Kelsea Raleigh has prepared for her future as Queen of the Tearling her whole life. Raised in secrecy after the death of her mother, Kelsea’s isolation ends on her 19th birthday with the arrival of the Queen’s Guard—soldiers sent to protect and escort her to the capital city. The Tearling is in chaos, poorly ruled by Kelsea’s uncle and heavily controlled by the neighboring country of Mortmesne. More alarming is Mortmesne’s sinister ruler, known only as the Red Queen, who will do anything to stop Kelsea from taking the Tearling throne. Facing assassins, outlaws and treachery at every turn, Kelsea must conquer her own doubts about herself in order to reach the capital and face the horrors that await her there.
OK summary over, sounds like your basic fantasy novel, right? Think again! The Queen of the Tearling is full of surprises and originality.
Right from the beginning, Erika Johansen sets her story apart by blending a traditional fantasy setting with a dystopian future. Set in the 24th century, Kelsea’s world seems closer to the medieval past rather than a futuristic society. Founders of the Tearling sailed away from a crumbling world full of corruption (and technology) to forge a new future in a mysterious new land, determined to right the wrongs of the past in a more equal and utopian society. The second novel, The Invasion of the Tearling, gives the reader flashbacks to the troubled 21st century before the famous Tearling “Crossing,” the journey from the old world to the new. It sounds confusing, but Johansen makes this strange fantasy/dystopian combination work with an interesting setting and relatable characters.
Speaking of real and relatable characters, Queen Kelsea is not your average fantasy heroine. Struggling with insecurities about her appearance, Kelsea doesn’t fit into the traditionally thin and beautiful fantasy mold. “Queen Elyssa had been a classic Tearling beauty, tall and blonde and lithe. Kelsea was tall as well, but she was dark in coloring, with a face that could charitably be described as plain. She wasn’t statuesque by any stretch of the word, either; she got plenty of exercise, but she had a healthy appetite too.” Kelsea’s anxieties about her appearance, instead of crippling her with embarrassment, make her all the more determined to prove herself as a capable ruler.
It’s much tougher to find a book about a heroine who doesn’t make heads turn, who must convince the world of her value based on her actions, not her looks.
According to an interview with Johansen, “Because a heroine is pretty, both men and women treat her differently, and so there is an entire set of insecurities and difficulties that she will never have to face or even consider…It’s much tougher to find a book about a heroine who doesn’t make heads turn, who must convince the world of her value based on her actions, not her looks. This is a value system we should be encouraging, and a plain heroine with serious problems interests me much more than a beautiful girl whose biggest problem is having two men fighting over her.”
Kelsea faces neither romance nor love triangles, but politics and treachery. Her subjects are starving and uneducated, the powerful Church has its own plots and war is brewing on the horizon. All these elements create a story that is not only original and interesting, but enormously exciting. Reading the first two books, I got completely absorbed into Kelsea’s world and didn’t want to leave it once the story ended. Johansen releases the third and final volume, The Fate of the Tearling in November, and I don’t know if I can survive the anticipation! Until then, I’ll settle for telling everyone I know about this one-of-a-kind fantasy trilogy.
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Adina enjoys cooking and eating (mostly eating), ranting about books and watching movies with her friends. You can find her working at the West End branch or relaxing in her cozy apartment.