The Queen of the Tearling by Erika JohansenThe Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
on July 8th 2014
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 448

An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom's haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

Long ago, Kelsea's forefathers sailed away from a decaying world to establish a new land free of modern technology. Three hundred years later, this feudal society has divided into three fearful nations who pay duties to a fourth: the powerful Mortmesne, ruled by the cunning Red Queen. Now, on Kelsea's nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of the Queen's Guard—loyal soldiers who protect the throne—have appeared to escort the princess on a perilous journey to the capital to ascend to her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling.

Though born of royal blood and in possession of the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea has never felt more uncertain of her ability to rule. But the shocking evil she discovers in the heart of her realm will precipitate an act of immense daring, throwing the entire kingdom into turmoil—and unleashing the Red Queen's vengeance. A cabal of enemies with an array of deadly weapons, from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic, plots to destroy her. But Kelsea is growing in strength and stealth, her steely resolve earning her loyal allies, including the Queen's Guard, led by the enigmatic Lazarus, and the intriguing outlaw known simply as "the Fetch."

Kelsea's quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun. Riddled with mysteries, betrayals, and treacherous battles, Kelsea's journey is a trial by fire that will either forge a legend . . . or destroy her.

3.5 Stars

Carlin often said that history was everything, for it was in man’s nature to make the same mistakes over and over.

The Queen of the Tearling was one of the first books I ever put on my TBR list when I discovered Goodreads. Adult fantasies with young (19-year-old) protagonist? Sounded right up my alley. Then I discovered that Kelsea, our main character, was considered by others to be average-looking / unattractive which was a major selling point for me. But when I started reading reviews and saw that some of my most trusted GR friends gave it one and two stars, I wasn’t so sure whether I wanted to read it anymore. A couple weeks ago however, my curiosity won over and I decided to pick it up. And I’m glad I did!

The story begins with Kelsea Raleigh in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa. As a baby, Kelsea was smuggled out of the palace for her own protection and has grown up being cared for – and taught – by an elderly couple, the Glynns. Nobody can know where she is, for both her regent uncle and the notorious Red Queen have sent assassins after her, trying to eliminate the rightful heir to the Tearling throne. On her nineteenth birthday however, Kelsea is “collected” by her mother’s royal guard as she is now the age of ascension. What follows is a story of political intrigue, magic, action and Kelsea learning to cope with her new environment and responsibilities as Tearling queen.

I will start off with what I deem the centre piece of this novel and what will really make it or break if for the reader: Kelsea. I loved Kelsea. Here we have this young girl who is clearly very intelligent and well-read, yet she is not ready to take the throne she has inherited. She struggles with deep insecurities concerning her looks and weight, both things that other characters within the story point out to her as unattractive. She is by no means a perfect character: she starts off as a bit of a coward, doesn’t stand up for herself, is extremely judgemental of other people (especially women), and she makes bad decisions. Yet, throughout the novel we see her grow, her intelligence and cunningness emerge, she starts to accept her flaws and realises that some decisions need to be made no matter how difficult. Kelsea is strong and tenacious, steadfast in her beliefs and values and that’s what really set her apart. How, even in the face of adversity, she has the inner strength to not let anything get in her way. It is through her actions and these character traits that she is slowly able to gain both the respect of her peers as well as the reader. What makes her even more intriguing, is that she isn’t always good; sometimes she can be ruthless, not out of spite, but rather because she recognises that sacrifices must be made for the safety of her kingdom.

I also really enjoyed Mace/Lazarus as a secondary character. He could easily have been nothing more than a two-dimensional queen’s guard who is loyal to Kelsea just because. But he wasn’t. Mace is well-drawn, an intriguing character that induces trust yet we don’t know much about him. He is loyal to his queen though we aren’t always sure how he feels about her. I can’t wait to find out more about him in the next instalments.

Then we the Red Queen, another intriguing character. This book is interesting in that it has chapters written from the villain’s point of view, which gives us a glimpse into her psyche and the reader quickly realises that not all is as it seems. She isn’t a flat, EVIL villain. Malevolent and extremely powerful, but more is going on beneath the surface than we first assume.

And I think that’s something that is generally true for all of the characters in this book: they are morally grey. There is no black and white here, people make bad decisions for the wrong reasons, yet it doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad people. I really enjoyed that perspective.

We don’t always choose, Majesty. We simply make the best choices we can once the deed is done.

The plot I had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I was never bored and I felt like the novel was well paced, but at the same time the story was not original and felt very much like another rehash of the classic fantasy story arc. We’ve got evil queens, political drama, assassination attempts, regent uncles who want the throne etc. Very little felt like something I hadn’t read before. I found the book to be engaging, but if you’re looking for something very creative or new, this won’t be the novel for you. It’s a character-driven story, the interaction of the characters and strong characterisation really pulled me onwards and I never found myself wanting to put the book down.

When reading reviews about The Queen of the Tearling I see one overwhelming criticism: the world-building. And without a doubt, I can understand why people are dissatisfied with it. First of all, the world is weird. We have what seems like a medieval setting, yet it’s actually a future in which humanity has regressed. So you’ll get strange juxtapositions like people riding on horseback and wielding maces with Kelsea explaining how red hair is a recessive gene. Had I not known about the world going into the book, that would definitely have been a major WTF moment. The real issue though, is that we don’t know how, or when, or where, or…anything. The author gives almost no explanation as to how the world has come about or how the magic works which is usually something that frustrates me. But for some reason, it didn’t really bother me here, probably because I know we’ll get much more insight in the next instalments. Having said that though, if you’re a reader who puts a lot of emphasis on everything being logical, I can definitely see how you would struggle with this book. 

I also really enjoyed the writing style. The story flowed well, the ratio between description and dialogue was well done and the prose was pretty without being purple.

Something that I would like to point out with this book that I really loved is the “romance”. This book doesn’t have any romance (yay!), but Kelsea does develop a crush on someone; a someone who doesn’t reciprocate her feelings (at least not yet). Yet, she still thinks and fantasises about him. Do you guys know how long I’ve been waiting for something like this in a fantasy? Like, thank you Erika Johansen?? This gives me life. I’m so sick of every young female always getting her dream guy, life just doesn’t work that way (yes I’m jaded, sue me).

So overall, was The Queen of the Tearling an amazing book that I recommend to everyone? No, not really. But did I like it and will I continue on with the series? Definitely! I found it to be a captivating read with awesome characters and I’m honestly so curious to find out more about the world. Luckily, I don’t have to wait for the next instalment to come out 🙂 I’m also very excited about the movie that is supposed to come out soonish!

Please note: I’m not sure why but some people consider this to be YA. It’s not, there is some graphic violence as well as very mature topics covered.