The Queen of the Tearling (Queen of the Tearling #1) by Erika Johansen
Published: 08.07.2014 by Harper
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Rating: 4.5/5 stars – ★★★★.5
Synopsis: 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.
I probably should have written my review on this book after I actually read it. Now, it’s been months already -I read this in July. I know, I’m trying to get it all done! Although I think it’s a good sign that even though it’s been quite a while since I read it, I still remember a lot. If a book didn’t wow me, I often forget huge parts of it.
When I started this book, I was prepared for a fantasy book with little to no worldbuilding. That’s what I had read in all the reviews: that people were baffled at the lack of worldbuilding, which made it hard for them to understand the setting.
This book was definitely unique in its worldbuilding and setting. The reviews weren’t wrong. You’re not told or shown much about the world. In fact, you have to piece it together yourself. I thought I would hate that, but I actually ended up really enjoying it.
Here’s how I would explain the setting of this book. This world is a mix of dystopian and fantasy -I think. It’s set in our future, and some big disaster happened that cut these kingdoms off from the rest of the world. With that, they lost so much knowledge of science, literature, medicine, etc. so we’ve kind of reverted back to a Middle Ages-type world? Once in a while, there are references to our world. For example, when Kelsea describes her favorite books, the ones she grew up with, I believe she mentioned Tolkien.
I genuinely liked this blend of a Middle Ages-fantasy setting and a dystopian futuristic one. I also quite liked figuring that out myself. I think the second/third book will delve deeper into the history of the world, as Kelsea perhaps tries to figure it all out.
My point being, I was fascinated by the lack of worldbuilding. For once, it wasn’t a downside for me.
We start this story when Kelsea has turned 19, and the Queen’s Guard is coming to pick her up. Kelsea is the Queen of the kingdom (duh, Queen of the Tearling?) but she has been raised in a remote house in the woods. She has only ever known 2 people: her mentors/teachers/adoptive parents. The Queens of the Tearling have a sad habit of dying very young, which is why Kelsea was sent away until she was old enough and ready to be crowned.
But there are many people who don’t want Kelsea to wear that crown. Some come from other kingdoms -and some are her family. The first book basically follows Kelsea’s desperate journey to the capital and her claim to the throne.
I really enjoyed this story line. I was intrigued from the first moment -at least where the story is concerned. I thought it was a nice mix between calmer scenes that allowed you to get to know the characters better, and captivating action-packed scenes. There were definitely a few moments in which I held my breath, wondering how she would get out of this situation alive.
Like I said, a story I would definitely recommend. I’m so intrigued as to what will happen in the second book! I need to read it soon. Maybe it’ll be one of my first 2017 reads? (Or maybe I will read this review again in December 2017 and kick myself for not having read it yet).
Aaah, characters. To me, the most important aspect of a story.
I have to admit that I was fairly annoyed with Kelsea at the start of this book. And for the first 20% or so. Why? She kept referring to how plain she looked. Comparing herself to others, saying that her features are much less attractive and just more plain. I got SO ANNOYED WITH IT. I get it, Kelsea. You’re not Miss Universe. On the one hand, I really like that she isn’t the most-beautiful-woman-ever-who-also-happens-to-be-able-to-do-everything-right type because that gets really boring in YA novels too. So I’m glad Erika Johansen went a different way, and let Kelsea be just a normal woman. Beautiful, but maybe not jaw-droppingly so. On the other hand though, I got so annoyed with her persistence in making me understand that Kelsea wasn’t that type. You don’t have to tell me 100 times in 20 pages.
After the first 20% or so, that happened less/not at all anymore. I can’t tell you how relieved I was, because that’s when I figured out I actually liked and admired Kelsea. I think she’s an incredibly strong woman. She’s not fearless -as nobody should be. But she tries to do what she believes is right, even though it’s the scarier and deadlier option. She calls people out on their sexist bullshit. She makes them respect her. There were several instances in which a guard didn’t believe her, or a general didn’t address her but her male guard. That kind of stuff makes me so mad, just because that also happens here. But she addressed it immediately. I absolutely adored that.
There were several other important characters in this book obviously, but I’ve already written so much I feel like I should end my review as soon as possible. Here’s what I’ll say about them:
- To the Queen’s Guard: yes, please. I respect you. You are honorable people.
- To the thief lord: I’ve got my eye on you. I don’t trust you, you charming-thief-type.
- To the enemies of Kelsea: beware. Enemies of the heir, beware. (see what I did there??)
I think it’s obvious that I’d highly recommend this book to you. I will definitely be continuing the trilogy. If you want to read an interesting fantasy-dystopian blend, with a female character who calls men out on their sexist bullshit, you’ve found the right book. And if the references to her plainness bother you, stick with it. I promise you it’s worth it.