[identity profile] agh-4.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] queensthief
Welcome to April, the month before the month of Thick as Thieves! This week, we’re reading from “The stool hit the wall with a satisfying crash” to “Costis returned to his room, freed himself of belt and breastplate, and fell, otherwise fully dressed, onto his bed.” As always, these discussions are spoiler free for “The Wine Shop,”The Knife Dance,” and the Thick as Thieves arc, but we WILL probably discuss content from all four published books. Page numbers are from the 2006 paperback.

The discussion for the first five chapters is here. Next week, led by [livejournal.com profile] ibmiller , we will finish the book!

What could possibly happen in a five-chapter chunk that begins and ends in Costis’s room? EVERYTHING.

In Chapter Six, Costis expresses his frustration at himself and at people who know more than he does, and, though Aris disagrees, he decides to tell Gen about Sejanus and Susa. Ornon worries. Gen visits the Oracle, receives only his signature, and returns furious and miserable to his room, where Costis tells him about the queen and Susa, but not Sejanus, and is dismissed. He realizes why Gen has been looking out the window.

  • “By all accounts, the last time Eugenides had addressed the Great Goddess, she’d answered by smashing windows all over the palace” (138). This is an odd (to me) reminder that such a weighty personal moment is also open to public speculation. Do the Attolians (other than Costis) realize that this is the gods responding, or are they hampered by disbelief, hostility towards Gen, and/or something similar to the way the impression left by Hamiathes’ Gift fades for those who haven’t worn it? The tension between what is and what seems to be is … really, really vital to these books. Here, it’s a quick example of how absurd the Attolians' underestimation of Gen is. The dude has a personal and dramatic relationship with his gods; surely that must indicate something? “You think to come between me and the Great Goddess?” (140)  :o

  • Does this scene work as a parallel of the “stop whining” scene in QoA? Besides the literal messages from the gods (delivered through Moira and the Oracle), this: “Without a word, he stalked from the doorway … and leapt across a construction ditch to firm ground without looking back. His guard and his attendants hastily followed. … Eugenides never slowed and he never looked back” (140-1) reminds me of the way he flees from the library to the temple after being shown the hooks and false hands (QoA 75-6). Both flights are prompted by confrontation with something he doesn’t want to accept or deal with (all the baggage of the loss of his hand and … being king). One is to a temple, one is from, and now his options for escape and privacy are even more limited.

  • A comprehension question that I’ve never quite been able to answer: Why does Susa (and therefore Erondites, I suppose) care that Gen looks out the window?

Chapter Seven is extraordinarily eventful. It starts with Costis and Aris again, who drown their sorrows and celebrate, respectively, as well as discuss their monarchs’ marriage and whether Attolia has “one womanly bone in her body” (149). Attolia wishes her husband and Teleus got along better while Gen wishes Teleus weren’t an idiot, and we get our first glimpse of Eddis and the magus, who discuss the bridge plan. Sejanus reports to his father in the conspiracy room ;) … where someone is listening. We hear of and then meet Heiro. Costis abruptly transitions from deciding whether to sit in the shade or the sun to RESPONDING TO THE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT and learns that his king, in fact, could probably hold his own against a toddler with a toasting fork. Costis considers his promise to Philia, helps the king on the stairs, and looks into his eyes, before shoving a baron and finding himself at surprising proximity to a rather iconic kiss.

  • I’m going to go ahead and quote from tearoha and pigrescuer’s segment of the 2010 readalong, because it pops up in my head every time I read the scene in the garden: “As he runs towards the king in the maze, Costis prays that he won't be too late. The very next sentence (p162) begins like this: Blood on the flowers, blood on the green grass, blood blossoming like a rose in the still waters of a fountain. [Dramatic pause] In his mind Costis saw it all. And then, just a couple of pages later, Costis is numb, staring at blood spreading through a fountain from a body floating there. NOT ONCE BUT TWICE does MWT make us think that Gen is dead, TWICE. I'm sure i'm not the only reader who had to put the book down for a little hyperventilation there, especially as MWT's proven she's willing to do horrible things to characters. Is this a nasty authorial trick to play on us? Or is it a brilliant piece of obfuscation, using pre-conceptions and expectations to blindside readers? I'm leaning towards both.”

