The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom’s haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

Long ago, Kelsea’s forefathers sailed away from a decaying world to establish a new land free of modern technology. Three hundred years later, this feudal society has divided into three fearful nations who pay duties to a fourth: the powerful Mortmesne, ruled by the cunning Red Queen. Now, on Kelsea’s nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of the Queen’s Guard—loyal soldiers who protect the throne—have appeared to escort the princess on a perilous journey to the capital to ascend to her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling.

Though born of royal blood and in possession of the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea has never felt more uncertain of her ability to rule. But the shocking evil she discovers in the heart of her realm will precipitate an act of immense daring, throwing the entire kingdom into turmoil—and unleashing the Red Queen’s vengeance. A cabal of enemies with an array of deadly weapons, from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic, plots to destroy her. But Kelsea is growing in strength and stealth, her steely resolve earning her loyal allies, including the Queen’s Guard, led by the enigmatic Lazarus, and the intriguing outlaw known simply as “the Fetch.”

Kelsea’s quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun. Riddled with mysteries, betrayals, and treacherous battles, Kelsea’s journey is a trial by fire that will either forge a legend . . . or destroy her.

THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW

Thank the Lord for Erika Johansen.  I’d been despairing slightly about the state of fantasies lately, until I stumbled upon this gem.  As I understand it, this is her first novel, and good grief, am I not torn between admiration and envy.  Erika Johansen accomplished so much within 500 pages.  Everything about The Queen of the Tearling seemed effortless–except for the characters’ journeys, of course.  The writing seemed to disappear as I read, and the characters came to life, all little 3D reliefs against the backdrop of this beautifully imagined world.

What Worked For Me

Characters • • • Kelsea is the character I shout “You go, girl!” for.  I was a little iffy about her at first.  While she was getting her footing with the other characters, I was trying to get on equal ground with her.  I was worried that there would be that inevitable moment where one character–the genuinely cool, strong character–would look pensive and say, “I see greatness in her.”  I dread those moments because it’s so frustrating when the main character then falls flat.

But Kelsea more than delivered on my expectations.  I soon discovered, perhaps sooner than her Guards, that she was going to be one cool, cheer worthy lady.  She recognized that the Guards didn’t think much of her, didn’t respect her beyond what her station demanded, but she took that information and worked through it, humbly acknowledging that she failed in some areas.  But instead of letting this get to her, she put the time and effort in to improve herself, and I loved her for that.  Also, not only did she have a quick wit (and God, what a mouth), but she had an on point sense of moral justice that never wavered or compromised.  She was a character I could get behind, and I loved every minute of her narration.

Humor • • • “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.”  Joss Whedon knows what he’s talking about, and I think Erika Johansen took it to heart, because all kinds of crazy stuff goes down in this book, and yet there were parts where I couldn’t stop laughing.  I wasn’t just giggling to myself in the corner.  This was the kind of laughing that would get me thrown out of a library, or annoyed stares from passersby if I were reading this in the hallway outside class.  I think it was the humor that ultimately got me, because if you can make me laugh, you’ve got my attention.

Writing Style • • • I cannot express how grateful I am for Erika Johansen’s clean, clear writing style, how she doesn’t drop detailed-laden prose down on top of her story like a ton of bricks, burying it, never to be seen again.  So, for those of you who, like me, appreciate the cinematic rendition of The Lord of the Rings rather than try to plow through Tolkien’s prose, this is a fantasy for you.  It was the kind of writing style that disappeared as you read, and I don’t reckon it can get better than that.

Plot • • • Okay, so I can already guess what one of the chief complaints of this book might be: too slow.  While the prose itself may not be soaked with questionably relevant details, maybe some could claim that there were too many scenes that just… Why were they there?  Okay, I can get that.  And I did get that sneaking thought myself, whether this scene was relevant, or needed to be as long as it was, but.  For me, it was one of those things I can’t quite justify–I just felt compelled to keep going.

What Didn’t

POV Changes • • • So this is more emotional than clinical, but I was slightly miffed whenever we switched to someone else’s POV for a chapter or section, because I didn’t want to be in anyone else’s POV but Kelsea’s.  And I’m not convinced that anyone else’s POV was necessary.  Kelsea is obviously the main character, and while the other POV’s gave the story some dramatic irony and made the world seem more well-rounded, I wasn’t anywhere close to being emotionally connected to any of the other characters, and so I dreaded seeing scenes in their POVs.

The world? • • • Even after 200 pages in (that’s halfway through the book), I still couldn’t get on the whole “this is actually in the future” level.  It reminds me of the reviews I read for the BBC mini series Death Comes to Pemberly: The movie was good enough to stand on its own and having it be a “Pride & Prejudice 10 years later” was unnecessary and ultimately distracting.  That’s the impression I got with Queen of the Tearling.  I didn’t feel it was necessary to make it set in the future, as a failed attempt by “pilgrim-esque” William Tear to create a utopia away from modern technology.  I found the references to America and England distracting–and there was a detail about “electronic books” that threw me out of the story like being thrown from a horse.

It felt like a deliberate choice, and yet it wasn’t a cool addition for me: it was jarring, like slamming on an off-key note.  What was Erika Johansen’s purpose behind this particular choice?  I feel this could just as easily have been a contained fantasy that needed no reference or basis on our own world.  And if there was a purpose (and I really hope there is one) then I feel it should have been amped up so that it was clear what we’re supposed to be taking away from this.

The Takeaway

A truly fantastic fantasy.  I am so psyched for the next book.  I am definitely adding The Queen of the Tearling to my shelves.

Book Info

448 pages • Book 1 • Published July 2014 by Harper

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