Blog Tour: Erika Johansen – The Queen of the Tearling
Length: 448 pages
Started: 14 May 2014
Finished: 23 May 2014
Where did it come from? From TLC Book Tours for review.
Why do I have it? New epic fantasy series!
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 10 April 2014.
Being Queen takes more
than a crown, you have to prove
yourself worthy first.
Summary: Kelsea Glynn has grown up in seclusion, raised by an elderly couple who prepared her to one day become Queen of Tearling. Her mother, Queen Elyssa, had placed Kelsea into hiding before her death, knowing that there would be many forces that wanted to kill her: her brother the Regent, a band of legendary assassins, but above all else, the powerful and mysterious Red Queen of Mortmense. On the day of Kelsea’s nineteenth birthday, however, the Queen’s Guards turn up at the secluded cottage to take Kelsea to the capital, so she can claim her throne. But their path is not easy, for not only must they evade the forces that are seeking to kill Kelsea, but she must claim her throne once she has made it to the capital. And there is still a difference between claiming the throne, and actually being Queen… and Kelsea must deal with the legacy left behind by her mother’s and uncle’s rule, if she hopes to be able to save her country from the Red Queen – and from itself.
Review: I was so excited for this book. We all know that I love me some epic fatty-fat fantasy. (Although at fewer than 450 pages, I guess this doesn’t really qualify as fatty-fat. But it’s a trade paperback, so it’d probably be fatty-fat-ier in mass market paperback form. Anyways. I love epic fantasy, I was excited about an epic fantasy with a central female character (and female chief villain), and the advance buzz on this book has already been quite good. So, I was excited, and went in with pretty high expectations.
That may have been the problem.
This book was good. I enjoyed it. But as I was reading, I couldn’t help thinking about other first-novel-in-a-fatty-fat-epic-fantasy series that I’ve read – things like The Eye of the World, A Game of Thrones, The Name of the Wind, Kushiel’s Dart, The Final Empire, etc. – and unfortunately, the comparisons did not come out in The Queen of Tearling‘s favor, whatever the promotional cover copy might want you to believe. I’ll try to parse out the reasons why those books worked so well, why they sucked me in when this one didn’t, in a minute, but first I want to address the myriad things that this book does well.
The best part of this book is its characters. I liked Kelsea, believed her, believed her struggles to come to grips with who she is and what she has to do and what that means. I liked that she is not perfect, but she’s trying, and learning to live with the consequences. I also really liked the supporting characters – the good guys, at least. There’s obviously a lot of backstory that’s missing, that Johansen has yet to dole out, but watching their characters be revealed through their actions and their stories was also quite interesting. I was less impressed with the bad guys – yes, okay, they’re doing despicable things, but I just didn’t ever get any real sense of danger or menace off of them, even when I was supposed to. (This may be due to Johansen’s choice to head each chapter with a quote from a future history book being written about these events, which make it pretty clear what the eventual outcome is going to be.)
I also liked Johansen’s writing style. She can be very evocative without ever getting bogged down in description, and keeps the action scenes moving and the dialogue snappy. There are some really potent images that she creates throughout the book, starting with the first scene involving of the arrival of “Nine men, ten horses.” The book in general is easy to read, and the prose flows nicely. The story is an interesting one – not a rehash of your standard high fantasy pigboy plot, at least – and has a lot of promising elements. The plotting is mostly quite good as well – it doesn’t contain as self-contained of a story as I’d like for a book in a longer series, but it at least leaves the story at a reasonable place.
My main issue with this book, the best way that I can describe why other epic fantasy novels swept me away and this one didn’t, is that all of the pieces of The Queen of the Tearling didn’t fit together into an organic whole. I’m not sure whether this is due to Johansen’s method of worldbuilding, the nature of the world she’s building, or something else entirely, but whatever it was, it kept me from falling into the story. The world initially seems like a pretty standard medieval swords-and-sorcery one, but it soon becomes clear that this series is set in the future, in a world post-Crossing, a world that has the Christian bible and Tolkien and Rowling. There are hints about what happened during the Crossing, and why Tearling is the way it is, and it’s clear that more of these will be dropped over time, but what we have at the moment doesn’t really fit together into something that makes sense, even in part.
It also struggles a bit with tone – parts of it read as almost YA-esque, particularly the points from the somewhat naïve Kelsea’s POV, but then there will be a f-bomb or a sexual reference or something else that seems gratuitous, since it feels like it’s there mostly to point out that there’s bad things going on. Like, if characters are the type to swear, they’d probably be swearing a lot more than currently do. I’m not opposed to swearing or sex scenes or other R-rated bits, but I feel like they’re used inconsistently here, more for effect than as an organic part of the world. There’s also no explanation of how the magic works, which I’m sure will also be coming later in the series, but for now mostly makes “the magic necklace tells Kelsea what to do” seem like an overly convenient plot device. (And, ugh, please, can we have a respite from the magic jewels that glow like fire when their owners need them? Maybe that – and the overweight princess heroine – are why I kept being reminded of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, although that book is substantially more pro-religion than this one.) It all could pay off in the end, depending on the direction Johansen is heading, but at the moment, that direction is too unclear, and the pieces we have too fragmented to be satisfying.
So, overall, this book was a good read, and I enjoyed it. But it didn’t really live up to my (overly high) expectations, and while I’ll certainly read the sequels, I’m not exactly gasping for them, either. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Fans of epic fantasy, particularly fans of epic fantasy who are tired of male heroes, should enjoy this one, but do your best not to let the over-hyping this book is receiving color your expectations too much.
First Line: Kelsea Glynn sat very still, watching the troop approach her homestead.
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