  • As Costis becomes aware of his loyalty to Eugenides, he clearly becomes more comfortable talking to him, which, on their walk back to the palace, essentially means that he responds to Gen's provocation, whining, and animal noises with wit and, well, rudeness. For Costis, the loyalty is perhaps in spite of that aspect of the king's personality, but, of course, all the relationships that are important to Gen all have this element of playful engagement with his ridiculousness (??) (except, perhaps, Relius?). I've never really questioned it, because that's just who he is, but it must be one of the reasons that the need to be "a proper king" is so constricting. He needs to cultivate loyalty and respect in a new way, and he needs to do it with everyone.

  • Related example: “Thinking that surely someone else would escort the king that far, Costis was eyeing the first set of steps ahead of him.” (175) Even after all their bonding, Costis is quite ready to be finished dealing with wounded and annoying Gen..

  • What is it about stairs? Great things happen there, eh?

Chapter Eight is much more contained. Essentially everyone gathers in the king’s bedroom, where it becomes apparent how serious he has been hurt. Costis questions the motivations of stoic men. Gen amps up his complaining until Ornon convinces him to shut up, which, and Irene faints. Costis catches her and contemplates the fact that she is a person, Ornon is quite aggressive, and Petrus makes a second attempt at his stitches.

  • These chapters (and ... the whole book. The first three books??) are structured around revelations about Gen, but here, especially, it is clear that Attolia's role and the perception of it are changing as well and tied to the king's. As someone who has maintained tight control over her kingdom and identity, what must it be like to react in ways she can't control (faint)? In later scenes from Costis's point of view, she doesn't seem phased, and maybe this discussion would fit better into next week's section (see: night chats with Relius),

  • "Eugenides glanced at the hook on his arm and conceded the point. 'Yes,' he said. He seemed lost in a memory.” (186) "Lost in a memory" sounds so fond and wistful, but this must be refering to the main time Irene has seen him in/caused him to be in pain. Is it meant to sound wistful? Those two certainly have an understanding about allusions to how she cut off his hand -- when she makes jokes, they are threats, and he finds them hilarious! -- but, to me, his experience of the loss post-conversation-with-the-mystery-goddess seems to be a mix of lighthearted acknowledgments and permanent trauma. I'm not sure where wistfulness fits in.

Chapter Nine: For once, Gen is the one being woken up in the middle of the night – by Costis, who hopes to prevent the execution of Teleus, Aris, and Aris’s squad. Teleus resists the king’s help but eventually recites the invocation of Hephestia to Attolia, with the intended outcome and inevitable terrifying rage. While Costis flees and hunkers down in his room, the queen storms over to Her Lord Attolis, they fight, and she hits him. The attendants and guards, who assume the rift will continue, speculate about their rulers’ relationship, and Costis creates an awkward moment by asserting his unconditional loyalty to the queen. Costis is then ordered back to the king’s apartment, where Gen meets with Ornon, Dite, and Heiro.

  • "The room darkened as a sudden morning draft swept through the open windows near the ceiling and blew through the chandeliers, guttering their flames. In the flickering light, the queen seemed to swell with rage, seemed to burn with it like a flame, simultaneously motionless and ceaselessly moving. The fabric of her robe wrinkled across her knees very slightly as the hands holding it clenched into fists. Costis drew a breath, sucking at air that seemed too solid to inhale.” (193-4) The veil is thin for everyone in the throne room right now! Attolia resembles Hephestia (as described in The Thief) in more than just costume, and the solid air is straight from the moments leading up to the hand chop (QoA 31), which we know the gods arranged. How do we look at the gods' presence here; what stake do they have in this decision? The words are an invocation, a vivid callback to an event for which they are responsible and delivered to someone who emulates Hephestia... Is it more than that, though? Do the gods care about circumstances on the level of Relius and Teleus? It’s established later that their pardon is extremely important to Irene as a person, which I suppose ends up benefitting her country and, eventually, Eddis and Sounis. I find this scene so vivid and effective, but I guess I want to know the secrets behind the ~stage direction~

