The Queen of the Tearling By Erika Johansen
Genre: Fiction, Adventure, Dystopian
Published by Harper, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5
Re-Readability: Hard to say without finishing the entire series. However, it succeeds as a good adventure book so in that sense I could reread it.
Kelsea Raleigh, a 19-year-old who has only ever known the woods around her house and her adopted parental figures, is taken from her quiet life and thrust onto a throne. A throne that she must fight to keep and a kingdom that she must convince to trust her. During her mother’s reign and her uncle’s before her, slavery, rape, prostitution and domestic violence became commonplace. Kelsea sets out to change that, while trying to avoid assassination and the violence of another neighboring kingdom.
Throughout this, Kelsea also struggles with a magic she doesn’t understand, but needs to in order to save her kingdom, not only from those who seek to destroy it from within its boundaries, but from those outside the kingdom.
One such character seeking to take advantage of her kingdom is the Red Queen, who rules a neighboring region, known as the Mortmesne. She is one of the book’s most vile characters, enslaving many from Kelsea’s kingdom and seems to try to destroy Kelsea herself.
The premise sounds like a typical fantasy story at first, but Kelsea is not your typical queen. She’s frequently described as “plain” and has weight issues. She has a temper, but knows when to wield it.
Pacing is this book’s strong suit. There is never a moment where I felt like I could easily tear myself away from it. Johansen does a great job of diving right into the problems of the world and the adventures that the characters will have to go on to solve them.
However, while Johansen hints at an interesting world, it only comes through in brief glimpses. In some senses, it’s a medieval world. But it’s also clearly a futuristic one where America exists (or at least used to). There are several jarring mentions of technology like electronic books and modern birth control. Oh, and there’s heroin.
Yet, in every other sense, the world is 14th century Europe. The governments are run by Queens. There’s sword fighting. There are heralds. There are rape scenes and horrific deaths. Throughout reading, I came up with countless theories for exactly when and where Johansen set her story. It’s been days since I finished it and I’m still theorizing.
There’s also an issue with various mentions of magic. It’s an important part of the series, especially as it becomes the solution for some of the protagonist’s biggest problems. But I know even less about the magic than I do about the setting, which is mildly frustrating.
That being said, I’m already reading the second.
Although I’m unsure of how the series will deliver on its promises, Johansen makes it difficult to want to walk away from the characters and from the trajectory of the story. I just hope the second book leaves me with fewer questions about the foundation of the world I’m experiencing.