Literature / The Queen's Thief

"Steal peace, Eugenides. Steal me some time."

A series of Alternate History-cum-Mythopoeia novels by Megan Whalen Turner detailing the adventures of The Hero, Magnificent Bastard, Gentleman Thief, Chessmaster, and Impossible Thief Gen—full name Eugenides.

The series is full of thievery, politics, war, royalty, gods, goddesses, legends, love, adventure, clever schemes, and more.

The four books currently published are, in order:
  • The Thief
  • The Queen of Attolia
  • The King of Attolia
  • A Conspiracy of Kings

A fifth book, Thick as Thieves, is scheduled for May 2017. Turner has begun a sixth book.

There are also three short stories in the same universe:
  • “Thief!”, a prequel featuring Eugenides as a young boy, which can be found online at the author’s website.
  • “Eddis”, a prequel featuring the eponymous queen as a young girl, and published in the extras section of the paperback edition of the third book.
  • “Destruction”, set just after the events of The Thief and published in the extras of the paperback edition of the fourth book.

Contains examples of:

"Do you want me to beg? I will. I have. You know the words. Please, please don't hurt me anymore."
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Variation - they're not quite air ducts, but Attolia's palace is run with hypocausts, a series of small tunnels built to funnel smoke to provide heat in the winter, but Eugenides has better uses for them. To keep up the modern air duct parallel, it's outright mentioned that the only reason he can fit into them is because he's so small.
  • All Myths Are True: With the old gods of Eddis, this certainly seems to be the case.
  • Alternate History: The universe of the books is basically Greece/Turkey if there were no Roman Empire nor Christianity and some form of the Persian Empire still exists.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Attolia cuts off Eugenides’ right hand at the beginning of The Queen of Attolia.
  • Arranged Marriage: Attolia's first marriage was arranged to a truly slimy jerk who was only interested in her throne. So she poisoned him.
  • Ass in Ambassador: You're setting a really great impression there, Nahuseresh, what with the insulting and executing Attolia's loyal nobles behind her back and all.
    • Anybody Medean ever, if we judge by the continuing trend in the fourth book.
  • Author Appeal: Ms. Turner is a self-admitted huge fan of Greek mythology.
  • Authority Equals Ass Kicking: Most of the royals can hold their own in a fight in some way, most notably the entire Eddisian royal family.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Averted. With Eugenides, we never actually see the coronation.
    • Played completely straight with Sophos in A Conspiracy of Kings.
  • Badass: It'd be easier to list who isn't badass than to list who is.
  • Badass Army: The Eddisian army. There's a remark in the books along the lines of how "they have nothing better to do all winter but perfect their crafts and train for war."
  • Badass Back: Eugenides when fighting opponents not at his skill level. Very few opponents are at his skill level.
  • Badass Boast: Many. (Often by Eugenides, naturally.)
    "I can steal anything."
  • Badass Bookworm: The Magus of Sounis was a soldier before becoming a scholar and is still very good at it. Eugenides can apply, too.
  • Bad Liar: Everyone's onto you, Nahuseresh, you idiot. Same goes for you, Sejanus.
  • Balance of Power: Eddis maintains the balance of power between Sounis and Attolia by acting as a barrier between the two against invasion. Of course, that means either country (particularly Sounis) would like to get control of the other, and Eddis is in the way...
  • Bare-Handed Blade Block: Gen can do this, though it's a lot easier with wooden swords.
  • Battle in the Rain: In The Queen of Attolia.
  • Bawdy Song: Does a song called "The King's Wedding Night" need any more elaboration?
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: You did want fame and glory, Gen...
    • Gen actually has to watch out for this trope for more than simply narrative reasons: the various gods keep a close eye on him and careless invocations can often receive an answer.
  • Berserk Button: Eugenides pressed Costis's and got punched in the face for it.
  • Beta Couple: Sophos and Helen.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: In Attolia especially, but also in Sounis and to a lesser degree in Eddis. Attolia has spies who spy on her spies who spy on her spies who spy on her spymaster.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Inverted when the Medes rush to the rescue of Attolia, because...