  • “The Great Goddess of Eddis is not known for her mercy” (194). Is "mercy" the word Gen gave Costis, or did it get fudged somewhere along the way? Does this (deliberate???) (mis)translation map onto the mercy Gen prayed for in prison and the ruthless love he received? Are mercy and ere necessarily opposed to each other? What about ere and justice? All this a chapter since the mention of Philia, in a series with a character named Agape...

  • Onus Savonus Sophos At Ere -- it's the first time we get the full invocation and clearly a deliberate Sophos cameo. TFW your name reminds your friends of really terrible memories

  • "Maybe his part in the play enacted in the throne room would be overlooked in the moment and forgotten in the future" (196). It is, though, isn't it? Maybe because so much happens in the next chapter, maybe because Irene comes around to Gen's decision to unmake hers.

Chapter Ten is another massive one, stuffed with plot developments and extremely memorable moments, such as Costis shooting off the lock on the king’s door when he hears him screaming. After the queen shows up and sits down (like a heron) to acknowledge that her husband’s nightmares are embarrassing, Costis commits to protecting their privacy at gunpoint, if necessary, but he ends up guarding an empty room until Phresine brings him to the queen’s apartment. Attolia orders Costis to watch the king, who sleeps until another nightmare comes. Costis gets the opportunity to be embarrassed, himself, then gets to watch a very eventful series of audiences between Gen (in Irene’s nightshirt) and people who may have put the quinalums in the lethium but didn’t. The king chagrins and horrifies his attendants, topples the house of Erondites, and breaks to his wife the news that Dite was in love with her. Then, he visits and pardons Relius and gets in a shouting match with Teleus, before getting some alone time on top of the Comemnus tower. Meanwhile, our exhausted Costis finally gets to go to bed!

  • "Just bad dreams" (QoA 179) vs "Just a nightmare" (KoA 206) -- This has surely been discussed before, but it's so fascinating and devastating to compare Gen's second nightmare here with the first time he had it in QoA -- his hurt and alienation at the Eddisian court's jokey reaction to Attolia's relayed threat, then, with the utter sweetness of Attolia's response, now, and their "unassailable companionship." Each time I read either of those scenes, I go through a slightly different mix of emotions. Such a good connection between books!

  • When, in 40 years, we receive confirmation that The Thief was about the evils of television, can we also get a run-down of what Attolia says to the king's attendants before she makes him deal with them? That is a bonus feature/fly on the wall situation I would appreciate. :)

  • Even bearing in mind that he has yet to be literally in the presence of a god (next week!), Costis's description of Eugenides as a god revealed is pretty effective ... it's vindicating if you've been waiting for him to show that he's not a fool and tragic if you feel like reminding yourself that he really does not want to be king.

  • So, after surviving an assassination attempt and getting in a very loaded fight with the most important person in his life, Gen still managed to seize the opportunity to plant the quinalums and accomplish his raze-the-house-of-Erondites-and-salt-its-earth goal? And he had Dite's purse and letter of introduction ready in Attolia's bedside table? Sheesh.

  • "imprisoned for life a man I would have preferred to execute" (242) -- I have always had trouble taking this literally, but Gen does seem earnest about his motivations when he's explaining to Dite why Sejanus will live. We know why Sejanus wants Gen dead, but why does Gen want Sejanus dead? (Not that there's any shortage of reasons for him to hate Sejanus...)

