Book Review: The Queen of the Tearling (The Tearling Trilogy Book 1) by Erika Johansen (published by Bantam Books)
This fantasy novel was a good, solid read. There seems to be some debate about whether this is adult fantasy as there are adult themes including graphic violence and lots of swearing (towards the end) but the plot is quite simplistic and the main character is nineteen so it does feel like a young adult novel. Either way, I wouldn’t say it wowed me and I found some parts of it odd / unnecessary / slow, but I enjoyed it and, for the most part, liked the author’s writing style.
It tells the story of nineteen-year-old Kelsea Raleigh, who was secretly shipped off to two foster parents in a cottage in the middle of nowhere when she was a baby to protect her from everyone who wants to kill her. The book opens as she has come of age and is being picked up by the old Queen’s Guard to travel to the capital and claim her title and position as the Queen of the Tearling. However, her uncle, the current Regent, doesn’t want her to have it. The nasty witch Queen from a neighbouring country, Mortmesne, also doesn’t want her to have it and neither does the slave trader who makes lots of money from the system as it runs currently.
Kelsea has to survive assassination attempts, kidnapping and the simmering hatred of most of her wealthy subjects (thankfully the poor love her). The intrigue (just who is Kelsea’s father? How did her mother die? And just who is The Fetch?!), political wrangling, relationships between characters and the likable/believable character of Kelsea kept me reading this novel, although there isn’t all that much action. The new Queen is honest, tries to do the right thing, wants to aid her poorer subjects, isn’t frivolous or vain and learns more about her mother as the book progresses, much of which doesn’t show the woman in the best light, and I liked how Kelsea dealt with this.
A few things though really irritated me about this book. Namely the weird, unnecessary, backstory to the setting which jarred massively for me. Apparently this world is some kind of future dystopia from our current world, and the forefathers sailed across some sea (never mentioned which sea AARRGH) and set up home in the current land (never mentions where that land is in relation to the earth as we know it AARRGH) and now there is magic. Did the nasty Red Queen come with them or was she already there? Why are there three countries when they all sailed together? I think the worldbuilding was strong enough without the references to The Hobbit and Rowling, America and drug addicts etc. It was odd that there’s no gunpowder, doctors or medicine, printing press and that schooling hasn’t survived BUT they all have contraception readily available – whaaat?
Also, I enjoyed the writing in most part, but there were a few times that I nearly threw this book at the wall in frustration. Firstly – all the dog references. Here are a few:
-‘Three men […] watched Thomas with a predatory, waiting quality, like dogs that had brought something to bay.’
- ‘Pen sat beside her […] Although it was an unkind comparison, Kelsea thought of a faithful dog, one with a light tread.’
- ‘…the fire was Mace’s doing […] like living with a rogue dog that might slip its lead at any moment…’
- ‘“I like watching you think. It’s like watching two dogs fight in a pen.”’
Seriously, is the Tearling overrun with dogs and that is the only thing Kelsea / the citizens can relate to? It made me physically grimace every time I read ‘like a dog…’ It just seemed like laziness / unimaginative writing to me.
Secondly, the author’s obsession with character’s nipples and what they were doing. Here’s an example from a chapter about the Red Queen: ‘Despite the heat, her nipples had hardened to tiny points, as though she were cold, or excited.’ And then a page or two later: ‘Her nipples were rock-hard now, almost aching…’
What exactly is that telling me about the Red Queen’s mental / physical state? Is she cold or excited or neither? And WHO CARES if her nipples are almost aching – either they are or they are not and from my reading, she is meant to be frightened rather than aroused in this scene, so just plain bizarre. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I rarely stop to think what my nipples are doing in the middle of a tense / scary situation and it really broke the flow of what was otherwise a brilliant scene.
I also think the back cover blurb that implies this book is like a cross between The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones is misleading. I’ve never read The Hunger Games (I have watched all the movies) but I have read all the GOT books (to date!), and I don’t think this is anything like GRRM.
So, in conclusion, I did enjoy this book, despite the niggles I had! And will probably read the next in the trilogy at some point. But I think it would’ve been way better without the references to our present world, which, for me, didn’t add anything other than plot holes, so fingers crossed that the second and third book in the trilogy will clear a few things up!
My rating: 3/5
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**My debut novel, an epic fantasy called MELOKAI, is out now! Available from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Read more about my books here.**
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