Author: Erika Johansen
Genre: fantasy, science fiction
Series: The Queen of the Tearling #1
Published: expected July 8 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
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.
The Queen of the Tearling introduces readers to a world as fully imagined and terrifying as that of The Hunger Games, with characters as vivid and intriguing as those of A Game of Thrones, and a wholly original heroine. Combining thrilling action and twisting plot turns, it is a magnificent debut from the talented Erika Johansen.
If you're going to advertise a novel as the lovechild between Suzanne Collins' popular Hunger Games series and George R. R. Martin's even more popular and extremely long-running A Song of Ice and Fire novels, it had better be an accurate description. And while that pop-culture heavy description does fit The Queen of the Tearling superficially, what follows is a story wholly of author Erika Johansen's creation. It's imaginative and dark, an interesting mix of fantasy and fiction, an engrossing and vivid read filled with a cast of disparate, intriguing, complex characters.
There's a lot to like about The Queen of the Tearling but I am never a fan of the "keep the main character ignorant of important things because reasons" type of plot device. It's in large effect here for main character and newly-emerged Queen Kelsea, ignoring basic common sense -- that people, especially a Queen, cannot adequately prepare for or protect while being kept ignorant ostensibly for her own good. It makes no sense and it cripples both Kelsea and the reader in a myriad of ways. Other than that, I thought the writing is strong and serviceable, if occasionally prone to bouts of telling. Despite the occasional stumble, the novel reads easily and is very hard to put down. If a reader is the type to identify or even love Kelsea, it is nearly impossible to stop reading.
The elements of the story that lend themselves to the comparisons -- the lottery of the populace to be sent as tribute clearly echoes the Districts Reapings, the morally grey and complex characters are reminiscent of Arya, Jaime and Co. from A Game of Thrones, The Red Queen practices many of the same rituals as Melisandre, etc. -- are influential but not the whole of what The Queen of the Tearling has to offer. For one, the worldbuilding is slight but intriguing; the hints that Tearling went from a failed socialist country to a feudal society makes me desperate for more information. The fact that Johansen chose to set her fantasy novel in the future (mentions of America, the Brothers Grimm, "the seven volumes of Rowling", the Bible, etc.) as opposed to the traditional faux-medieval fantasy setting (like GRRM uses) is a daring, imaginative choice. It was one I wasn't too fond of initially, but one that eventually worked surprisingly well for me.
Like Jay Kristoff and his fantasysteampunk Stormdancer series, I think Erika Johansen's debut has the ability to entertain across both genres and ages. I think it would be widely appreciated by readers of adult and/or YA fiction. The characters took the most time to coalesce into more than words on a page for me, but eventually their actions and mentions turned them into real characters... with the notable exception of the real antagonist, The Red Queen of Mortmesne. There's obviously a lot left to explore in both this world and with these characters and their histories, but Johansen feeds you just enough to keep you hungry for more.
The Queen of the Tearling is an impressive and imaginative debut. Erika Johansen feels right home writing this combination of historical fantasy and science fiction, and her first novel ought to be judged on its own merit -- not just constantly compared to other, better-known novels. Read The Queen of the Tearling because it's good, and complicated, and creative. Read it because Erika Johansen is a bright addition to my favorite genre. Read it because I need other people as anxious for book two as I found myself the minute I closed the cover.