The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen is a new YA epic fantasy novel which tells the story of Kelsea Raleigh Glynn who must reclaim her birthright of the Tear throne. To do this she must survive plots against her by her uncle, the Regent, and take a stand against the Mort Queen to protect her people. The fantasy is quite subtle in this book, unlike HarperCollins’ publicity machine which has been seriously promoting this book. This has been helped by the fact that Emma Watson has bought the film rights to the book and intends to play Kelsea in an upcoming movie adaptation. In all honesty, I cannot say that the hype was justified – I had a few significant issues with the book. But first of all let’s say what I liked.
What I liked
The protagonist. From various interviews by Erika Johansen I have read it appears she has set out to create a YA protagonist who was more of an Everygirl rather than your typical YA heroine; stunningly beautiful with attractive young men fighting over her attentions while she runs a marathon and slays a few baddies before breakfast. In that respect I believe Johansen succeeded in this. Her Kelsea is rather homely, carries a little extra weight, would rather curl up with a good book than hike through the forest, and is refreshingly free (so far) of romantic entanglements.
Social conscience. I also appreciated that Kelsea has a strong social conscience. She acts the way she does not merely because she is forced into situations by circumstances but because she genuinely wishes to do what’s best for her people.
Interesting supporting characters. The characters Kelsea meets on her journey are wonderfully intriguing. I look forward to reading more about The Mace and The Fetch, and I suspect we’ll hear more of Barty and Carlin’s backstory before the end of the series.
What I didn’t like
Inconsistent characterisation. I was especially irritated that Kelsea seemed to be able to assess quickly and accurately the people she meets on her journey. This is a young woman who has grown up in near isolation for her own protection. While she has read a lot and has been well taught by Carlin, it seems rather unlikely to me that someone who hadn’t encountered many other people in her life would be able to judge them so accurately and consistently. I suppose I might give her a pass on that with her training and the possible influence of the magical jewels, but still, it didn’t sit easily with me.
The worldbuilding. This for me was by far the weakest part of the book. The important part of any worldbuilding is that it should be logical and consistent within its own framework. In the case of The Queen of the Tearling that is not the case. From the blurb, I gathered that William Tearling and his followers had left from our modern day world to colonise a new landmass that had appeared and to found a new utopia. I was left with the question what was this utopia supposed to consist of? What was their aim? This appears to have been a planned exodus and not a last minute flight from disaster – the colonists had time to choose and pack books and other resources. Too often I felt Johansen was trying to shoehorn modern references into a typical epic fantasy mediaeval world with little justification or explanation. I just could not suspend my disbelief in a world where people understand recessive genes, in which the Harry Potter novels survive, but the colonists have not yet developed a basic combustion engine or remastered electricity. It’s not as if the Crossing happened twenty years ago; it’s been three centuries since William Tear left our world. Or were they too busy trying to recreate Harry Potter’s butterbeer to think about electricity? We humans are resourceful and inventive creatures; surely in three hundred years we would have progressed beyond the society Johansen describes?
Perhaps I am missing some key explanation that was given that makes all this make sense. If I have, please do let me know.
If you are interested in a post-apocalyptic epic fantasy world with oblique modern day references it is far better executed in Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire series.
I gave The Queen of the Tearling three stars out of five.