Friday, October 21, 2016

QUEEN OF THE TEARLING: A BOOK REVIEW

The Queen of the Tearling Book One
Written by: Erika Johansen
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Language: English
April 2015
Genre: Fantasy/Dystopia/Young Adult

Magic, adventure, mystery, and romance combine in this epic debut in which a young princess must reclaim her dead mother’s throne, learn to be a ruler—and defeat the Red Queen, a powerful and malevolent sorceress determined to destroy her.

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.


+++++++++++++

“Here is Glynn Queen, here is Red Queen,
One to perish beyond recall,
The Lady moves, the witch despairs,
Glynn Queen triumph and Red Queen fall.”


Invasion of the Tearling has been on my TBR shelves for a while because I mistakenly thought it was the first volume when I first bought it. I finally got around to picking up the first of the series this month. Sometimes I read a book that everyone loves and I could hardly finish. Other times I have read books that I thoroughly enjoyed and other people vehemently do not like. Queen of the Tearling is one of those books.

Kelsea Raleigh has lived with her guardian foster parents in hiding far from prying eyes ever since her mother, Queen Elyssa Raleigh, died. One day she knew that she would become Queen. Today is that day. It is time to come out of hiding. Not all the books in the world could prepare her for what she is facing. The witch Red Queen of Mortmesne wants her dead as does her corrupt uncle Thomas, the Raleigh Regent. She knows nothing of her kingdom’s current state as so many things have been kept from her. For example, for years her corrupt Uncle has been sending Tearling citizens as slave cargo to the Red Queen in Mortmesne.

But the new Queen has allies in the Queen’s Guard and the powerful Tear sapphire that hangs around her neck. She may have been sheltered, but she was raised to be badass, to be sympathetic, to be kind, but to also do what was necessary. She is now the Queen of the Tearling.

Things I liked: Kelsea is a flawed character. She may be Queen, but how do you prepare for that? Being a Queen is a complicated thing, There is politics, war, money, and sacrifice. How do you be just and fair without alienating, without starting war, without sacrificing the things you are trying to protect?

Kelsea isn’t beautiful or extra svelte. She is kind of plain and normal. In her head she has these ideas of what a Queen should be. A Queen, she imagines, would be beautiful and elegant and she does not consider herself either of these things. At first she imagines her mother was this idealized vision of Queenliness, and yet the more she understands her kingdom she understands that you do not have to be a supermodel to be a hero, to be a Queen, and to know your worth. That is a nice sentiment. In fact, she sees all of her mother’s frivolousness as a weakness to the Kingdom.

I like that Kelsea is strong and stubborn. She is willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of her kingdom. Not a bad start for a new Queen. She is also willing to buck the system. ‘Well that isn’t very Queenly’. Screw that I would like to stay around long enough for it to become Queenly thank you. She is not gorgeous or talented. She is not an exceptional fighter or an expert tracker. She is a book lover who has found herself Queen.

Yay books. Oh yeah, libraries and books may be a frivolous thing to some, but Kelsea recognizes their value. She knows her kingdom will not grow if her citizens cannot read. She knows that she cannot let Alexandria burn without risking and losing so much that may never be regained. So yes, it was a risk and perhaps a stupid risk, but I understood it. I applauded her for it. Of course I also loved seeing some more contemporary authors, nice little shout outs to authors that Johansen loves. Kelsea grows as a character throughout the book (though I believe she has far more to grow). She is a force to be reckoned with and the Red Queen should be scared. Like I said, I liked her.

Most of the supporting cast is far older than Kelsea. I kind of found that refreshing for some reason. Probably because it was different and it is also meant that there was a lack of romance for the win. In this way Kelsea gets older brothers and sisters instead of a bevy of love interests. Sure Kelsea notices the blokes…she has eyes and may be drawn to the rogue (aren’t we all), but the romance isn’t there. Most of the men surrounding her are many years her senior and are more like uncles and father figures. Plus they are focused on keeping her alive. This is about Kelsea becoming a Queen and not falling in lurve. Granted I think that romance will factor in by the end of the Trilogy, but it is not a focus like so many books are. It made me very happy.

Mace (Lazarus) is such a great character. He, too, is flawed. For all of his badass-ness, he is blind to the traitor in their midst until it is almost too late. The dynamics between he and Kelsea are great. As they are with the other characters. Yay Pen, Mace, and the Fetch.

