The Queen of the Tearling (Queen of the Tearling #1) by Erika Johansen (2014)
Fiction | Fantasy
“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.”
pooled ink Review:
I’d been hearing rustlings from other authors about this book for almost a year before I finally snatched it from the shelves in a bookstore and devoured its tale greedily. I only had the blurb to go off of, a vague sense of gut certainty that I would like this story, and the dregs of a giftcard to pay for it. Somehow it wasn’t what I had expected. It surprised me.
The writing and storytelling is quite good and, perhaps oddly enough, something about it kept reminding me of the BBC show Merlin or even the CW show Reign, although be prepared for many POV jumps throughout. The book is an unexpected leap into the future revolving around a world that has taken a large step backwards. By this I mean that some vague event occurred leading the world to embark on “the Crossing” which was a perilous journey and led to the loss of most doctors and technology. Thus the story we find ourselves reading is one technically set in the future but could easily fool any reader into thinking that it exists in the past, the Medieval Period to be precise.
This book includes castles, knights, swords, wars, jewels, bloodshed, and brief glimpses of magic alongside startling familiarities such as organ transplants, genetic science, and the like. Everything seems so old and yet so modern creating an overall wholly otherworldly setting. Unexpected, but an interesting idea. Did it work? Hmm…I’m not convinced. In general though the mixing of fantasy and sci-fi isn’t a seamless idea.
I felt that the pacing was quite steady (albeit occasionally slow). It didn’t charge, race, or explode, but that is not to say it was boring. The plot was riddled with battle, politics, choices, dramatics, betrayal, and alternating character focal points allowing us to eavesdrop on several different key players. Told in third person narrative the book whisks the reader away into the politically strained enigma that is the New World transitioning between focal points as one might imagine a crystal ball in an old movie might share glimpses of an uncertain path. The transitions were smooth and the scenes were quite telling.
Kelsea is of course the main character, and the newest game player at that, but she is also simply one of many whom hold high stakes in the future of the Tearling. I have to admit that while she had some good qualities, overall I’m not a fan. She constantly goes on and on about how she’s plain looking (often to the point of slamming pretty women which irked me because what does looks have to do with ruling a kingdom or being a good person??) and that she’s not particularly fit or thin (okay but why is this relevant?), but she loves to read (one thing you will never doubt is this book’s love of books), she isn’t stupid (although sometimes she comes across as annoyingly self-righteous as she struts around telling everyone that they’re wrong and that she knows better about everything), and she has plenty of fiest for her enemies. But she sort of just sweeps into the scene as the long hidden queen and starts telling everybody what to do, what to think, and what to believe and this annoyed me.
Thorne is perhaps the devil incarnate but even so one can’t help but admire his cunning. The Red Queen is clearly a major enemy and yet there are so many mysteries shrouding her character that I dare not hope for her death too soon in fear that she may disappear before I can be satisfied with answers. Javel, Arliss, Merritt/the Carden, and Father Tyler/the Church are minor game players but important all the same as they have an endless possibility of potential to gain ground in this war, furthermore they honestly help sculpt the three-dimensionality of the story. The Mace and The Fetch are both favorites of mine and I can’t help but admire their endless skill while simultaneously squinting in search for their deeply buried secrets.
Johansen has managed to weave a complexity within each of her characters making the heroes, the devils, and even the third guy to the left have a certain depth. It seems that Johansen tries to maintain a level of objectiveness when writing her characters. She does not excuse their faults or praise their gifts, but rather she poses them as they are and allows us to watch how they play together without a skewed veneer of the protagonist’s eyes. Many books show everyone only through the eyes of the protagonist but instead Johansen seems quite determined to let her characters be more than just other people’s opinions.
There are quite a few elements that are left in obscurity and downright tantalizing vagueness but the characters will discover the answers in due time and then so shall you. I’m sure everyone, both fictional and real, would love to have an answer key but it appears that Johansen is in for the long haul and has rolled up her sleeves in preparation for a tough game. No, this first book was the establishment of the queen on her throne. She has made her move and has not backed down from her choice. So…let the chess match begin.
There are things I like and don’t like, characters I embrace or huff at, moments I hold my breath or roll my eyes at, etcetera. But weirdly enough instead of it making me dislike this book for our differences in opinion, it somehow draws me in because even when I’m not in favor about something in this book it still strikes me as woefully realistic and realism is something I value in books, for the most part anyway (this is not to say that we didn’t chafe at times however).
Is this my favorite book that I’ve read this year? I have to say that it is not, but even so it is a solid book over all and I will not hesitate to recommend it to devoted fantasy fans (fantasy readers will be more familiar with the endless POV jumps, massive world-building, long character lists, etc).
The Queen of the Tearling is only the beginning to a captivating fantasy trilogy. One must be stouthearted, open minded, and willing to leap to accompany the Tearling Queen on this dawn of a new age, but rest assured your efforts will be rewarded. A solid tale crafted with cunning, brutality, bravery, and fantasy, The Queen of the Tearling reveals no surprise as to its celebrated precedence in the literary world.
Purchase here: The Queen of the Tearling
Meet Erika Johansen!
Erika Johansen was educated at Swarthmore College and received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the Author of The Invasion of the Tearling, and The Queen of the Tearling, the first two novels of The Queen of the Tearling Trilogy.