  • Black and Grey Morality: The Mede Empire are decidedly the Bad Guys, and do it only because getting troops on land in support of a local "ally" gives them enough pretext to invade without violating their other treaties.
  • Break the Cutie: Eugenides is broken viciously. Sophos doesn't get it exactly easy, either.
  • Broken Bird: Irene.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Subverted. After getting his hand cut off early in the second book, Eugenides sinks into a deep depression, believing he's now useless (because what can be stolen with only one hand)? He's not.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Let's play a lot of childish pranks on Eugenides, King of Attolia. What could possibly go wrong?
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The king of Attolia is petulant, whiny, slumps in his throne like a printer's apprentice, dresses in colors that would suit a canary, and generally behaves without an ounce of royal dignity. Don't let that fool you.
  • Call Back: So much in the fourth book.
    • In the third book, Eugenides uses a call back to the prayers Attolia heard him making when she had him imprisoned to keep her from executing her captain of the guard for failing in his duties—at protecting Eugenides.
  • Ceiling Cling: "The Conspiracy Room," a small, odd room that's almost always empty because it's poorly suited to most purposes and so tends to be used by people who don't want to be overheard. It also has high ceilings that are really great for, say, a former Thief to lurk in the shadows.
  • Changing of the Guard: While Eugenides is a highly prominent character in each book and his character has by no means completed its development, the spotlight shifts to the queen of Attolia in the second book, Costis Ormentiedes of the Attolian Queen's Guard in the third book, and Sophos, the heir of Sounis, in the fourth.
  • Chekhov's Gun: These turn up everywhere. Sometimes literally, as demonstrated when Sophos Takes A Level In Badass in A Conspiracy of Kings.
  • The Chessmaster: Eugenides most notably, though the Queen of Attolia, the Queen of Eddis, the Magus of Sounis (the king's advisor) and the Mede ambassador Nahuseresh all have shades of this. Some are more successful than others.
  • The Chew Toy: Costis, thy pain and humiliation are an unceasing source of amusement to thy fans. Eugenides spends almost the entirety of book three screwing around with Costis as part of a Xanatos Gambit.
  • Consummate Liar: Eugenides.
  • Conspiracy Kitchen Sink: Sort of. Plus the Gambit Pileup, minus the hordes of associated Conspiracy Theorists.
  • Continuity Nod: Lots, especially in A Conspiracy of Kings where Sophos is regularly thinking back to Eugenides's actions in the very first book and trying to imitate them.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Eugenides gets jerked around by the gods quite a bit, doesn't he?
  • Crazy-Prepared: Good God, Eugenides.
  • Cuffs Off, Rub Wrists: Averted with Gen at the very beginning of the series. Several months of jailtime does not do your wrists any favors.
    • The condition of his wrists is made rather worse that at the beginning of his sentence, he would regularly slip the cuffs off and have to jam them back on every time a guard came by.
      • On their first stop, Pol, the guy who basically amounts to Gen's parole officer, has a look at his wrists. One of them just needs time and maybe a little salve to heal; the other has little pockets of infection deep enough that Pol needs to lance them with his knife.
  • Dance of Romance: A truly awesome scene in The King of Attolia.
  • Darker and Edgier: One of the few complaints about the second book is that it's much, much darker in ways that are not necessarily healthy or child-friendly.
    • The author has said herself that she gets nervous whenever people say they read The Thief to their kids, because she’s “afraid they’ll say 'And we’re going to read Queen next!'"
  • Deadpan Snarker: The queen of Attolia.
    • The queen of Eddis is a bit prone to this, too. As is Eugenides, especially in the first book, though later on he drops part of the Deadpan for an extra helping of Snarker.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: A big part of the main plot of The Queen of Attolia, and shows up quite a bit in King, too.
  • Diplomatic Impunity: Let a Mede ambassador into your country at your own risk. He'll try to bribe your nobles, sneak soldiers into your country, and make you his puppet, all while being very polite to your face. And you can't do anything because making a bad move against an ambassador is an act of war.
