reader with a better understanding of said geography (that is if she hoped that the book would stand on its own. if this geography can be fully understood by reading the previous 3 books in the series then this is NOT a flaw in A Conspiracy of Kings just an indication that the book does not stand fully on its own.)

  21. I read the Narnia books and LOTR as a kid without any maps. And when they are there, like Leslie, I don’t pay any attention to them. I’m trying to think — are there maps for Earthsea books? I know there are a lot of places involved, but I can’t recall any sense of geography that mattered to me. At any rate, I feel Turner provides all I need in each book to appreciate them all by themselves.

  22. Blakeney says:

    Yes, Earthsea has a map, and as a reader, I referred to it many times.

  23. Blakeney says:

    Many interesting points about setting have been made in this discussion. I would propose evaluating setting in relation to its role in each book. In What Happened on Fox Street, it is basically important that the story takes place on a dead end street with a handful of homes and with a woods at the end of the street. In Keeper, it is not really important when this story takes place. Its folkloric quality seems to want an undefined time period and a place where magical things could happen – an isolated spot at the edge of the water is more important than whether it takes place on the coast of Texas or Florida or Maine. I would agree that Countdown is cluttered with 60s memorabilia, overwhelming the story. Conspiracy of Kings requires world building, so that readers are transported to a place with which they have no familiarity, and it does seem that the geography underlies the plot in a much more meaningful way than whether Oakland really has hills. It matters much more that the Black Panthers were active in Oakland in the late 60s than whether the hill is fictitious.

    Delineation of setting can vary quite a bit from book to book, it seems to me, with time period sometimes being more important than place and the extent of delineation in terms of specificity varying according to what is needed to support each book. Meggy Swann would certainly enter any discussion of excellence in delineation of setting this year in my opinion. In nonfiction, a book like Kakapo Rescue totally depends on effective descriptions of place.

    • Nina Lindsay says:

      Leslie and Blakeney…nice points, and very much along the lines of the level of discussion at the Newbery table. Committee members come armed with passages to point out as evidence, which is really the only what to convince each other of the sort of measurements/distinction that Blakeney is getting into.

  24. Leslie says:

    This is a long post. Skip at will.

    Eric wrote: “I would call your attention to the fact that the concluding action of A Conspiracy of Kings is about the movements of armies. I feel like in this case the relative locations of Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis are important to understanding Sophos’ (and Gen’s) military strategies.” And, “I would argue that the character in A Conspiracy of Kings make strategic choices based on geographic factors. This being the case, i think Turner should have provided the reader with a better understanding of said geography (that is if she hoped that the book would stand on its own. if this geography can be fully understood by reading the previous 3 books in the series then this is NOT a flaw in A Conspiracy of Kings just an indication that the book does not stand fully on its own.)”

    You don’t have to have read the previous books to understand the geography in A Conspiracy of Kings. All of the geography underlying the strategic choices in A Conspiracy of Kings is right there in the book. Not all crammed together, any more than everything we know about the characters is crammed together in one description. That’s part of the delight of reading Turner’s books; one picks out clues and information (or fails to pick them out, and later thwacks oneself on the forehead and exclaims, “How could I miss that? How could I be such a complete IDIOT?”) A Conspiracy of Kings would be a much poorer book if Turner didn’t let us discover things but instead sliced them into neat servings, arranged them on a silver platter, and had bowing servants hand them to us, as if we weren’t capable of discerning them any other way. She may drive her readers mad, but she never insults their intelligence. Overrates it, sometimes, but never insults it! The information is incorporated into the story. I just pulled out my copy of the book and vooped through it pulling out bits and pieces. I didn’t include it all, but enough to show that every piece of information that’s needed is provided. And enough to make this post very long, as aforesaid.

