Friday, 19 September 2014

Review - The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #1)
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Series: The Queen of the Tearling #1
Published by Harper on July 8 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
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.
I’m glad to say that I didn’t hate this book as much as most of my fellow bloggers seem to, but it definitely wasn’t what it was pitched to be. I was lucky enough to know going into it that it wasn’t a straight-up fantasy, but a strange dystopian fantasy hybrid in which an event called The Crossing occurred, during which most modern “luxuries” a la medicine and electricity were lost. Now, what exactly the Crossing was is never explained in the nearly 500 pages of this book. I imagine it may be explained in subsequent books, but it was kind of a mind fuck.

There is some serious logic fail going on in this book. There is talk of other nations being capable of plastic surgery yet the Tearling doesn’t even have the most basic medicine. They don’t even have printing presses. It’s your basic quasi-medieval fantasy setting with a big ol’ FUCK YOU twist thrown in for good measure. And it doesn’t really work. The Queen of the Tearling would have been a thousand times more enjoyable if it wasn’t such a weird setting.
 kidding me
The characters leave a lot to be desired as well. Kelsea, the main character and incumbent Queen of the Tearling, is rash and impulsive. She doesn’t think things through, which is a terrible trait in a Queen. She talks about wanting to do the best for her kingdom, yet she doesn’t actually consider the consequences of her actions. For instance, when she learns about the crown-condoned slave trade between the Tearling and neighbouring kingdom Mortmesne, she immediately releases all of the prisoners, hires a bunch of them on as her personal staff, and burns the cages used to transport them. She doesn’t care that the Queen of Mortmesne is infinitely more powerful than she is and that she will be slightly insulted to discover her shipment of slaves has not been delivered. I agree that something had to be done to put a stop to the agreement between the Tearling and Mortmesne, but Kelsea’s solution was far from intelligent.

She is also very judgemental. She believes herself to be plain and unattractive (based on a glimpse of herself in a puddle when she was about fifteen) and is very insecure because of it. She takes extensive note of the appearances of everyone she meets and compares herself to them endlessly. There is one particularly offensive scene in which Kelsea mentally chastises an aging woman for believing herself to be beautiful. How dare this lady who is in her fifties or sixties feel confident in her own appearance??!! Kelsea also spends a lot of time thinking about how men don’t find her attractive, especially one outlaw she encounters twice. She is really hung up on this guy and how he once said that she wasn’t his type. I was glad to find that he only makes two appearances, as I really did appreciate how little romance came into play in this book. I can only imagine it will become a more central focus as the series progresses, because that’s usually how these things go.

Also, everyone in this book is completely incompetent when it comes to their jobs. Kelsea is a horrible queen, her head guard allows her to be stabbed in the back, an assassin manages to catch her unattended in the bath. It’s just a major clusterfuck and everyone deserves to be fired. There is also the issue of the climactic scene being resolved by Kelsea’s magical necklaces. I really don’t like when objects are the solutions to problems. It’s just too convenient. I’d much rather have the characters use their actual brains – they have them for a reason!

My final note is that I really wish this book had better representation of women. There are a handful of women gracing the pages, but they’re almost all disappointing. First there is Carlin, Kelsea’s cold and aloof guardian with whom Kelsea had a very strained relationship because Carlin didn’t feel like she could allow herself to show Kelsea love. WHAT THE FUCK KIND OF LOGIC??? Then there’s the evil queen of Mortmesne, known only as The Red Queen. She’s a stereotype if I’ve ever seen one – leaning heavily on magic and fear to control her kingdom, she is the epitome of the evil seductress. The most interesting female character is a beautiful young woman formerly “owned” by Kelsea’s gross uncle. Unfortunately she doesn’t play a very big role in the novel. I suppose I just wish Kelsea had a friend or a counsel or someone to bounce ideas off of aside from Mace. Whose job is to protect her, not to help her make political decisions.  

It may seem like I hated this book, but I didn’t. I liked the writing and I am interested to see what Johansen does with the strange combination of story elements she’s pulled together. It may have had it’s seriously dumb moments, but The Queen of the Tearling wasn’t all bad.

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