Title: The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #1)
Author: Erika Johansen
Acquired Via: Publisher
Release Date: July 8, 2014
On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.
Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.
But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend…if she can survive.
You can read Kayla's review HERE.
I apparently went into The Queen of the Tearling “knowing” that I was going to hate it. I realized this when I kept getting surprised at all the things I DIDN’T hate, and once I let that go, I really enjoyed myself.
In any ambitious fantasy, there is a line to straddle between too much info dumping/world building and not enough or conflicting information given to the reader. Johansen straddled that line quite well, so well, in fact, that The Queen of the Tearling does not feel like a debut fantasy novel. She does err on the side of too little information, which I found troublesome at times. Although I realized early on that the Tearling was a land set in the future, I’m still unsure about how exactly that future came about. The entire book I tried unsuccessfully to determine exactly what “the crossing” was. For Mr. Tear to have immigrated a group of people somewhere in the current world is unbelievable to me. Therefore, I think that “the crossing” was either to another planet (which is the most unlikely as the bulk of medical supplies and doctors sunk in a ship) or another world/dimension through magic or some high-tech dimensional travel. Also, what exactly prompted “the crossing”? Was there a nuclear war? Was there an android crash on earth on the dinosaur scale? What happened?!
Another world-building issue I had was with the medical advances/regressions in the future world. On one hand, this is basically a medieval world with those type of medical advances, but on the other, some people live over 100 years. Is this a medical breakthrough? Is this magic?
Although the blurb describes Kelsea as a “wholly original heroine”, she falls short of original but does land in the likeable territory. She’s got grit, determination, backbone and a whole lot of stubbornness. She’s also nineteen, so she’s young, inexperienced and prone to being distracted by small things when her kingdom is being threatened. Those things actually may have made me like her more; she wasn’t perfect, but she did earn the respect of those around her. My main complaint is not with Kelsea but with her portrayal. There are many, many instances of Kelsea’s looks being described as plain and ugly. While I think the ambition behind this was admirable, the execution was not. This was a case of the author should show and not tell. You want me to understand that Kelsea is more than her looks? Then never tell me anything more about her looks than she’s brunette with green eyes (or whatever she looked like), and focus on her strengths - her fairness, intelligence and compassion.
Another inconsistency that I noted dealt with Kelsea’s being sheltered her whole life. Kelsea was not raised with her mother, but was sent to live with a couple who fostered her. She spent most of her life being tutored by a woman with an obsession with books, yet when she arrives at the castle, she knows absolutely nothing about her world. Not a thing. What was she learning her entire life???
Despite my issues (and I was actively searching for problems), I was immersed in the political intrigue of the Tearling. We get to see a few different points of views, including the Red Queen, and because of that, there really is never a lull in the story. There is no where near as much as A Game of Throne, but publishers need to stop comparing every single fantasy story to that and Tolkien anyway. There was more grit than I was expecting, and I was so glad that the story didn’t revolve around how cute Boy #1 was and how much Boy #2 loved her dresses while he was brooding. There's very little in the way of romance which I appreciated immensely.
Aside from the political intrigue, the best part of The Queen of the Tearling is the secondary characters mixing with a wide variety of folklore. Kelsea is the “True Queen” and it is even mentioned that this is comparable to the Arthurian legend. There is the Fetch who is somewhat like Robin Hood, with less redeeming qualities and more sinister motives. There is the evil queen from pretty much any fairy tale who is known only as the “Red Queen” because she won’t reveal her name. This element and a few others reminded me strongly of Kate Forsyth’s The Witches of Eileanan. But my very favorite was the Mace. He’s Kelsea’s captain of the guard who makes no secret that he is not impressed with Kelsea from the beginning. He’s secretive, condescending, and very capable.
All in all, Johansen’s debut novel is ambitious, if not original, and one good story. I’m interested to see where this story goes, and I want the answers to all of my questions. I do wish that the hype beast would have started after we had a few of the sequels first. Johansen is going to have a tough road ahead full of scrutiny with the rumors of a seven-book deal and a movie starring Harry Potter darling Emma Watson.
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To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.