Lightreads's Reviews > The Queen of Attolia

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
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Mar 23, 2010

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bookshelves: disability, fantasy, historical, young-adult

Well well! So our pleasant, feather-brained little fantasy romp grew a bigger, bitchiner sequel. Turner made the very good choice of switching from first person to roaming third, and tossed us straight in to political intrigue and war and post trauma.

So – and, frankly, this is one of those spoilers that has to be revealed because talking about the book without it is like talking about Harry Potter without talking about magic . . . this sentence was going somewhere. Since when is drunk reviewing this hard?

Anyway this book! Which I liked very much, this book is about acquired disability, and identity changed by trauma, and all of that stuff. I reflexively withdraw from books with sudden acquired disability plotlines. I am predisposed for dislike from two directions: I have the lifelong disabled person’s disdain for badly done flailing and trauma and howling and “how will I ever survive I’d rather be dead” (um, you may have heard me demurely mention this on a previous occasion), and at least in the past four years I’ve also had the periodic raw-nerved sensitivity of sudden loss that can’t tolerate acquired disability actually done well. So it’s not that my standards are high so much as that they are . . . complicated.

So reading this book and watching myself respond to it was actually really instructive in pinpointing what works in acquired disability stories and what doesn’t. What I liked about this book was that the acquired disability and the post-violence trauma were different processes. People almost never get that right, but they really are. Even when they spring from the same event, and even though they are both fundamentally a kind of violence done to identity, they . . . operate in different keys. They are different necessities to reconcile the old identity with the new circumscribed reality, with what you can’t do now and with what everyone else thinks you can’t do (also two different things).

The other thing I liked was that the disability in this book was not about fetishizing pain or woobiness, but instead about fetishizing the person who came out the other side. The former is far more frequently creepy than the latter. And here the process is nicely drawn, with some beautiful moments in Gen’s long, quiet winter in his room, feeling out the new boundaries of his body one tiny increment at a time. And, “I thought I was doing so well.” Oh, yes.

Here’s what I didn’t like. I think it is cheap and it is easy for author’s to shorthand their character’s post-disability trauma entirely into their discomfort with the injury being seen. It does make sense – the gazes of others are of course self-definitive, and this is a thing that people go through. But when you channel so much of the aftermath trauma into body discomfort you’re playing with fire. Because disability is not biological. It is not somatoform. Disability is a sociological condition rooted in the embedded culture’s incapacity to, I don’t know, embrace universal fucking design, and the resultant discord it projects back at the disabled person. I realize I’m being all modern social theory at a little young adult fantasy book, but you know what? You do have to deal with the physical pragmatics, but when you get bound up in this idea of body-based disability shame, you’re permanently stuck in the physical and you can’t get anywhere else. Anywhere a lot more interesting, frankly. Also, modern theory is just how I roll when I’m tipsy.

So anyway. It’s a book about a smart-mouthed kid who gets hurt, and how he gets up again after, and how it hurts the people around him, and how it hurt the person who hurt him. Big stuff, for a silly little young adult fantasy.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
March 1, 2010 – Finished Reading
March 23, 2010 – Shelved
March 26, 2010 – Shelved as: disability
March 26, 2010 – Shelved as: fantasy
March 26, 2010 – Shelved as: historical
March 26, 2010 – Shelved as: young-adult

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Even if this review wasn't knock-my-socks-off, you would have had me at drunk book review.


skein Interesting note on the body-based disability shame - I understood that (at least in the latter half) to be referencing Eugenides' shame at his perceived weakness/uselessness, as his identity/work had been so entirely based in his body before.
Which of course doesn't nullify your point, just that it's transferred more to the public-looking-at-a-celebrity identity, and not the inner-circle-of-friends identity.


Lightreads Leaf -- yes, that is an excellent point. And also there's a moment in the third book where someone calls him on how he was using the appearance of shame to manipulate people, which totally knocked my socks off.


Sally Linford That was a great moment in YA fiction when Teleus comments on Gen's pretense of hiding his hook out of shame. How did I not see it?

Great review, though I think you're stingy with your stars.


Miriam I think it is cheap and it is easy for author’s to shorthand their character’s post-disability trauma entirely into their discomfort with the injury being seen.

Have you read the next volume? Because Turner totally pulls the rug out from under that one.


Adrianna Wolfe I think you focused to much on He's disability, because it's simply not what the book is about.


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