  • The prison scene is probably the grimmest in the book and so well-written. I don't think I can do it justice with any real questions or observations, but I did notice how the mood shifts/erupts with Teleus and Gen's fight (placed after two very direct paragraphs about each of their contexts) to lighten slightly by releasing some of the tension, only for it to crash down again and then soften with Gen's last words to Relius as well as the way Teleus and the guards carry him to the infirmary. (If that makes sense.) Has the way you read this scene changed over the years?

Favorite "lines"
I decided I wasn't even going to try to make a section for this, because there are so many good lines, so many moments that are what I think of when I think of KoA. But, as I went on and took way too long to write this post, my restraint eroded and I saw that I've gotta mention just a few...

  • Costis on the stairs: "It wasn't what the king saw that was important, it was what he couldn't see when he sat at the window with his face turned towards Eddis." (144) This moment is so beautiful. Is it weird to plug someone's relevant art?

  • "Yet you prefer his mercy to my justice," "Open the doors!" and "I would see My Lord Attolis." They aren't my absolute favorites (too terrified of enraged Irene to claim that), but I have never successfully gotten through these lines without dramatically saying them to myself, with volume dependent on how many people are around.

  • "I CAN DO ANYTHING I WANT!" (250) Of course.

  • "He wished the floor could open and swallow him, the floorboards split apart and he and the upholstered chair and the small three-legged table all be sucked down out of sight. Assuming, of course, that it could happen without a sound, and without drawing the attention of the king or queen." (218-9) This ... starts with a fairly common sentiment/expression, then gets more and more detailed only to bump up against the limits of reality. It's hilarious to picture and to read. How do you make a heartwarming moment between Gen and Irene even better? Add commentary from an uncomfortably-close Costis! Wait, are you saying that happens more than once?!

  • "The king paused as if admiring it, then went up the decorative brickwork as if it were a staircase and disappeared over the edge of the roof." (254)

  • I would also like to express my enjoyment of all scenes of Costis springing into action, Teleus falling in the pool, and every conversation Gen has with Attolia and/or Costis. Special accolade for Attolia after Sejanus and Dite's visits -- she seems so relaxed and happy! I feel like Relius in the infirmary, privileged to see her smile...

This section gives us Costis’s progression from “I don’t care if he gets poisoned as long as it doesn’t have anything to do with me” to (at Aris’s disbelief, 135) “If he choked on a bone and died, I wouldn’t care” to “Costis’s heart twisted sympathetically. He sternly reprimanded that weak and traitorous organ” (142) to “I hate him” (145) to his prayer to Philia (160). I love the image of him “[smiling] back at the king” with relief, just before the assassins attack. There’s just so much warmth, even if it only lasts for a moment. Then, of course, there’s “Costis knew he would march into hell for this fathomless king, as he would for his queen” (168), and their fantastic conversation on the walk back to the palace. The discoveries continue, of course -- can we divide them into several mini-arcs? Loyalty to king, understanding of king's abilities, understanding of king and queen's relationship (to a point), understanding of king's presentation of himself...?

Anyway, thanks for your patience while I got the second half of this post up. I know there's A LOT in this section that I didn't touch on, so please feel free to take the discussion in some other direction -- I definitely went for an all-over-the-place approach to fit in everything I wanted to mention.

I'd like to take a moment in this post to acknowledge and remember [livejournal.com profile] philia_fan, whose username came from Chapter Eight. Philia meant a lot to many of us here, and it was very sad to lose her when she passed away five years ago. Her insight shaped my readings of these books as much as her thoughtfulness shaped my experience of this community. So, so, so, shoutout to Philia. <3

Date: 4/2/17 11:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] freenarnian.livejournal.com
Lovely tribute... I was just thinking about Philia_fan as I reread this section. My time on Sounis overlapped with hers briefly, but she was always kind and so very insightful. Like you said, she helped shape so much of my understanding of the books. <3

