Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: The Queen of the Tearling - Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Series: The Tearling #1
Genre: Adult, fantasy
Published on July 8, 2014
Published by Harper
Pages: 448
Read From: 7.26.14 - 7.31.14

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 had 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.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? YES! I love, love, love, loooooove the cover art! So pretty with the gold filigree and the dark amber colors and the castle on the hill. Love it! Can you tell yet that this review is going to be full of love?

Characters: There are so many characters in this book, so this is going to be long. But we'll start with our protagonist first, Kelsea Raleigh. I really liked her. Here we have a young woman who has been thrust into a position of great responsibility and even risk (her enemies want to kill her even before she's officially claimed the throne). She's lived an isolated life, gaining all of her knowledge through books, and she's come into a kingdom that is in absolute turmoil and no one is telling her what she needs to know. Kelsea is afraid and uncertain, but she doesn't back down from the challenge and she certainly doesn't let anyone else know how unsure she is about everything. She's got some serious backbone, she's decisive, and she doesn't put up with crap from anyone. Maybe Kelsea's excessive awesomeness and decency annoyed some Readers, but quite frankly, I was so relieved to read about a female protagonist who stepped up to the plate and didn't back down. I'm so tired of these indecisive, "I don't want to rock the boat" female characters who don't do what needs to be done. Then there's Lazarus - also called Mace - her Captain of the Queen's Guard. I wasn't sure about him at first, but it didn't take too long for me to warm up to his rough, intimidating personality. Call me weird, but I love bodyguard type characters who are pure intimidation, but very decent once you get to know them. Mace is one of those characters, and I can't wait to learn more about his past (because everyone in this book has one!). I liked all of the Queen's Guards, though I'll admit it took me a little while to get down who was who. There's Pen, Kelsea's personal guard, Mhurn with the troubled past, and so many others. Then there are the villains and side characters. First, the Regent - Kelsea's slimeball uncle Thomas. And believe me - slimeball is the perfect word for him. Probably what made him doubly repugnant was how he continually tried to justify his actions and how he tried to paint himself as the wronged victim. Thorne was conniving, calculated, and cold; I liked him. I just felt sorry for Javel the gate guard, and especially Father Tyler. The Red Queen is an interesting villainess, but I'm glad she's not the principle villain. My general opinion on vilainesses is that they are rarely as intimidating as villains (now you can accuse me of sexism). And then there's the Fetch, the anti-hero. I really, really liked him, too. He's just awesome. He's an outlaw, and he does what needs to be done, and also what's in the best interests of his men. And the country, really, if it doesn't endanger his people.

The Romance: There really isn't much of that. Kelsea likes the Fetch, despite his rather rudely informing her that she's too plain for his tastes. But she doesn't spend a great deal dwelling on it, and I have no idea what the Fetch's true opinion is of her. I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up going somewhere later, but if my suspicions about the Fetch's true identity are correct, it won't.

Plot: Sometime in our future, something will have happened that causes the British and the Americans to pile into boats and sail away to a new country, under the guidance of one Jonathan Tear. He wants to build a socialist utopia, bringing mankind back to a simpler way of life while retaining useful technology like modern medicine. But as things usually go, Tear's socialist dream quickly falls apart as disaster after disaster and complication and complication arise. First the ship containing the doctors and medical equipment is lost. And then the settlement splits into four different countries, the wealthiest being Mortmesne. The three poorer kingdoms are eventually forced to become protectorates of Mortmesne, when the Red Queen - a mysterious woman who never seems to age - takes power. Kelsea Raleigh has been raised in a secluded part of the Tear, knowing that she will one day become the queen of the Tearling, but kept entirely ignorant of what she truly needs to know to become a good ruler. On her nineteenth birthday, she is fetched by the Queen's Guard to take her rightful place on the throne. But Kelsea isn't prepared for what she sees; what horrors and degradation her kingdom has fallen into under the careless guidance of the Regent, her uncle. Not only does her uncle not want to give the throne up, but the Red Queen is determined to kill Kelsea and claim the two powerful sapphires she possesses. Intrigue and murder are around every corner, and Kelsea will have to fight with every fiber of her being to right the wrongs of her predecessors. Okay, I'm going to tackle the world building first. We don't get many explanations in this first book in a planned trilogy. We're given glimpses and hints as to what happened to cause this mass exodus to the Tear. We also don't know where the Tear is, or when it is, and I'll admit that it bothered me. But I also understand that you can only fit so much world building in one volume, and the Author has so much to cover in The Queen of the Tearling the way it is. Character backstory, political setup, history, the way things operate in this world, et cetera. I have every confidence that as the trilogy progresses, the Author will fill in a lot of holes. I could be wrong, but I have faith in this matter. The combination of medieval styles and modern knowledge gave the world a rather odd vibe, but I kind of liked it. The plot: very interesting. I love court intrigue and the struggle of an uncertain new ruler trying to gain the confidence and trust of her subjects. I enjoyed the complexities of everyone's backstories and how everything is building up to create a massive storm just waiting to break over Kelsea's head. Yes, the beginning is a little slow. I thought Kelsea would never leave her mentors Carlin and Barty. But once the assassins started chasing them, things picked up. My main complaint? Kelsea got injured a lot. Seriously, how many knife wounds can she take?

Believability: The Author plays with some interesting themes in this book: a utopia built on socialism, the corruption of the Church. I don't believe that it was the Author inserting her own opinions. In terms of the corruption of the Church, she hit it on the head. Kelsea was scornful of those who had faith because she saw the corruption of the Church. But the Author does not paint everyone who has faith as being ignorant, corrupt individuals. I know a lot of people complained about the "convenience" of the ship containing the doctors and medical equipment sinking. Perhaps it was a little convenient, but fiction is all about exploring the "what ifs" - the possibilities that might not happen in reality, but still could. There was also the guards all getting drunk and falling asleep on watch when there's nefarious assassins chasing them. This, yes, did bother me, even though it's iterated that Corrall and Mace are plenty to protect everyone, and they don't get drunk.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. I really liked the style. While not necessarily lyrical, it was very pleasant and terrific at capturing imagery and details.

Content: 18 f-words, 12 s-words. While there is nothing extremely explicit, the Author doesn't shy away from sexual content. Practically all of her baddies are lecherous in some form. But we Readers never have to sit through any of it.

Conclusion: I know that a lot of Readers didn't like The Queen of the Tearling. But I mean it when I say that it's one of the best fantasy novels I have ever read. It was so refreshing to have a female protagonist who did what needed to be done; who didn't let people see how unsure she was. I loved the complexity of the characters, the world, and the plot. There are some flaws - no story is perfect (except maybe Jackaby) - but I do believe that there will be more world building as the series continues.


  1. Hmm, this one's a tad heavy for my current (silly) reading mood, but I can see both why you loved it and why it didn't work for many others. There's a lot of stuff in there. I'd probably need some good sarcastic humor on a regular basis to make it through. Great review! :)

    1. It is one of those books that probably isn't for the "overly picky," because it does have flaws. A lot of them, though - like the world building - I really do think will be fixed and fleshed out as the trilogy continues.


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