The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Series: The Queen of the Tearling #1
Genre: High Fantasy
Page count: 448
Source: Received copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Release Date: July 8 2014
On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown. Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust. But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend…if she can survive.
Thoughts on The Queen of the Tearling
My first love is fantasy. There is no contest. I love the word building, I love the magic, I love the politics. I love it all. And I have high expectations for my fantasy books. Seriously. I want the book to be rich in detail but still have a compelling and dynamic plot. I want the characters – particularly female characters - to be three-dimensional AND experience real growth. And I want the tension to be so thick that I won’t want to put the book down because I HAVE to find out what happens next. See? I told you – high expectations.
The Queen of the Tearling met every one of them.
First let’s talk about the world building. The Tearling has some familiar high fantasy markers but it still managed to surprise me. On the surface it looks like your standard medieval, European set up. There is a monarchy and a Queen’s guard, women wear long gowns, books are rare, medicine is not at its highest standard etc. But there are some elements of modernity woven throughout as well. At first I found this a little strange but as the story continued I really got into it. It was like our society never really hit the Industrial Age but was still progressing just at a much slower pace.
My favourite thing about The Queen of the Tearling however was Kelsea – the heroine of our story. Kelsea has been raised in isolation. When she was still an infant her mother sent her away, afraid for her safety. She was raised by an intelligent couple that taught her everything they could about running a kingdom. It was a great education but now thrown into a deadly political game, Kelsea realizes that she has no practical experience being a ruler. A lesser person might hesitate, or run away, or panic. But not her. She’s rises to the occasion and then some.
I liked that we got to see her decision-making process as it happens. Kelsea was raised with a very clear idea of what is “right” and what is “wrong” but was also raised to be a thinking queen so she doesn’t take any situation lightly. Every move she makes has rewards and consequences. There are people who want her to succeed and people who want her to fail. This kind of high stakes political plot makes for exactly the kind of story I can’t put down. The marketing copy compares this book to Game of Thrones and while there are some major differences story-wise I think there are some similar themes and you will be just as obsessed with how the characters are going to survive.
There are many things to love about The Queen of the Tearling but I will say this – if you primarily read young adult fantasy you may find this book a bit slow. It takes a little while for Johansen to set everything up and for the real action to start. And it is a very different feel from the more fast pace YA fantasy books like Shadow and Bone and Throne of Glass. But if you’re willing to put in the time and effort I think the pay off is well worth it. I really appreciated the extra time to get acquainted with Kelsea and how she viewed the world, before all the drama began.
High fantasy fans mark your calendars. You won’t want to miss this.
About the Author
Erika Johansen grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She went to Swathmore College, earned a MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and eventually became an attorney, but she never stopped writing.
Also Available For: Kobo