I've gotta get dinner in the oven. More thoughts to come!
From: [identity profile] an-english-girl.livejournal.com
I'd always figured that Barons Susa and Erondites aren't allies. See their different reactions to Gen and Irene's engagement at the end of QoA: Susa "hisses" at Gen, while Erondites calls it "droll." So, while they'd both like to be the ones manipulating the king, they're not in collaboration but opposition. Susa wants to know what Gen's doing when the attendants are shut out, and he's very glad (a whole gold coin's worth of glad) to hear that the king is just sitting alone, not amusing himself with the mistress Erondites is trying to push on him. Ie, what Costis tells Susa is that Erondites' plots haven't got anywhere yet.
Does that make sense?
From: [identity profile] rosaleeluann.livejournal.com
Ah-ha! See, this is why I come here. Everyone is so smart.

I really really really want to re-read this now. Because Costis.

From: [identity profile] an-english-girl.livejournal.com
LIFE. Re-reading. Tell me about it!
Can you join me in keeping book or eReader somewhere to hand for those odd two seconds? Like, on top of the microwave (while you're waiting for the kettle to boil); or next to the phone (all those 'please-hold-while-we-play-music.....' calls)?
Because, you know, COSTIS :)


Date: 4/3/17 12:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] an-english-girl.livejournal.com
Hands up if, like me, like Costis, you missed noticing this is the second time we've seen Gen's handwriting ;D

Date: 4/7/17 01:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] checkers65477.livejournal.com
Very nice analysis and discussion on these chapters! Some random thoughts:

Maybe part of the reason Irene is so angry when Teleus quotes the invocation the Hephestia is because she knows she must (once again) comply; it's not only that Gen has unmade her decisions, she has to show mercy or risk offending the gods. Plus, it reminds her of that awful night when Gen cried it over and over, and her failures, especially with personal relationships. And, I do think Hephestia showed mercy to Gen. A trade, the loss of his hand for the lives of everyone in Eddis.

I love your comparison of fleeing to the temple and later from it.

Gen IS frightening when he's god-like. Luckily, he seems (so far) to be able to control his potential I CAN DO ANYTHING I WANT terrible decisions and actions. Like, for example, not having the captain of his guard gutted.

I still haven't forgiven Irene for slapping Gen when he's injured and pathetic.

The writing in this book (and QoA) is extraordinary. So many layers and poignant scenes, and so funny, too.

Date: 4/7/17 12:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] manderelee.livejournal.com
I still haven't forgiven Irene for slapping Gen when he's injured and pathetic.

This was one of the things that really bothered me the first few times I read KoA. And by bothered, I mean I wrote an entire blog post angsting about it in my old LJ, lol. I'm currently doing a reread, and I just finished that chapter a few days ago, and for some reason, I found it more understandable this time around. I don't know if it's because I was expecting it, and I wasn't as shocked about it as before.

My interpretation this time around was based around those last two lines they exchanged before she slapped him. For most of the book so far, she's really been trying to get Gen to act more kingly, and to demonstrate his kingliness to the court. But he's been resisting. And for the first time, he's used his kingly status to reverse her decision publicly (at least if I remember correctly, it's the first time he did it publicly), and it had to be by reminding her of one of her biggest failures as a queen and human being. That's gotta be a slap in the face too for her (metaphorically speaking). And I think she was hurt, that when she needed his support most (she was just betrayed by her secretary of Archives *and* her captain of the guard), he takes that opportunity to remind her what a monster she actually is.

Of course as readers we know why Gen is trying to save Teleus. It's for her sake. I'm not sure if she completely understands that yet.

Anyway, that's just my interpretation. It changes every time I read the books. But there are still many things I don't understand. Like, why does Gen find it funny when Attolia offered him her wine? Why was Attolia so angry having to dance the Eddisan dance with Gen? What was the evidence against Sejanus that Gen didn't "want to bring to the light of day"?