    • Subverted in A Conspiracy of Kings by Sophos.
      "You shot the ambassador?”
      "You gave me the gun."
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: The reclusive Mede emperor suffers from something called "tethys lesions." Fans speculate it's a fictional name for syphilis. Alternately, leprosy.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Gen's revival in The Queen of Attolia is this through and through.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: A lot of it by Eugenides and Eddisian soldiers in The Queen of Attolia.
  • Dumb Is Good: Most of the characters, good and bad, are very, very smart. However, there is one notable exception. In the fourth book, Sophos is saved by the Big Bad's idiot daughter, Berrone. She helps Sophos escape from his kidnappers and hides him as a slave. She didn't even recognize him, she just couldn't bear to see anyone that badly treated. Berrone is a total sweetheart and a well-known soft touch, which means that everyone likes her and everyone takes advantage of her.
  • Ear Worm (an in-universe example): "The King's Wedding Night," apparently. Even dog-loyal, humorless Costis finds himself absently humming the tune.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: In The Queen of Attolia and A Conspiracy of Kings.
  • The Empire: The Medes, whose ambition to take the Peninsula overshadows every book.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In-story example with Attolia. We the readers already know the queen, but for her barons, her claiming the throne definitely led them to figure out this was no puppet queen they were dealing with.
  • Everybody Knew Already: The first Tomato Surprise at the end of the first book turns out to be a surprise only to Sophos, and the readers, much to Gen’s disappointment. The magus, Pol, and Attolia at the least had all figured it out beforehand.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Several examples. Eugenides is the name of the god of thieves, and many of the Thieves of Eddis are named after him. Thus it's both a name and a title. In addition, all of the royalty in the three countries take state names derived from the name of their countries (Eddis Helen, Attolia Irene, Attolis Eugenides... Sounis's real name is never mentioned, but in the next book it's like to be Sounis Sophos. If Sounis ever got his way and married Eddis, she would be Sounia.)
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Gen's hair is long enough to braid in The Thief, but gets cut early in The Queen of Attolia and remains short thereafter. After all, he mentions that the reason he keeps his hair long is because a braid provides Hairy Hammerspace, and he can't braid his own hair with only one hand.
  • The Extremist Was Right: Having been made Queen through an arranged marriage and lacking allies at court, Attolia's ruthless actions were necessary to gain authority to govern the country. While not approving of Attolia's methods, Eddis admits that such measures were necessary given Irene's situation.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Ambiades, in the first book.
  • Fantastic Drug: Quinalums, used by priests and priestesses to induce trances and visions.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The three main kingdoms are some sort of alternate Mediterranean-Byzantium.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Averted; there are primitive flintlock weapons.
    • Guns turn out to be extremely important to the endgame in A Conspiracy of Kings.
  • Fantasy Pantheon: And a very active one, at that. Comes, of course, with such curses as, "Gods damn, gods damn!”
    • But they’re extremely careful which gods they swear by (at least in Eddis, where the population seems generally to be made up of more true believers and fewer skeptics as compared with Attolia and Sounis).
  • Finders Rulers: Hamiathes’ Gift, which gives its possessor claim to the throne of Eddis.
  • First-Episode Spoiler: The end of The Thief reveals that Eugenides is the Thief of Eddis, in service to the Queen of Eddis, and part of the Eddisian royal family and has been screwing with EVERYONE (and does it on a regular basis). There are three books that follow. Try explaining to a friend why they should read this series without somehow spoiling them. You can't.
    • In addition, do not buy The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia at the same time; not only does the back cover spoil the fact that Euginides becomes king of Attolia (which can be guessed by the Genre Savvy reader), but it also mentions that he is in love with the queen, who had absolutely zero redeeming qualities in the first book.
  • First-Person Smartass: As if The Thief could be described any other way, when it's narrated from Gen's point of view?
  • Foreshadowing: The books are full of it, as a reread after knowing the Twist Ending shows. For instance, in the first chapter we have "He wanted to know my name. I said, "Gen." He wasn't interested in the rest."
