Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

queen of the tearling by erika johansenFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genre: fantasy, dystopian
Series: Queen of the Tearling #1
Length: 448 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: July 8, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

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.

My Review:

I don’t often carry books with me when I go out to dinner, but this is one I just couldn’t put down, all 450 pages worth. It also helped that I just saw The Hunger Games movie, so I got where the references were coming from, even though I only saw a teensy bit of resemblance.

The Queen of the Tearling is in the absolutely classic fantasy mold of young person discovers/inherits their throne and powers, and then must figure out a way to be a good ruler with not much training and nearly every hand against them.

It’s a damn good formula when it works, and in The Queen of the Tearling, it definitely worked.

Kelsea Raleigh has been raised in obscurity, not to say anonymity, out in the woods. She wasn’t quite raised by wolves, but rather by an ex-guard and a teacher. Although they’ve prepared her as well as they could, they were forbidden from teaching Kelsea anything about recent history, such as the reign of her late mother Queen Elyssa, and anything that has happened under her uncle’s regency while she was in hiding.

Carlin and Barty hid one hell of a lot of crap. Kelsea’s kingdom, the Tear, exists under the yoke of the Red Queen of Mortmesne, the country next door. And there are lots of people in the nobility who want things to stay just the way they are, because they make money and/or get privilege from the current nasty state of affairs.

Kelsea’s uncle the regent is one of those people. He wants Kelsea dead before she reaches her throne.

How bad are things? The late and not terribly lamented signed a treaty with Mortmesne granting them a title of 3000 slaves every year. There is a lot of money in that slave trade on both sides of the border.

Kelsea, after a life-threatening heart-pounding journey from her cottage to the capitol to take up her throne, disbands the slave-tithe immediately upon arrival and in a flourish of fire. From that moment on, anyone who had any involvement is out to kill her, and the Red Queen mobilizes her army.

Kelsea, mobilizes her people’s hearts and minds, an infinitely stronger force.

Escape Rating A+: The description doesn’t do this one justice. It is simply awesome, and sticks with you long after you’re done.

Kelsea is a fish-out-of-water type of heroine. It’s not that she hasn’t been educated, because she certainly has, but her knowledge is book learning rather than experience, and it can be hard to translate one to another, especially if you’re only 19 and have been isolated all of your life.

The Tear Kingdom is an absolute mess. It seems like all the officials are corrupt, and the people have given up hope of things ever getting better. There’s a saying that “the fish rots from the head down” and in Tear, the Regent couldn’t be any rottener. Elyssa was just weak and stupid, but the Regent is weak, venal, stupid and bought and paid for by the Red Queen.

The contrast between the extreme poverty of the population, and the bizarre excesses of the nobility is one of the places where the descriptions of the Hunger Games universe apply. (Of course, this could also be said for pre-revolutionary France, including the extreme hairstyles).

The tribute of slaves is also a similar point, but it is different in Queen of the Tearling. Not just because thousands of slaves are taken as war repayments, but because the slave tribute is designed to take from every age group, including children and babies. Also because the fate of the slaves is completely shrouded.

Kelsea is the point of view character, and the one that the reader needs to sympathize with if they’re going to enjoy the story. This is Kelsea’s journey from obscurity to living in a fishbowl, from childhood to adulthood, from innocence to knowledge. She makes mistakes along the way, but her heart is always in the right place. She wants to do the right thing, and not just in a fairy tale way. She knows that some things are just too far to be allowed, but that there can be mercy.

She’s conflicted because she recognizes that the right thing can have dire consequences, and still must be done anyway. She’s learning.

The book ends on an upnote, but one that clearly marks the beginning of the conflict between Kelsea and the Red Queen. I want the next book. I want to see how the war goes, with all the starting handicaps faced by the Tearling.

I also want to see more about how this world came about. It is definitely a future version of our world, but it is on Earth. It’s a new continent that rose up out of the sea. But how and when, and why did everyone leave Old America and Old Europe?

Last, there is an enigma character. At first the Fetch seems like a version of Robin Hood, robbing from the rich and living as an exile until the True Monarch arises. But from hints at the end, he is something far older, and possibly not completely human.

This story must continue!

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2 thoughts on “Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

  1. “She’s conflicted because she recognizes that the right thing can have dire consequences, and still must be done anyway.” This is a lesson that many of us need to learn, and it is a hard one.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

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