about the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. I definitely did not notice/think about this in this way when I originally read these books.
(FYI this is about creepy relationship dynamics and includes mentions of death and severe injuries.)
So uh quick plot summary:
Eugenides is the official Queen’s Thief of his home country of Eddis, which means he’s basically the spymaster (or just the only spy there is). He travels to other countries, sneaks into government buildings and copies or steals important documents etc.
Eventually he gets caught, in the neighboring country of Attolia. Eugenides has admired the Queen of Attolia for a long time, so he did some unwise and debatably cute things like sneaking into her palace and leaving presents on her bedside table while she was sleeping right there. She’s very angry that he managed to do this several times before being caught. She’s also sort of jealous that Eddis has such an awesome and trustworthy agent when she can’t trust anyone in her own court.
She refuses a huge ransom, orders him hanged and then changes her mind at the last minute and has his right hand cut off instead. He nearly dies from other wounds and infections incurred in her jail. She sends him back to Eddis where he very slowly recovers.
For various political reasons, both Eddis and Attolia would benefit a lot if they could make a stable alliance, but they’ve been stuck in on-again, off-again fighting for a long time. Eugenides has the bright idea that he can solve this problem and create an alliance by convincing the Queen of Attolia to marry him. There’s a sort of Gambit Pileup in which Eugenides’ inital plan fails, and she does agree to marry him, but on her own terms because she really believes it’s the best choice for her and her country.
The Thing for me is that it’s not just a marriage of political convenience. They both actually have a lot of feelings about each other. And like, they’ve both had to work very hard in very secretive ways without anyone to trust, and they’ve both been hurt and threatened and held captive (Attolia used to be married. To a guy who colluded in her father’s murder so he could become king. And then she poisoned him and ruled alone.) It makes perfect sense that they’d relate to each other and even fall in love.
The sticky part is the high percentage of Eugenides’ relatable experiences of fear & isolation that were caused by Attolia.
The queen was settling on the edge of the bed, ungainly with hesitation and at the same time exquisite in her grace, like a heron landing in a treetop. Without meaning to, he stopped to watch.
She reached out and touched the king’s face, cupping his cheek in her hand.
“Just a nightmare,” he said, his voice still rough.
The queen’s voice was cool. “How embarrassing,” she said, looking at his maimed arm.
The king looked up then, and followed her gaze. If it was embarrassing to wake like a child screaming from a nightmare, how much more embarrassing to be the reason your husband woke screaming.
After another nightmare:
The king sighed. Forgetting Costis standing nearby, forgetting possibly that anyone or anything else in the world existed, the king said shakily, “Tell me you won’t cut out my lying tongue, tell me you won’t blind me, you won’t drive red-hot wires into my ears.”
After one moment of gripped immobility, the queen bent to kiss the king lightly on one closed eyelid, then on the other. She said, “I love your eyes.” She kissed him on either cheek, near the small lobe of his ear. “I love your ears, and I love”—she paused as she kissed him gently on the lips—“every single one of your ridiculous lies.”
The king opened his eyes and smiled at the queen in a companionship that was as unassailable as it was, to Costis, unfathomable.
I don’t think there’s anything harmful happening in their relationship as it stands in the third book. There’s plenty of character exploration that shows how they both got to that point. It’s very thoroughly believable and there are some really sweet moments between them.
But… being comforted after a nightmare by the person the nightmare was about. That’s a thing that has some inherent scariness to it. That’s a really vulnerable thing.