    "She may be a fiend from hell to make me feel this way."
    • Probably most notably, Gen's entire conversation with the Magus before he steals peace.
  • Four-Star Badass: Eddis's Minister of War.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Gen (choleric), Eddis (sanguine), Attolia (melancholic), Sophos (phlegmatic)
  • Framing the Guilty Party: In King of Attolia, Gen accuses Sejanus of poisoning his medicine. Gen put the poison in there himself and didn't take it, since the symptoms—screaming nightmares—happen anyway. Sejanus still takes the credit for it because he did arrange for the garden assassination attempt. But there's a twist: Gen accuses Sejanus' brother Erondites the Younger, since his goal is to destroy the house of Erondites entirely.
  • Gallows Humor: Eugenides and Attolia's banter sometimes takes this form.
    Gen: The day you stop fussing, I'll know to start sleeping with two knives under my pillow.
    Attolia: Don't be ridiculous. (Implying that no amount of knives would save him)
    • There are also several jokes throughout the books referring to Attolia's method of disposing of her first husband by poisoning his wine; she actually defuses him from blowing up on a particularly unwise courtier by offering him her wine goblet, provoking a laugh.
  • Gambit Index:
    • Eugenides pulls off something in the index every book.
    • Batman Gambit: The main plot in The King of Attolia.
    • Gambit Pileup since he's hardly the only one trying. The trope is so prevalent throughout the series, and the plans so complicated, that is possible to read the books multiple times and make new discoveries of mini "Gambits" acts that seemed innocuous every time you read.
    • Gambit Roulette: There are many plans, many planners, and all of them complicated.
    • Xanatos Speed Chess: They all change as necessary.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Irene, especially in The King of Attolia. Gen is elevated to this from a straight Deadpan Snarker in the same book, too.
  • Gentleman Thief: Eugenides, to some extent. He's petulant and whiny, but he's also very regal.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Played with, though the queen of Attolia, who despite a very unpleasant reputation, is a competent ruler and she has a Freudian Excuse for some of her behavior. Not to mention that her barons wait like a pack of hounds for the day she slips up. So in fact she's doing whatever needs to be done for the good of her country, which is no easy task in a sexist government.
    • The trope is explicitly addressed in the second book, when the Medean ambassador attempts to seize control in her court; in the process, he executes one of his allies for petty reasons. Attolia thanks him for showing her barons that "if [she] is a dangerous ruler to cross, [he is] a dangerous one to serve."
  • Government Procedural: Among the main characters, we have the sovereigns of three different nations, the brother to the heir of a fourth, and a number of advisors to said rulers.
  • Graceful Loser: Sejanus loses with style and honor. (If only because his brother’s life is threatened if he does otherwise.)
  • Grey and Grey Morality: Hooooo boy. A major theme of the books is that strong rulers, even ones who want to be The Good King, have to be willing to make sacrifices and intimidate their enemies if they don't want to be usurped or turned into a Puppet King.
  • Guile Hero: Eugenides. Basically everything he ever does shows how terrifyingly brilliant and cunning he is.
    • Also, Attolia and the Magus. Eddis, Gen's father, and even Sophos have their moments.
  • Gilded Cage: Eugenides captures the Magus in the second book and has him housed in a pleasant lodge in the country, where he he is cared for/guarded by Eddisian soldiers.
  • Gunboat Diplomacy: The fabulous unified rout of the Medes by the combined Attolian and Eddisian forces at the end of The Queen of Attolia.
  • Hairy Hammerspace: One of the reasons Gen likes his hair long. And what enables most of the climactic plot twists of The Thief.
  • Handicapped Badass: Eugenides after the opening chapters of The Queen of Attolia, depending on how you look at it. It’s clear that early on, Attolia and even Gen himself consider the loss of his hand a crippling handicap (“What can a thief steal with only one hand?”), but if anything, it ultimately helps him on the road to becoming much more awesome than anyone (except maybe Eddis) would have expected.
  • Happily Married: There are some rough spots, but The King of Attolia is one long exercise in Squee!.
