The Queen of the Tearling
by Erika Johansen
Published by Harper in July 2014.
One of the most “buzzed about” books I received last year was Erika Johansen’s The Queen of the Tearling, the first in a new epic YA fantasy series. In Tearling, we join Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, heir to the Tearling throne, as she sets out on a dangerous journey to reclaim her throne from her corrupt uncle, the Regent. She is joined by members of the Queen’s Guard, a band of knights tasked with protecting her until she is able to ascend the throne, and carries a magical jewel. Death (in the form of masked assassins) follows them on their trip to the castle, as her uncle tries to stop her before she can become queen.
In addition to the threat from her uncle, there’s also a looming threat from the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, which is ruled by the vicious and mysterious Red Queen. As Kelsea continues on her journey to retake her kingdom, she begins to learn the truth about her mother, Queen Elyssa, and the price her country has paid for its “independence” from Mortmesne.
The Queen of the Tearling has a very interesting premise and plot “twist”. Told from a variety of perspectives and filled with political/court intrigues, Tearling tries really hard to fill the category of “Game of Thrones, but for young adults! Sorta!” While I found the story compelling enough to get me to the end, I was most interested in the history of the Tearling, how it came to be, what it was like before it was founded, etc. These are all questions I’m assuming will be answered in latter books, which The Queen of the Tearling sets up nicely.
As a standalone, however, the book falls a bit flat. Each chapter is prefaced by quotes from faux-historical documents, which drastically diminish the threat levels in the story. And despite wondering about the origins of the Red Queen, I found her character to be no more than a lackluster caricature of a cruel monarch; her name and actions conjuring up images of Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts, but with more sexual violence than I felt necessary. The Regent, Lazarus (head of the Queen’s Guard), and townspeople all also seemed like bland stereotypes. The debauched and corrupt Regent. Tough, but loyal Lazarus. Downtrodden and poor townspeople. Kelsea herself plays the role of the naïve, but honorable queen-to-be. She gets a bit tiresome at times, often seeming much too mature for her age, but every now and then a glimmer of something great comes through. The story is most effective when Kelsea is at her most vulnerable and acting more like a teenager.
There were some hints at future romance, but as I said, this book mainly sets a scene for the next book, The Invasion of the Tearling. I’ve had a bit of time to think on this, and while I’m interested in what happens in the sequel, it is no longer on any of my “most anticipated” lists. We’ll see what the buzz about Invasion brings. Personally, I’m more excited to read the forthcoming sequel to The Kiss of Deception.