Title: Queen of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Publisher: Bantam Press
Publication Date: 17th July 2014
Rating: 4/5 stars
It was on her nineteenth birthday that the soldiers came for Kelsea Glynn.
They came to escort her back to the place of her birth – to ensure she takes possession of what is rightfully hers.
But like many nineteen-year-olds, Kelsea is unruly, has high principles and believes she knows better than her elders.
Unlike many nineteen-year-olds, she is about to inherit a kingdom that is on its knees – corrupt, debauched and dangerous.
Kelsea will either become the most fearsome ruler the kingdom has ever known … or be dead within the week.
Combining thrilling adventure and action, dark magic, mystery and romance, The Queen of the Tearling is the debut of a born storyteller blessed with a startling imagination.
I was drawn to this book predominantly because of its cover – I think it looks amazing! – but also because Emma Watson (one of my favourite people of all time!) has plans to produce and star in a film version of the story. My biggest problem with the book was discovering that it was a series – right when I got to the very end. I was completely and utterly convinced that the book was a stand-alone… Oops!
The Queen of the Tearling is written in the same style as a young adult novel. I really love this style, but I found some of the language used (swear words we don’t use in polite company) jarring with this style. I find it less confronting to come across crude words when the book is written in an obviously adult style.
The story itself is excellent, but it does leave you desperately wanting to know more. The world building is a little shaky – the Tearling is a country which is at first glance stuck in the past, but it becomes evident that it is in fact a sort of dystopian world. Its founder, William Tear, had planned to establish a utopia, but during the Crossing, much of the knowledge from our world was lost, leaving the people without books and medical care, as well as much else we take for granted.
While it is a little confusing at first, the story sucks you in before you know it. Kelsea has to deal with the aftermath of her mother’s reign – a beautiful but useless queen – and her uncle’s regency – a man obsessed with luxury, women, wine and food. She works hard to make her people’s lives better – aiming to stop the slave trade, as well as problems pertinent in modern society – sex trafficking and domestic abuse. The story acknowledges and fights for women and doesn’t stand for their abuse, unlike most stories set in a medieval-esque world.
The story is told from Kelsea’s perspective with a few passages focusing on the Red Queen, who wants the new Queen of the Tearling dead – but why still remains a mystery. There is magic afoot – the Red Queen hasn’t aged in living memory and Kelsea has necklaces which speak of great power.
A particular aspect of the book which I adored was that each chapter started with a snippet from a history book, after Kelsea’s reign. This makes us privy not only to more history of the Tear itself, but to the larger repercussions of Kelsea’s actions as we see them happen.
There is a bit too much emphasis placed on Kelsea’s appearance. She is described as ugly or unattractive quite regularly. I appreciate that Johansen has taken an unconventional approach by depicting her female protagonist as unappealing, but this point is made too often, debasing the effect she is aiming to achieve by making appearance unimportant in the face of her heroine’s abilities. This is also a problem when Emma Watson has been cast as the main character – she is much too beautiful to pull this particular characteristic off.
And then it had to end. There was a great climactic scene with battles and magic, but there is still so much left to explore. I want to watch Kelsea grow more and understand where the Red Queen’s deep-rooted hatred for Kelsea has come from. There is also the mystery of two characters’ identities – the true identity of the mysterious Fetch who kidnaps yet also aids the young queen and the identity of her father, which has never been known.
I would recommend this book for fantasy lovers, particularly women who want to see stronger female characters in their favourite genre. It is also a good read for young adult lovers, but be warned about the swearing – it is only a few sentences throughout the book but it was so jarring with the style of the book that I can’t get over it!
It is expected to be a seven-book series but no word yet on when the second one might be released! I hope it isn’t too far away as there are still so many mysteries to be resolved!