Why is Gen so generous with his kindness?? (This has been a very, very confusing part of my reading this time around. In the past, I just took it for granted that he's kind, he's just that nice. But the scene in the prison cell with Relius? It was heavily implied that Relius tortured Gen in QoA, and yet... why is Gen so nice to him? Just for Irene's sake? What? I mean, obviously Gen's a better human being than me, because I'd be pretty apathetic about Relius and Teleus after all the grief they caused me if I were in his place.)

Date: 4/8/17 03:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] frosted-feather.livejournal.com
I love your questions. I see many of the moments between Gen and Attolia that the court witnesses and are confused/angered by (with the wine cup and the dance) as part of the balance between their private lives and their public lives. Most of what we see of them are their public image, the appearance of their marriage that most of the court thinks is a sham. But Costis (and we!) slowly get a glimpse into their real affection for one another. I think Irene is very unsure of how to show any affection in public, and thus she maintains her cold face most of the book. Gen, on the other hand, sometimes wants to throw caution to the winds and be himself.

With the wine cup scene, Gen laughs, knowing she wouldn't poison him, but the court thinks she wants to (and could!). And in the dance scene, Attolia doesn't want to reveal anything of herself to the court or to make a spectacle, but Gen doesn't care because he loves her and wants to show off. I just re-read QOA and realized Irene and Gen make a personal commitment to each other at the end of that book, but in KOA they seem to be unsure of how to conduct themselves in public. With a brood of vipers around them, hiding their true feelings seems the safest option.

Date: 4/8/17 09:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] checkers65477.livejournal.com
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<iWith the wine cup scene, Gen laughs, knowing she wouldn't poison him, but the court thinks she wants to (and could!).</i>

I wondered, too, if he laughed because she was showing that dry sense of humor she has by mocking herself. As in, "Ha ha remember that time I poisoned my first husband?"

Date: 4/9/17 02:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] manderelee.livejournal.com
Aah, thanks so much for your answers! It definitely makes more sense when viewed from that lens.

After reading your answer above, I realized there might be an interpretation to these scenes that I just haven't thought about yet, and that makes everything clearer if I just shift my perspective a little. If you don't mind, I have another question. Why does Irene get so angry when Gen suggests cutting down the guard by half? I mean, she's angry enough to have thrown an inkpot on his head, and judging by the fact that Gen's inkpots created dents in the plaster of his room, then Irene must have been angry enough to want to dent Gen's skull, lol. I'm not sure if I understand the reason for the intensity of her anger.

Date: 4/10/17 04:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] frosted-feather.livejournal.com
I wonder if it’s because she made the guard what it is by raising people above their normal rank and rewarding them, and considers them wholly loyal to herself. They were pretty much the only ones keeping her in power, and she doesn’t like the idea of giving up their support. But Gen sees such a large guard as dangerous to her because they could turn on her, though she doesn’t want to admit it? So far I don’t think we’ve seen her loyal guards or army betray her, but the barons do it all the time, so the army could be next.

As for why she’s personally angry at Gen, Attolia does seem to switch between supportive and angry at Gen a lot. Even though she wants him to take the Kingly role, maybe she struggles with actually giving up some power herself.


Date: 4/8/17 12:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] an-english-girl.livejournal.com
Looking up a crossword clue in "Who's Who in the Ancient World," a familiar name caught my eye: Lucius Aelius Sejanus!

He was an aristocratic Roman, 20BC to 31AD; a close friend, confidant and manipulator of the emperor Tiberias; and commander of the Praetorian Guard. He wheedled, blackmailed and poisoned his way into a position of power secondary only to that of the emperor, but was finally arrested and executed for conspiracy to assassinate the emperor.

Just a /leeetle/ bit familiar sounding??!!??

Date: 4/9/17 03:19 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Feeling a bit heartbroken now---I didn't even know about philia passing away. I suppose that is the consequence of only popping in and out of the forums haphazardly. And now it's been five years.

Looking over her blog posts, these snippets of her diaries, it's so strange to think she's no longer with us.

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