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Friday, May 22, 2015

The Queen Of The Tearling by Erika Johansen (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman & Joshua Redlich)

Official Author Website
Order Queen Of The Tearling HERE (US) and HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Erika Johansen grew up and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She went to Swarthmore College, earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and eventually became an attorney, but she never stopped writing. The Queen of the Tearling is her first novel.

OVERVIEW: Kelsea Raleigh has never known anything but for the cottage she was raised in and the kindly man and stern woman who raised her. That, and the fact that she is heir to the Tearling throne.

After her mother, Queen Elyssa Raleigh, died, Kelsea was sent into hiding to be protected and taught until her nineteenth birthday, when she would be returned to the castle and assume her role as queen. Now that day has finally come, and she is swept up into an unknown world, friendless and utterly ignorant of the current state of her kingdom, without the slightest notion of what she is supposed to do. Meanwhile, both her own uncle, the current Raleigh Regent, and the Red Queen of Mortmesne, a powerful witch queen, want to see her dead, and her only protection is a Queen’s Guard with a known traitor amongst its rank and the Tear sapphire, a mysterious amulet with unknown abilities.

With limited resources and such formidable enemies, can Kelsea hope to protect her kingdom from the Red Queen’s army, or will she be nothing but the cause of even more destruction?

FORMAT: The Queen of the Tearling is Erica Johansen’s debut novel and the first in her Queen of the Tearling series. It is a 448 page YA political fantasy written in the third person, and it comes complete with a map of the world and fourteen titled chapters split between thee parts. The book was published in North America by Harper on July 8, 2014. It is now available as a hardcover, trade paperback, e-book, and audiobook.

ANALYSIS (Cindy):I will admit I wasn't exactly sure what I was walking into when I decided to read The Queen of the Tearling. Was I reading an epic adult fantasy? Was it YA novel? Add into the fact that this novel (by the time I read it) already had tons of 'haters' and bad reviews, and I was certain I was walking into a world of hurt. Surprisingly, that isn't what happened.

I'm just going to come out and say this. I enjoyed The Queen of the Tearling. Sure, it didn't blow me away and I would hardly label it 'best fantasy novel ever', but I enjoyed it. The plot was engaging, the world building was alright, and there was enough action, adventure, political intrigue, and mystery to keep me reading. Of course, it isn't a perfect book either and it does have some problems.

Before I go any further, I do think the issue of it being compared to The Hunger Games needs to be addressed. I saw multiple references to The Hunger Games and even on the flap of the book it says it is 'like' The Hunger Games. There is nothing akin to Hunger Games about this book. If you are going in expecting to walk out with the same feeling you did with The Hunger Games or even read a book that is remotely similar, you're asking for trouble. There is a constant need to compare books to each other and try to find a similarity between them. The Hunger Games is still what is considered hot and popular, so every book tries to ride that excitement. Unfortunately, it sets a lot of people up for disappointment. This is just one of the many examples of 'Hunger Game' hype disappointment.

I do understand the need to compare books to each other to give readers some idea of what to expect, but in this situation The Hunger Games is so off from this book that it creates problems. My recommendation is to read it and give it a try before you make a decision. Just don't expect "you know which book".

Now, what did I like about The Queen of The Tearling? There was a lot that I enjoyed. I found the main character, once I got to know and understand her, intriguing and captivating. I found her supporting cast diverse. One of the elements that I really enjoyed was although the supporting cast was theoretically many, many years older than our main heroine of the story, they all gelled together nicely. It was like one big, oddly unique family.

Another element I really enjoyed was the library element. Seriously, any book that incorporates secret libraries or encouraging society to read, I love. I did find the way the author paid tribute to some of the modern day authors/books fun. It may have only been a sentence or two here or there, but I felt it was a nice touch and a great way to honor authors/books that inspired people's love of fantasy.