  • Heel Realization:
    [Attolia] wondered when she had sunk so low that she had begun torturing boys.
  • Heir-In-Law: The Queen of Attolia was a minor princess whose fiancé plotted to take the throne by killing her brother, the heir. Once that was done, the fiancé would seize power through her, except that he and his fatherdiscussed these plans around her openly, so she poisoned him at their wedding and took the throne herself. However, because Attolia is pretty sexist, the country remained unstable so long as her barons thought they could marry her and seize power themselves, forcing her to enact a brutal regime until she married Eugenides, who puts in enough kinging that she can maintain her rule without a problem.
  • Heroic Bastard: Played with in the first book, Gen lampshades and disputes the trope, telling his noble companions that although they might assume otherwise, his parents were married, and his sisters have also made respectable marriages. Since it's later revealed that he's not actually lower class, it's not quite a subversion of the trope.
    My sisters are even married, and honest housewives to boot!' At least they were mostly honest.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D. / Heroic R.R.O.D.: After suffering firsthand the cruelty of the woman he's in love with, Gen is very thoroughly broken.
  • He's Back: And blowing up Sounis's navy!
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Teleus and Relius.
  • Hidden Depths: Most notably Irene.
  • The High Queen: Eddis.
    • YMMV on that one; she is universally well-loved and respected, but neither beautiful nor extremely distant.
    • It could arguably be said to apply to Attolia, since she is extremely beautiful and distant, and her subjects demonstrate an obdurate loyalty to for her, even if she is not a paragon of goodness.
  • Honor Before Reason: Costis Ormentiedes is the poster boy of this trope.
  • Hook Hand: Eugenides has one of these from the second book onward. It is razor-sharp, so it can be used for combat. He also uses it to make one of his many serious points in The King of Attolia.
  • Hyper Awareness: Eugenides, of course.
  • Hypocritical Heartwarming: Eugenides doesn't have a good relationship with his cousins, but after his maiming in the second book, they all jump at the call to lead Eddisian reprisals (including those who were the worst bullies to him), and several of them die heroically in combat.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Attolia's cruelties were all to keep her country stable and in the hands of someone who wanted the country to prosper.
  • Impossible Thief: Eugenides has stolen a queen, the king's seal, and a country. He was only caught once, when he was trying to get arrested. There is nothing he can't steal, except, it is said, himself out of a prison.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Ambiades
  • In Spite of a Nail: Despite the very different path of history, the books seem to be set around 1500 and a lot of technology from that period or even later are present: printed books, wristwatches, guns, stained glass windows, etc. There's also a mention of a plague a few decades previously, which might be similar in setting to the Black Death.
  • Intangible Theft: Eugenides has stolen time, peace, and a mythical object.
  • Ironic Echo: "Diplomacy, in my emperor's name." Later followed by, "Diplomacy, in my own name."
  • I Should Write a Book About This: The Thief, at Eddis's encouragement.
    • Also, later, Sophis narrating his adventures in A Conspiracy Of Kings.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Sejanus, of all people.
    • And Eugenides himself, for that matter. "Famous in three countries" for being a Consummate Liar, a chronic snarker who always has something acidic to say, and a constant complainer, but really a good guy underneath.
  • Jerkass Gods: "Stop whining?" Really?
  • Jumped at the Call: Gen. It's his dreams of greatness that set the whole first book rolling.
  • Karma Houdini: Nahuseresh stirs up an ugly three-way war, buys Attolia's barons against her, kills the barons he can't corrupt, incites Attolia into cutting off Gen's hand, and does pretty much everything he can to take Attolia's country from her. And then gets away scot free in the end.
  • Kick the Dog: Attolia cutting off Gen's hand, although the ramifications the act has on her conscience deconstruct the trope and make her more sympathetic. Played completely straight with Nahuseresh, though, who is a giant bastard.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Gen's cousins held his head in a water cache and wouldn't let him out until he agreed to spit insults about his family.
  • The Kingdom: Three kingdoms: Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis.
  • Kissing Cousins: Subverted. Half the world thinks Gen and Eddis are lovers. They think it's funny.