    Let’s see:
    First page of prologue: Attolia has at least one port, with access to other countries (since their ambassadors are arriving via said port “from distant parts of the world.”)
    Chapter One: Sophos is on an island. Then he is taken off of the island, to a place near a seashore that stretched for miles. Sounis, too, therefore, has a coast.
    Chapter Five: There are islands in dispute between Attolia and Sounis (p. 57) and Sounis (and presumably Attolia) has a navy. Eddis has built fortifications at the base of the foothills, and “better that Sounis not be able to retake that property and never threaten Eddis again” (also p. 57) so Eddis and Sounis share a border.
    Chapter Nine: Between late evening and dawn Sophos and his father and their men ride from Baron Hanaktos’ groovy pad inland to where the kind’s troops are. Melenze is on Sounis’ northern border and there is a pass between them; Melenze is “Ferria’s dog.” Melenze wants the port of Haptia “to be the final link in their trade route from the center of the Continent to the Middle Sea” (p. 102) so Sounis is on the Middle Sea. The Medes have an emperor, are powerful, far away, and inclined to wipe out of existence every country with which they have allied.
    Chapter Ten: To get to Attolia from Sounis one can also ride horses until one reaches a pass; there’s a main pass and then at least one other, less-known one, which involves lots of climbing straight up. Then you cross through Eddis, and arrive in Attolia. It’s at least a couple days’ trip from that border to the city of Attolia (which is the one mentioned in the Prologue, with a port). The Medes are definitely not from the Continent because they are mentioned separately from representatives from the Continent.
    Chapter Fourteen: Attolia has ships and explains how she supplies them. Ergo: A navy. There are Neutral Islands, “scattered island states that were spread off the shores of Sounis, Eddis, and Attolia” (p. 152). There is a possibility that the Mede will arrive on the doorstep of either Sounis or Attolia (by ship; they would “land on our shores [Attolia] rather than sailing around us to land on yours). “In either case, we have an invasion that the Great Powers of the Continent cannot fail to notice.” Hence – The Medes are from a different continent. The Mede emperor is gathering armies and building ships to carry them to the “small” peninsula (Attolia, Eddis and Sounis).
    Chapter Sixteen: There are other countries on the Peninsula besides Eddis, Attolia and Sounis. The Medes are across the Middle Sea.
    Chapter Seventeen: The main pass, unlike the one Sophos and the Magus took entering Attolia, can accomodate troops on horseback. Just inside the main pass there’s a fortified megaron, which you can avoid by fording the Seperchia river. You move across the foothills heading inland. At Atusi there’s a road leading to Brimedius; on the right of the road two ridges reach out from the foothills with a shallow valley between, and the road curves around the hills.
    Chapter Nineteen: Elisa is where the king of Sounis is elected; it’s on the coast, not far from the capital city. There are five roads to Elisa, which is high in the hills above the sea. Three are from inland and two from the coast, but only two are serviceable. The useful coast road goes to the nearby port town, a half-day’s ride away; the other one ends in a tiny town, Oneia, on an exposed cliff top with a little beach below. The King’s Road goes inland to the capital city, in the direction opposite the port. The other two inland roads are just tracks on the sea side of the hills, though wider on the inland side. There are several roads from the port town to the hinterlands. The road to Oneia is narrow, and follows a watercourse, and has steep hills on either side, until the narrow valley begins to open out as it nears the coast, at which point there’s a less-steep rise to a level spot, and then, out of sight of the road, another rising hillside. The road has curves. The ground around Oneia is open. It’s possible to land troops, one small boatload at a time, on the little beach below Oneia.

    As I said, there’s more; there are a fair number of mentions of how long it takes them to get from one place ot another.

    What more do I need to know?

  25. Leslie says:

    Nina: Thank you.

    (But I *still* have this terrible suspicion that the Committee members break out into fisticuffs and start smiting with sharp heavy objects those who don’t seem to understand that clearly, *clearly* their own particular favorite deserves that Medal, and only someone wilfully blind and probably morally bankrupt would disagree.)

  26. I’m a big fan of maps in books. I remember having poster maps for Narnia, LOTR in my 6th grade classroom. Loved the map in the Earthsea books. And not surprisingly I’d have liked to have a map in Conspiricy of Kings.

    But the readers I’ve discussed the book with (10-12 year olds mostly) didn’t have trouble with the geography. The kids who liked the book seemed to have a working mental image for where the countries were in relation to each other and one child gave me an elaborate explanation of how to make Oregon into Attolia.
    “Scoot the ocean over to where the Columbia is now and then the Willamette Valley can be Attolia and the Cascades can be Eddis and then Sophos would be from eastern Oregon. But of course if you did that, you would have to change all the plants except for the vineyards.”

    I’ve also found the book leads to some lively conversations about whether Gen’s gods have an analog in Greek mythology or if they are more like Norse myths or even Hindu deities. So I think the cultural aspects of the setting, although complex, are communicated clearly enough.

  27. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Eric, I’ve been thinking about your comments. I think it’s interesting that you wanted a map in A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, while I find it perfectly fine without. On the other hand, I wanted a fuller explanation of the time travel in WHEN YOU REACH ME, and you were perfectly fine to take a handful of sketchy allusions and run with it. I think both books challenge and invite their readers to complete the story in their head.

    And since I’ve invoked WHEN YOU REACH ME, if you’d like to see the kind of time travel stuff we typically see on an occasional, if not frequent basis, in fantasy and science fiction then check out PATHFINDER by Orson Scott Card . . . I know I whined incessantly about this point last year. Would’ve been fun to compare these two, had the appeared in the same year, although one is YA, the other juvenile, one a hybrid of fantasy and science fiction, the other a hybrid of several more disparate genres.

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