Title: The Queen of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Genre: Fiction, YA, fantasy, dystopian
Where I got the book: I borrowed this book from a friend.
My Rating: ★★★☆☆
Summary: Young Kelsea Raleigh has been raised in hiding after the death of Queen Elyssa, her mother. On her 19th birthday, the Queen’s Guard arrives to escort her back to the royal Keep so she can take her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling. But becoming a queen is not without its dangers. There is great evil in the heart of the Tearling. Many are plotting to destroy Kelsea, no one can truly be trusted, and in the neighboring nation of Mortmesme, the cunning and powerful Red Queen threatens. Kelsea has never been more uncertain in her ability to rule, but this is her kingdom now and she is the only one who can save it.
“We don’t always choose, Majesty. We simply make the best choices we can once the deed is done.”
– The Queen of the Tearling, Erika Johansen
This was a lot darker than I expected from a YA fantasy novel. It’s original, there were many parts that I enjoyed, and it managed to grab me just enough to make me want to keep reading, but it definitely has its weak and confusing points.
This book fumbles a lot in the beginning. Actually, the majority of Book I is kind of weak. The journey back to the Keep is too long and not particularly exciting, which is ironic considering how many dangers are lurking out there just waiting to get to Kelsea. My biggest gripe with this part is how surprisingly incompetent the Queen’s Guard is. You have a moody bunch of men escorting royalty and there’s a big chance she’ll be assassinated, and yet they go ahead and light a fire and get drunk and sing songs? This is just too dumb.
Another issue I had with this is the fact that this book, which has a very middle ages, no-technology, old-fashioned feel to it, actually takes place three centuries into the future. I had no idea what was going on with the sudden mentions of recessive genes, hair dye, and electronic books (by the way, the namedropping of famous authors such as Rowling and Tolkien etc. felt really cheap, I had to laugh at that), and in the end I turned to Google to clarify the setting. I usually don’t mind that everything’s not spelled out for me, so maybe I’m just really dense when it comes to this book, but I personally don’t think the background story of the Tearling is well-explained at all. It’s a bit all over the place, honestly. The Goodreads summary did a better job at establishing this (the blurb on my copy told me nothing) and I wish I’d actually read that first. It’s a shame, because I think this take on a dystopian-fantasy is a really interesting and original concept. I just wish it was executed better.
All that said, the story picked up a lot from Book II when Kelsea actually reaches the Keep and her struggle to claim and remain on the throne begins. This is a lot more interesting, it introduces a handful of new characters, there’s some political intrigue, and it’s a quick and engaging read from there. Kelsea turns out to be a strong, introspective, and intelligent character that really grew on me, and the Queen’s Guard becomes a lot more likeable as well. She’s a different ruler than the previous Queen: she stands for her decisions, she’s determined, she doesn’t back down, and she talks back to all these old men who have served the throne for so long they think they know best. I also really like the fact that there’s no romance in this book; at the most it’s just hinted to a bit of attraction. I know a lot can happen in the rest of the series and I guess there’s potential for romance, but in any case I hope Kelsea remains a strong character.
Overall, this book has a “first book” feel to it, both debut-wise and series-wise. It takes some time to establish the world, the characters, and the plot itself, and not all of this is equally exciting or well written. I’d like to see how the series improves, if it does, but I’m not exactly in a rush to get my hands on a copy of the next book. I’d like to read more since I have some questions about the world, but at the moment it’s not a priority.