    • Pretty much the entire Eddisian court counts on some level. They're all related in some capacity, so there are priests whose entire duty consists of sorting out family trees to figure out who can marry whom.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Costis.
  • Kuudere: Attolia.
  • Leap of Faith: Thieves traditionally fall to their deaths. Every time Eugenides jumps, no matter how small the distance, he puts himself in his god's hands. Luckily, Eugenides (the god) has few enough true worshippers that he pays very close attention to his followers. Unluckily, he's also fickle.
  • The Legend of Chekhov: All the storytelling about the old gods in the first book is pretty much subtle foreshadowing.
  • Let's Get Dangerous:
    • Eugenides does this once per book, it seems.
    • Attolia reveals to her Mede ambassador that she is not to be played for a fool.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Eugenides and Helen.
  • Little Miss Badass: Sophos' sister Ina.
  • Love at First Sight: Eugenides, towards the Queen of Attolia.
    • Viciously deconstructed, as well. Gen may have been entranced with Attolia when he first met/saw her, but he didn't really love her until he got to know her (and not "Attolia") whether it's through information obtained from the magus or just out-and-out spying on her.
    Calf love doesn't usually survive amputation, your majesty.
  • Low Fantasy: Although it's in the Sci Fi Ghetto in terms of where it's shelved in libraries and bookstores, there's really no fantasy at all besides the fact it's set in a different universe. And the highly active pantheon.
  • MacGuffin: Hamiathes's Gift in the first book. Only then it saved Gen's life, so...
  • Martial Pacifist: Eugenides is somewhere between this and a Technical Pacifist. He hates the idea of killing and doesn't really even like physical combat, and often finds himself in the position of The So-Called Coward, but is a very skilled fighter, and will kill when absolutely necessary.
  • The Masochism Tango: Gen loves the extremely ruthless Queen of Attolia even after she has his hand chopped off
  • Meaningful Name: Eugenides is the name of the Eddisian god of thieves.
  • Modest Royalty: Eddis.
  • Mr. Exposition: A few of the characters take turns standing in for this role in The Thief when narrating the myths and legends of Eddis's old gods.
  • Mugging the Monster: Sejanus spends the course of half of King Of Attolia screwing around with Gen in every way he can muster, from constant hassles to minor pranks to even an assassination attempt, because he thinks Gen is weak and won't do anything about it. Over the course of about two pages, Gen finally points out to him that he's given Gen all the legal pretext he needs to obliterate his noble house's bloodline and destroy one of the Crown's biggest threats.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Used in the books to filter out the harsher language (although some swearing is left uncensored). One line from A Conspiracy of Kings justifies the use of the trope by adding in characterization of the main narrator:
    I screamed at them every curse I ever practiced when I was alone, trying to imitate the Thief of Eddis, but I doubt I sounded anything but hysterical.
  • Necessary Fail: When Eugenides in a rage demands that the gods explain why they betrayed his movements to Attolia, the goddess points out that had he not lost his hand, he would not now be marrying Attolia.
  • No Hero to His Valet: While no one who knows him doubts he's one of the most capable people in the universe, Eugenides' cousins, father, wife, gods, and even his Lawful Stupid bodyguard all put up with his supreme petulance only for so long before threatening to sit on him.
  • Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: Gen lives off of this.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Gen loves to live by this.
    • Also Attolia in her interactions with Nahuseresh.
  • Odd Couple: Costis and Aristogiton
  • Official Couple: Eugenides and Irene.
    • Later on, also Helen and Sophos.
  • Oh My Gods!: Characters frequently swear by an assortment of gods, with or without specific names. And then sometimes they just invoke their patron god, leading to conversations like this:
    Costis: Oh, my god.
    Gen: O my god. You want to call on the god appropriate to the occasion. After all, your god would probably be Miras, light and arrows and all that sort of thing, whereas my god is a god of balance and, of course, preservation of Thieves...
  • One Degree of Separation: Everyone in Eddis is apparently related to everybody else. It's so egregious that they have special priests whose job it is to track the genealogies and figure out who can marry whom. Truth in Television for a small mountain country, of course.