I was and still am intrigued by the Red Queen. Who is she really? How did she get her magic? Why is she so scared? She is evil for sure, but not as one dimensional as I expected her to be. Though there are other characters that did not live up to my expectations (I will get to that in a bit).

One of the things I both liked and hated was the setting. At first I thought I was reading your average fantasy, then a dystopian fantasy like Shannara. This is the future and yet it is not. After the mysterious Crossing technology apparently vanished. Printed books are rare, horseback is common. Feels like more of a second Dark Age. I will admit that sometimes the confusing setting took me out of the story because I couldn’t fully realize where they were. Should I be seeing ruins of skyscrapers? Are they in a castle? How big are the eagles? Not Roc sized, but bigger than your average red-tailed hawk? What was the Crossing? How did magic come into the world? Is it magic? Where exactly is this new land on my current world map? What are the architectural highlights? What are people wearing? Like I said the world building is both confusing and interesting. In the end I am not sure what the setting is. My theory is that Tear created a tear to another world or dimension after technology destroyed humanity or some sort of cataclysm. I guess I will have to keep reading to figure it all out.

I was entertained. There was the right amount of intrigue and action for me. I enjoyed it enough that I recommended that the Rogue read it so that we could discuss. This is not to say that I didn’t roll my eyes at some of the plot holes and inconsistencies. But I have read far worse. In fact, for the first time in a long time, I couldn’t finish a book last month because it was so bad. I was surprised when I saw some lengthy rants about this book and how bad it was. Shocked as I had enjoyed it, but there are some who really, really did not. I understand though. I abhor the Twilight books (aha there is another book I couldn’t finish because it was so bad), but there are many readers who love them. To each their own. Thankfully there are many books.

Like I said, it is not the best ever, but I liked it. I am excited to read the next book. The story was entertaining, the world building both interesting and confusing (I will get back to that later), and the characters engaging. There is political intrigue, action and adventure, and some lovely magic.

Things I didn’t like so much: Of course I am not a fan of comparisons. This is not the next Hunger Games or Game of Thrones. When you make comparisons people get expectations and when things don’t live up to those expectations it is never a good thing. This is a YA political fantasy that feels like it was written to be a TV show or a movie series primarily due to both the third person narrative and the flow of the overall book.

The third person narrative mostly focuses on Kelsea though occasionally we will head over to the Red Queen or even a gate guard now and again. This choice of storytelling does not make it very personal which is why it feels like a novelization of a TV or movie script. Like I said it was like watching a movie instead of getting any real character development. I don’t get to really relate to Kelsea. I don’t get to see the turmoil rattling inside her brain and I love that stuff. It makes me feel like I am missing something which is unfortunate.

As I said earlier I do have some character gripes. I wanted her Uncle to be more villainous as there was such a big build up for him. He ends up being a pathetic ageing puppet who believes that everything is just SO unfair now that Kelsea has returned. I don’t even know how Thomas stayed in power. Seriously, how he managed not to be offed by a power hungry noble or upstart is beyond me. He is so weak that the Red Queen would have had no problem just coming in and conquering. Why didn’t she?

I also took a little issue to a scene in the first part of the book where the Queen’s Guard (who is hiding from a band of assassins and trying to make sure that their new Queen makes it to her coronation) decides that being loud, getting drunk, and leaving the very thing they have sworn their lives and loyalty to by herself. Yeah come on guys. I know it was to show how much of a fish out of water Kelsea was, how she has to earn their respect, give them all more character, yada, yada, yada…but really guys?

There are also some annoying tropes that had me rolling my eyes a bit. All of the nobles are evil rich bastards. The Church is completely corrupt. There also wasn’t a ton of diversity though no real concrete descriptions on much of the Tearling so in my head I made them diverse.

Oddly these gripes weren’t enough to make me dislike the book. I just hope that Invasion of the Tearling is a bit tighter.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. Or at least pick it up from the library. I would like to hear what you thought about it.

Part of: Trilogy

Also Recommended: For more strong ladies try Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Cold Magic by Kate Elliott, Rose Daughter or Beauty by Robin McKinley, Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas, Legend by Marie Lu, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, and the Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.

3 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

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