06 April 2015

Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Queen of the Tearling by Erika JohansenLast summer, everyone was all a-buzz about the first volume in a new fantasy series by Erika Johansen. I had every good intention to either read or listen to The Queen of the Tearling right away, but life or other books or work or something got in the way.

A few weeks ago, I received a finished copy of the paperback edition, with its pretty red cover. When I tweeted about the book, so many people in my feed told me how much they loved it, I decided to get right to it. Especially because the second book in the Tearling series is coming out in early summer.

Here are my thoughts in a bullet review.

What happens: Nineteen-year-old Kelsea Raleigh Glynn has been raised in isolation by foster parents. All she really knows about herself is that her mother was a queen and that she is to inherit the throne some day. When that day comes, Kelsea is turned over to the Queen's Guard and is taken to New London and the castle keep. Full of book learning and high ideals, Kelsea must win over her guard and her kingdom, make changes, appease her uncle (who has served as regent), and protect her citizens. The first change she implements, however, has broad-reaching and potentially disastrous results.

Time period, genre, and such: Although The Queen of the Tearling is billed as a fantasy, it's really a mix of alternate history, dystopian, and yes, fantasy wrapped up in a kind of coming-of-age story. I really don't know how else to describe it. The time is the twenty-fourth century, and Kelsea's country, somewhere in what was once Europe, has lost most of its technology. There are no computers, electricity, or even advanced medicine. Three hundred years earlier, the poor and disgruntled climbed into boats and left America to find a new life. Stories of life before the Crossing abound, but in the Tearling and in the neighboring country of Mortmesne, technology is once again at the level of the Dark Ages. There is, however, magic, but we don't yet know who controls it and whether it is good or evil.

Why I love Kelsea: Hold on to your hats, Kelsea is like no other heroine of young adult fantasy, dystopian, or alternate history you've ever met. First, she is not drop-dead gorgeous. In fact, she is rather plain, knows it, and isn't overly bothered by it. Second, although she is learning to use a knife and sword, she is not a master with these weapons. Third, she is focused on the job at hand: ruling her kingdom in the best way possible. Fourth, she is curious, willing to learn, and self-confident enough to admit that she doesn't know everything. Fifth, although she definitely notices guys, there is no love story (not yet, anyway). Whenever she finds her mind turning toward a cute man, she reprimands herself, pulling her attention back to her duties. She is strong yet vulnerable and is confused and scared by the magical powers that have suddenly become available to her. She also has a bad temper, which she works hard to curb.

Other characters: The men of the guard, the women Kelsea brings to court, and the other people who are important to the plot have definite personalities, hidden histories, and complex emotions. Very few people are flat or difficult to envision.

Plot notes: Not for the faint of heart: there are battle scenes, knifings, arguments, betrayals, and recklessness. There are also moments of loyalty and sacrifice. Johansen doesn't lay everything out in the first book, so we have plenty more to discover, and it's not clear exactly how Kelsea is going to defeat her enemies. We get a good sense of the Tearling, often through Kelsea's eyes as she learns about New London, the Keep, and life outside the forest in which she was raised.

Audiobook: Katherine Kellgren reads the unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 14 hr, 30 min) with great enthusiasm and emotion. For the first few minutes, I wasn't sure if I was going to like the narration, but Kellgren grew on me, and I loved how she enhanced the action and drama of the story.  Her pacing was excellent and so were her characterizations, both male and female. If you opt for the audiobook, I do recommend giving it about a half hour. As I said, the beginning of Kellgren's performance was a bit off-putting, but I soon found myself entranced.

Recommendation: Erika Johansen's The Queen of the Tearling breaks new ground in young adult fiction. It's refreshing to find a smart, focused female heroine who is down to earth and very human. Read this novel soon, so you're ready for the second book in the series--The Invasion of the Tearling--which comes out in June.

Published by HarperCollins / Harper Paperbacks, April 2015
ISBN-13: 9780062290380
Source: Review (audio, print) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


rhapsodyinbooks 4/6/15, 6:51 AM  

Well okay, fine. A non beautiful heroine? I must read this one!

Alyce 4/6/15, 8:52 AM  

I've had this book on the side table in my spare room, within easy reach, for ages and feel bad that I haven't read it yet. I did pick it up and read a few pages when I first got it, and then set it aside. I'm glad to hear that there's some action, because it seemed kind of slow at the beginning.

bermudaonion 4/6/15, 9:09 AM  

I'm not into fantasy so I passed this book onto my sister. She loved it and will be happy to know the next book will be out soon.

(Diane) bookchickdi 4/6/15, 9:17 AM  

I gave this one to my niece last year, it looked like something she'd like and after your review, I think I was right.

Katherine P 4/6/15, 2:53 PM  

I've heard lots of praise for this book but had kind of passed over it because I'm not a big fantasy/dystopian fan but this sounds really great. I like the sounds of Kelsea and that she's not perfect at everything and is eager to learn. Great review. I'll have to add this to my TBR.

Heather 4/6/15, 8:03 PM  

Plain jane with no romantic inclinations (yet) who is curious and focused and confident? SIGN ME UP.

Belle Wong 4/6/15, 10:32 PM  

Kelsea sounds like a great heroine! Your description of her was enough to make me want to read this one.

Amanda 4/7/15, 12:54 PM  

This was my second-to-last book of 2014, and I listened to it on vacation last December. I actually started by loving the audio, and later felt like it was overdone in terms of hysterics. Or maybe the narrator's voice just didn't work for me (there are certain high pitches that tend to give me ear-pain due to an old injury). I'm definitely looking forward to the sequel, but I think I'll read on in print.

Lindsay Hayes 4/7/15, 6:27 PM  

I saw this audiobook is on Scribd so I'm excited to get into it. The only time I hear this book referenced is to say "it's so good and it's going to be a movie starring Emma Watson" ha! Thanks for the more in depth review.

Kailana 4/7/15, 9:19 PM  

I really really liked this when I read it last year! I am glad you had a chance to read it. :)

Daryl 4/8/15, 9:34 AM  

i am sure i will love this ... adding it to the TBR pile .. thanks!

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