  • Pals with Jesus: Eugenides is noted for not only talking to his gods, but for having them talk back.
    • Sometimes for minor things, too: “Stop whining" and "Go to bed."
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: Eugenides is fairly small and more than fairly deadly.
  • Playing Both Sides: The Mede Empire routinely stirs up conflict between the three states of the Peninsula, and even within them, such as their meddling in Sounis' civil war in the fourth book. They'll send their support to whomever's going to have a war going in order to soften up al three locations.
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege!:
    • Inverted in The Queen of Attolia. Ornon, Eddis' ambassador to Attolia, does a good job of working Attolia up to executing Gen rather than torturing him for valuable information and starting a war. Gen being killed as a thief wouldn't force Eddis to take military action. But Gen having his hand amputated and sent back does.
    • In The King of Attolia, Teleus begs for the lives of his men and himself using an archaic language phrase provided by the King. It takes some convincing for Teleus to do it, though.
  • Point of View: The first book is from Gen's first person perspective, the second is more third person omniscient while deliberately omitting certain key pieces of information that completely alter the interpretation of the text in hindsight, and the third is almost exclusively third person limited from Costis's POV. The fourth book alternates between Sophos telling the story in first person to Eddis, and third person omniscient.
  • The Professor: The Magus of Sounis, who also doubles as an impossibly Cool Teacher for Sophos and Ambiades.
  • The Quest: Book one, to find Hamiathes's Gift.
  • Quip to Black: Not what you were expecting, Magus?
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Early in The King of Attolia.
  • Religion Is Magic: Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how you interpret Hamiathes's Gift. Its king-making power might be just as true as the rest of its legend, or the Gift might be just a symbol.
  • Reluctant Ruler: Eugenides as king of Attolia.
    • Sophos gets this treatment in The Thief, too, though it’s more Reluctant Heir since his uncle is still the reigning king. Sophos would much rather live out a leisurely scholar’s life than inherit Sounis.
  • Reluctant Warrior: Eugenides, who hates to kill people. Despite being quite good at it.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Every monarch in the books is completely competent at managing his or her kingdom and much of the Eddisian royal family is engaged in government/military work in some way.
  • Ruling Couple: Eugenides and Irene.
  • Sacred Hospitality: This is mentioned as being an important rule. When Baron Hanaktos orders the men of his household to wear knives to a dinnerm Sophos is shocked not just by the ambush planned but that
  • Screw The Rules, I'm Eugenides!
    (Another character discusses the above statement) "And a certain accompanying responsibility." And he can't, in fact.
  • Second-Hand Storytelling: The bulk of A Conspiracy of Kings is Sophos narrating the events to the queen of Eddis.
    • Also, the first book is strongly implied to be a copy of the book the Gen wrote to explain his story of the search for Hamiathes’ Gift to his queen.
  • She Is the King: Helen, ruling as Eddis. Normally, a woman would reign under the title Eddia. This is sort of hinted at in the series proper, but actually explained in the short story (aptly titled) “Eddis":
    “My Queen,” said Xanthe, “you are Eddia.”
    Knowing the consternation it would cause, and knowing she would overcome it, Helen said, “No, I am Eddis. The gods have told me so.”
  • Sherlock Scan: Eugenides, Attolia
  • Shout-Out: To Rosemary Sutcliff and Diana Wynne Jones in the first book. And DWJ again in the fourth.
    • The refrain of characters saying, "so, so, so" is from Jones.
    • The ring Gen picks up in Aracthus's temple is identical to the one handed down in Sutcliff's Dolphin Ring series.
    • Costis's "two inches in the right place" refers to Sutcliff's Frontier Wolf or The Mark of the Horse Lord, if not to the Roman source, Vegetius's De rei militari.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Eugenides has been in love with Irene since childhood and has, at least according to Eddis/Helen, never shown interest in any other woman.
