“Time stretched years back and years forward, but nothing that came afterward ever had the power to wash away what came before.”
The Queen of the Tearling is a YA Fantasy novel written by Erika Johansen where we get to follow the story of Kelsea Raleigh/Glynn, a princess to be made queen in a kingdom called the Tearling. After her mother´s death, she was taken to be brought up in a small cottage. But, on her 19th birthday, things change and Kelsea faces new challenges as she is taken to New London so she can ascend the throne.
Going into this book, I didn´t have that much in mind for what it would be like. I had seen a fair amount of good reviews but also some 3-star ones so I didn´t set my expectations too high which it turns out was probably a wise choice. All in all, I thought the book was okay but I definitely have some problems with it as well.
THE REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT
So, let´s start by checking off my dislikes, that being pacing, worldbuilding, certain jokes and the topic of beauty in this book.
Firstly, this book feels like it´s a lot longer than it actually needs to be and the pacing (except for the last 100 pages where it gets better) could definitely use a kick in the butt in my opinion. While I really liked Johansen’s writing (her descriptions and techniques I have nothing to fault on), much of the book felt like it dragged a little and it wasn´t until about the 200/630-page mark that I felt I was past the introduction. You might argue that some might be able to pull this off with a big and rich enough world and/or plot which brings me to my next point.
The worldbuilding and background for the magic are probably my two main problems in the book. If I´m to be really harsh, I´d even argue they are non-existent. We find out that some person named William Tear once brought a bunch of people to this place called the Tearling and there´s a few other countries around it (which I believe are all called “the New World”) but there is NO INFORMATION WHAT SO EVER as to where this Tearling place is – just that it´s on earth and has random connections to America and England – and even such a simple thing as building the world with scenery and descriptions of their surroundings is done very sparingly, resulting in something very flat and quite frankly, plain confusing. The magic has the same problem as it occurs very conveniently and while I like the idea of how it works and the abilities given to the sapphires Kelsea has, there is no background or anything as to how this works or -again- where it comes from. At least when it comes to the magic this could still be explained in the later books.
When it comes to some of the things we do know about the world and the society in the Tearling, it´s that it´s very harsh and while it´s supposed to be in the future, because of the wars that have raged their ways and technology are set back and look almost like something of the middle-ages. While I´m fine with that, I was surprised to see how mentionings of rape and raiding felt kind of thrown in there for some kind of sensationalism. I think it can be fine writing something where those things exist and it can even be helpful if your trying to deal with social problems, historical information or something like that but for the most part it just didn´t feel like it quite belonged here. Instead of pushing a message or setting a certain tone, it just kind of left a strange taste in your mouth. There is even one point where Kelsea is stuck with the Fitch and she jokes about him having impregnated her in her sleep (basically making a rape joke) which just infuriated me and confused me.
Another quote Johansen managed to confuse me with was this one Kelsea gets in her head as she sits before the nobles of New London:
“Kelsea saw now that there was something far worse than being ugly: being ugly and thinking you were beautiful.”
Okay, can we just step away from this – without even considering the context of the book – and marvel at an author putting this in a book made for young adults. What happened with empowering people, empowering and promoting people being who they are and loving who they are no matter what? What happened to beauty not being everything and focusing on the personality – even if the particular character she speaks about doesn´t have much – and the other qualities of a person?
And even if one would want to argue that the society they live in value beauty more and etc. etc, not even that argument holds up if you ask me. The theme of beauty and it´s importance has been quite obviously put into the book as Kelsea is supposed to be this very plain and even bordering-on-ugly girl who still is made the queen. Towards the end of the book, before Kelsea´s crossing and the whole “showdown”, she even has to cut her hair – making her even more “ugly” – but she is still just as respected, just as powerful and her personality and desire for justice is the same, so what is that quote doing here?
But, looking away from all that, there were still some points in the book that I really did like, that being the premise, the magic in itself, Kelsea’s personality and the fact that the plot isn´t revolving around her having to find herself a king or prince or lover to rule her kingdom.
The premise of this story is really good and I really loved the idea of a story about a young girl becoming queen who wanted justice and who wanted to empower women and get her people back on the right track after all the bad decisions her mother made. I also really love the idea of her jewels having these powers and giving her visions – but both kind of fall because of the execution of the story which I think is just a pity.
Kelsea, as a character, was also something that I actually really enjoyed. I think she felt a little different from a lot of the endless YA heroines that exist today. She already knew she was going to become queen and she´s not just described as plain because she´s ~secretly~ the most beautiful girl in the country. She just happens to not look like a model and that is totally fine which I think was really nice (obviously not counting that quote she made…). I also really like how headstrong she was and how she really fought to have books brought into the castle for all her servants and herself to read so she can some day distribute them back to the common people, even if the whole main-character-who-happens-to-love-books is a little cliché.
One last thing I liked – and that was likely what pulled me through these 630 pages – was Johansen’s writing and technique. While I think she has work to do with worldbuilding and scenery, the things she does describe are done so beautifully. She has a nice flow in her language and I think her use of symbols was really nice. It´s a bit of a theory of my own but I don´t think William Tear being so similar to Noah´s arc and Kelsea being a kind of symbol for justice was made accidentally.
Then again, studying literature can just sometimes make you look into things a little too deep… 😉
So, all in all, I did like it, but because of the problems I had with it and the pacing it brought the whole thing down a little for me and stopped me from enjoying it quite as much as I felt I could have. It´s made me curious enough to read the second book, but I´m probably not going to rush to my computer and kindle store to get it.