Chachic had the wonderful idea of making a Queen's Thief week - and lots of other bloggers jumped in to help! I fear I'm not deserving of their far more experienced company, but here is my attempt to add to the discussion.
If you have not read through book 2 (The Queen of Attolia) DO NOT PROCEED... Part of this post is ABOUT how I proceeded years ago and got a spoiler!
Some Thoughts about Suffering, Spoilers, Gen, and Attolia
I was such a bad reader about those books, at first.
I didn't like the brief description of The Thief in my library's brochure, so I made up my mind I wasn't going to read the books. In which case, I thought, what matter a few spoilers?
Now, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The choicest secrets - Gen's identity, Gen's tricks, Gen's eventual romance - all remained unrevealed, by some miracle. But one thing I did manage to learn: that the main character gets his hand cut off in the beginning of book 2. I didn't know this fellow at all then, so I wasn't much in the way of caring at the time. I did think, "What, [checks mentally] this is a kids' book, right?"
In the end - I can't remember exactly what put me over the edge - I read The Thief, quickly following with The Queen of Attolia. I was expecting that particular scene when it came; I had steeled myself for it. My original reaction, then, was much less dramatic than those of other Gen-fans. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have read it with no prior warning.
And then I found out, sort of...
I'd lent The Thief to some of my kid friends and, after their enthusiastic response, I dropped by one afternoon with book 2. Idly, I began to read aloud the first paragraphs. (Lots of stuff about the interior architecture of megarons - fascinating, wasn't it?) The kids thought I'd hit on something fun. We settled down to read.
Well, it was ... something else again.
No, actually the kids seemed remarkably unperturbed by it. I was the one who suddenly noticed how terrifically awful those first four-odd chapters were. I mean - Gen! and Attolia... When I'd read it on my own, I'd known what was coming, and though I was affected, I don't think I really comprehended it all 'round. But when I really got a look at it, I wanted to cry. Because there is real suffering in those chapters, for pretty much everyone - physical suffering, mental suffering, guilt, worry, fear. In another story there might have been an easy way out, but not here. Here decisions are made, nasty things happen, and Gen pays the price for being the daring thief. And oh, what a price.
For the first time, I understood entirely why Eddis declared war.
But it still didn't shake my firm conviction that Eugenides and Irene belong together. What happens in the dark dungeons of Attolia's castle is a deed ordered by a political personage - the Queen of Attolia. But Gen, in what I can only say is a staggering feat of empathy, recognizes the woman beneath the disguise built of necessity. He is able to separate the politics from the person. And Gen has always worked more with people than with politics.
So I, like Gen, must have somehow seen beyond the mask myself. For I have read the first four chapters of book 2 aloud, my throat tight with sympathy, and cheered as Eddis confiscated the caravans' goods and went to war to avenge her Thief's injury - but as I open the cover of each book, and softly set them closed at last, I wish the Queen of Attolia may find joy.