There were some flaws with this debut volume. One of the biggest issues I had was it appeared that the book at times was unnecessarily mean/evil/gritty. I've read gritty books and there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. The grittier scenes just seemed forced and really unnecessary. For example, there were several references to rape and detailed sex/killing scenes that just seemed, there to be there.

Another issue I ran into was the author's rather obvious attempts at world building. I wouldn't go as far as to call them info-dumps, but they were pretty close to it. There were many times where there'd be a break in the action or adventure to tell lengthy history stories, explain the layout of the land, talk about the society's government, or other issues. It really disrupted the flow of the story.

When I first found myself reading The Queen of the Tearling, I wasn't sure I would enjoy it. I found as the rather fast-paced book moved on, I was really sucked into the book and just could not stop reading. By the end, I was a fan and honestly could not wait until the next installment. I'll be anxiously awaiting book two to see what happens and what is in store for us.

ANALYSIS (Joshua): There is definitely much to love about The Queen of the Tearling, from a protagonist with refreshingly plain features and a heavier build that helps prove how unimportant size and looks really are to a mysterious, magical talisman with incredible powers that readers can only begin to fathom by the end of the book. Yet one of the parts of the book that I found most fascinating was the legendary Crossing.

This historical episode, which marks the coming of Kelsea’s ancestors to the Tearling, is mentioned various times throughout the book, but it is never elaborated on. At first I didn’t mind, as I envisioned the crossing as just a voyage from one country to another, and I was only slightly curious about the former living situation. But then, about halfway through the book, Johansen provides slight details, such as a complete collection of Rowling (aka the Harry Potter books) that survived the Crossing, that make readers realize the book takes place not in an alternate world but in the future. What happened to initiate the Crossing, what the Crossing actually was, and how magic suddenly became something that exists all remain a mystery, but these questions alone are enough of an incentive to invest in book two of the series.

As a fantasy centered around a government infrastructure and inter-kingdom relations, I was expecting the book to be a slow read, but The Queen of the Tearling actually moves along quite nicely, both because there is a fair amount of action mixed in with the political scenes and because the politics is actually not all that complex. There is a corrupt church, a neighboring, ill-intentioned witch queen, a people that have practically given up hope in their monarchy, and that’s pretty much it. In some ways, this was actually a bit of a disappointment, particularly when the beginning chapters did so much to build up the power and evil of Kelsea’s uncle, the Raleigh Regent, only to have him prove to be nothing but a spoiled, ignorant man who is quickly disposed of. I would almost consider the book to be a Game of Thrones primer. Readers new to this sort of fantasy will enjoy it immensely, but others may be left wanting for more.

Another aspect of the book that I have mixed feelings about is the chapter openers, which are all excerpts from texts that exist in the world of the Tearling. Yet while most fantasies that incorporate excerpts such as these use them to reveal something from a book written long ago, these are all from books published after Kelsea’s rise as Queen of the Tearling. As such, it practically gives away the outcome of the war between her and the Red Queen from the get-go. While I cant say that the ending isn’t obvious anyway (I mean, people don’t write stories about characters who fail), these excerpts don’t really add much to the story.

CONCLUSION: Overall, The Queen of the Tearling, while not as complex as I expected it to be as a political novel, was beautifully written and paced perfectly, keeping me interested and invested throughout with just the right amount of action and suspense mixed in with the political intrigue and world building. The primary characters, particularly Kelsea, are all highly well-realized, and the world is one that is so incredibly interesting that if there weren’t already so many reasons to continue the series, that alone would compel me to do so. Anyone who enjoys character-driven narratives with mysterious, magical artifacts and a unique fantasy world to boot should be sure to add this to their reading list.


Tristan said...

So you're saying it's like the hunger games.

Cindy said...

Sure it is. In that it has a female lead character and there is some death in it. :).

I read it before I read the flap of the book and was like 'There was no Hunger Games here!', but to each their own.

The Reader said...


Yup everything but that :)


lian92 said...

slavery, human trafficking instead so its more like GoT/ASOIAF

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