  • The Spymaster: Relius, officially. Though several characters fit this trope despite not acting in any official capacity. There are characters who fit this trope even though it's literally their job to have other people do it for them.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Eugenides, though it’s played sympathetically towards him. Attolia was understandably put out, though it turned out to be good for both of them.
  • The Strategist: Attolia.
  • Street Urchin: Gen in the first book is disguised as one, but he's actually closer to being a prince.
  • Stupid Evil: Mede ambassadors, for all their cunning and subtlety, just can't seem to get the idea of a clever woman through their brains. Nahuseresh seems totally unaware that the cooperative woman on Attolia's throne only got that throne by being smart and ruthless. His counterpart in Sounis similarly does not consider that Eddis is anything but silly and lovestruck.
  • Succession Crisis:
    • Attolia seems to go through one once every couple of generations.
    • One of the central conflicts of A Conspiracy of Kings is the inheritance of Sounis, which requires confirmation by the council of barons.
  • Take a Third Option: Subverted in A Conspiracy of Kings. Attolia hands the new Sounis a gun to solve his problems. Her husband also includes his own gift in the box, which Sounis hopes is a solution different than killing. When he finally opens the lower half of the box, he finds... a second gun. Meaning that Eugenides, the cleverest and most devious man on the Peninsula, couldn't think of anything else.
  • Theme Naming: Amusingly subverted for irony: the beautiful, ruthless queen of Attolia is named Irene (meaning peace), while the kind, mannish, and ugly (or at least unattractive) queen of Eddis is named Helen (after "the woman who launched a thousand ships”). Both queens lampshade this in the second book.
    • But Helen is as beloved by her people as much as any queen, no matter how beautiful, can wish for. If Eddis had any ships they would gladly be launched for her.
  • Tomato Surprise: Once in The Thief, once in The Queen of Attolia, and if you hadn't read the other books before The King of Attolia, there's one then, too.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Eddis and Attolia, respectively.
  • Took a Level in Badass - Eugenides comes back from his brutal torture and amputation colder, harder, more ruthless, and way more badass than before.
    • In the fourth book, Sophos doesn't take a level in badass, he takes several. Then he rips them to pieces with his bare hands, gnaws on them, and uses them as fuel with which to fire even more badass.
  • Tranquil Fury: The queen of Attolia.
  • Trickster Mentor: Eugenides serves this role for Costis in the third book.
  • Turn Out Like His Father
    "Like many men, I have two grandfathers. One of them was Eddis.”
  • Underestimating Badassery:
    • The entire populace of Attolia, including the people who should know better (I'm looking at you, Teleus), underestimates Gen. He shows them.
    • Mede ambassadors and women. They just don't get that women have brains too, and it doesn't ever work out.
  • Unexpected Successor:
    • The princess Irene was a minor member of the royal household until her brother unexpectedly died falling from his horse. A year later her father followed and she was crowned queen of Attolia.
    • Also, the princess Helen. Having two older brothers and one younger one, she wasn't likely to inherit until all of three of them died of plague. When her father died months later, she became the crowned queen of Eddis.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Gen pretty much never says anything untrue in The Thief, but still manages to give other characters and the reader a completely false impression of himself. As a case in point, he defends the respectability of his family, noting that his father was a professional soldier and his sisters made good marriages …however, he doesn't mention that his father is Eddis’ Minister of War and his sisters are princesses. Just a small detail. Despite the later books being third-person, they're still unreliable. Hmm, mysterious narrator, no need to mention how Gen really feels about Attolia, is there? Even though it drastically changes how all of it looks?
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: While everything that's important to the plot is explained sooner or later (usually later), many significant details are up to the reader to interpret, or in fact notice at all. Unlike most examples of this trope, no outside knowledge is necessary for full appreciation of the story. The only outside knowledge that could help a reader tease out the plot twists beforehand only exists in-universe. For example, Gen's careless use of the phrase "Be blessed in your endeavors" reveals his Eddisian origins, but you'd have to be a citizen of one of the three kingdoms to notice.
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Attolia.
  • The X of Y: All the titles after the first book. Well, and A X of Y.

Alternative Title(s): The Queens Thief