The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

On her nineteenth birthday, the Queen’s Guard come to collect Kelsea, who has come of age sufficient to claim her throne, the throne of the Tearling from her Uncle who has held it as Regent since her mother’s assassination. Kelsea knows that she hardly stands a chance of surviving the journey to New London, and that even if she does, she is likely to be murdered soon after her arrival by one of the many enemies that lurk in every shadow of the Keep. Kelsea is strong, idealistic and has a vision of a better world for her people, but can she survive long enough to impose her rule? Especially since her first act as Queen seems guaranteed to provoke the mysterious Red Queen of neighbouring Mortmesne.

I’ll be honest, I avoided reading The Queen of The Tearling for a very long time because of the Emma Watson association. I don’t really rate her as an actress, and there’s nothing more annoying than trying to immerse yourself in the world of a novel with the face of a miscast actor jarring you out of the novel every time a character description comes up. Fortunately, despite the terrible name, Kelsea is a unique enough character to stand out from that starting association and the book grips you the rest of the way. Kelsea is not your typical Queen in waiting, painfully aware that she is plain and stocky, she lives by her wits and hides her inner turmoil about gaining the loyalty of her men behind a cast iron exterior. An idealist, she eschews pragmatic compromise, and while this wins the support of the reader and the common folk, it drives further conflict within the novel. It’s a common complaint about fantasy novels that they are often peopled with trope characters, or rely on the well mapped characterisation of one character to fill out the rest. While this may be true for more minor characters, there are some really engaging and well-rounded secondary characters here which suggest real potential for storyline development throughout the rest of the trilogy.

Something I particularly liked about The Queen of The Tearling was the world building. At first, it seems to be set in a generic, everyone’s swinging a sword and wearing body armour type fantasy universe, but as the novel progresses there are hints that it’s actually set in something of an uncanny dystopia. A rough historical sketch lets the reader know that the countries of the Tear and Mortmesne were established as a Utopian society following a sea crossing to uncharted territory. Drip, drip, drip with the odd notes of description then, bam! There’s a seven set of leather-bound Rowling, an ancient, pre-Crossing author in the library and you realise that The Queen of The Tearling is set in the vastly distant future, though how to Post-Crossing Utopia came to be mired with so many horrific problems, the most obvious of which is the trafficking of adults and children, can only be guessed at. Again, I’m seeing this playing a big role throughout the rest of the trilogy.

I’ve already borrowed the sequel to The Queen of the Tearling, book two of the trilogy, The Invasion of the Tearling from the library and am really looking forward to the release of book 3, The Fate of the Tearling.

What do you think?