Review: The Queen of the Tearling (#1, The Queen of the Tearling) by Erika Johansen

My Thoughts

Magic and mystery, sorcery and swords, determination and fearlessness.
Johansen has created an impressively rich world
with a fierce and inspiring heroine.
One of my favorite books of the year!

5stars

Synopsis

queen of the tearling 2Magic, adventure, mystery, and romance combine in this epic debut in which a young princess must reclaim her dead mother’s throne, learn to be a ruler—and defeat the Red Queen, a powerful and malevolent sorceress determined to destroy her.

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

“Queen. An ominous word, foretelling a grim future.”

A rich and riotous world. A fierce and determined heroine. A future painted in blood. This impressive debut novel from Erika Johansen creates a world that is lush and vivid, a canvas for a story that is intricately woven with its many duplicitous characters, terrifying challenges and ultimately, the brutal promise of death for the new queen. The novel is a bold fusion of fantasy and dystopian genres, with a medieval feel despite it taking place in contemporary times after the collapse of humanity.  Nineteen-year-old Kelsey Glynn has reached the age of ascension, meaning the time has come for her to take the Tearling throne… if she survived the journey that is. The Tear is a kingdom ruled by her uncle as Regent, but truly, under the fearful rule of the Red Queen. Many have been looking for Kelsea during her years in hidden isolation, and now that she’s come of age, she’s sentenced to almost certain death, relegated to rule a kingdom inhabited by the poor and uneducated, as she attempts to rival the powerful Red Queen.

“I’ve raised you to be a thinking queen, Kelsea, and so you will be. But you’ve entered a time when survival must trump all else.”

Kelsea is an admirable heroine. Her foster parents raised her secluded from the world, but taught her to think critically, to learn from history. Kelsea nurtured a love of reading, devouring as many books as she could. Yet when the time came, she quickly learned that ruling required so much more than history lessons. Kelsea had to prove herself to survive. To merit the title of Queen. To earn the respect of the people. It was enthralling to see Kelsea temper her anger, her fear, and still make decisions with fearless abandon. She owned every action she took and marched forward bravely. She begins by ridding the land of her mother’s legacy—atrocities that kept the people living in poverty, dread and despair. Through these actions, she begins to gain the respect of people like Lazarus (captain of her guard),  Andale (her resilient lady in waiting), and the Fetch (a mysterious, yet infamous thief and possible future love interest). Earning respect is a critical part of Kelsea’s journey to the throne.

“You win your people or you lose your throne.”

The novel focuses more on character development, than on world building. It was admittedly awkward to reconcile medieval tendencies with contemporary references, and there were some aspects that may have been intentionally vague, yet it was still an utterly addictive world to get lost in. The elements of fantasy exist in the story, but have been deftly muted in subordination of our protagonists’ evolution and growth. Even with the many people the novel introduces, each character was solidly developed and I never felt lost.

Shrouded in mystery and renown for dark magic, the Red Queen of Mortmesne, is the novel’s central adversary. Her darker power rivals Kelsea, whom seems to wield a mysterious magic of her own. The plot is poised for big things to happen as the story evolves with some heart-pounding conflicts that test Kelsea’s resolve. Yet we know by the story’s end that there is so much more to come.

This is a story that is wonderfully addictive and original. There is no romance in this first installment, but I’m willing to guess that there will be in subsequent novels. The notion of beauty is also largely explored. And although I applaud the author for countering the ubiquitous notion of a beautiful heroine, Kelsea’s “plain” face is mentioned a little too often for my taste. The author notes her thoughts on the matter in an article published on BuzzFeed.

With themes of power and leadership, beauty and strength, magic and valor, The Queen of the Tearling has been one of the most captivating, unexpected books of the year. I loved it. I was lost in this world. Consumed by it. And by the story’s end, I desperately wanted more. It’s been compared to Game of Thrones, and there certainly is a similar battle for the throne—for domination—but the similarities end there in my opinion. I know there’s been much discussion on whether this is truly a fantasy, with sufficient world building, etc, etc, and how it compares to Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, etc, etc (again), but if you shove all comparisons aside and take the book for what it is, I think most will find this to be a rousing story, rich with potential and intriguing characters. What I love the most about this story is our all-too-real heroine who worked to conquer her insecurities, her fears, in order to embrace a life defined by pain, responsibility, loneliness and the consequences of her decisions. The book does not end on a traditional cliffhanger, but on a precipice… a promise of more to come.

“Here is Tearling, here is Mortmesne,
One of black and the other red,
One of light and one of darkness,
One of living, the other dead.

Here is the Glynn Queen, here is Red Queen,
One to perish beyond recall,
The Lady moves, the Witch despairs,
Glynn Queen triumph and Red Queen fail.”

series goodreads 2

Series Reading Order and Links

queen of the tearling 2 Jun-09

✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✦

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