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Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen


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.

My thoughts

When I started reading The Queen of the Tearling I didn’t have very high expectations. Kelsea is described as plain and insecure and I was afraid she would be a rather annoying character. This book was full of surprises though, Kelsea not annoying but an interesting main character and her story captivating.

Kelsea is quite insecure at first which is understandable considering that she grew up secluded for 18 years, but that changes fast. Mostly she is a clever girl and acts naturally, as if she has been queen all her life. She knows what she wants and lets no one talk her down.
What I didn’t like about her though was how she thought about looks. She is insecure about her looks and thinks herself plain, which was understandable in my opinion, because she grew up only meeting two people all her life and knowing about her beautiful mother. Then the first guy near her age she meets tells her that she is too plain for his taste. Those thoughts weren’t annoying because they made sense but a few made me really angry. Like when she sees an old man who she does not only describe as “the ugliest creature she has seen in her life” but also thinks “Finally someone who makes me look beautiful.” or something like “she saw now that there was something far worse than being ugly: being ugly and thinking you were beautiful.” Thank goodness there were only a few of these thoughts, maybe two more, or else would have stopped reading the book.
Besides that I really liked Kelsea as a character. I also loved her relationship to her guards. Not only did she have some interesting characters as her protectors but they often made me laugh out loud.
Add to that some interesting POVs who give different insights into what life is like and the different players in this deadly game Kelsea is thrown into.

I still don’t know what to think of the worldbuilding. On the one hand I liked it because it was so refreshing to read about a different kind of world. This story is set in this strange new world that came to be after an environmental catastrophe in our very own world. This means they have magic but lost all modern things, like our technology and medicine. It also means they know about books like Harry Potter. The idea is great, I really loved it but on the other hand it was just kind of weird. I just can’t imagine to suddenly have magic in our world. Reading about things like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings is so unusual it took me some time to get used to it. I also wished there had been more details about The Crossing and how this land came to be. I often felt like I was missing something and was a bit confused sometimes.

What surprised me was how violent this sometimes was and the mature content of this book. I thought this would be a YA book (even though Kelsea is 19) and when I read “A female-oriented Game of Thrones” I thought that just meant it is about a kingdom in an epic fantasy world, a fight for a throne but without any of the violence, at least not as we know it from GoT. I was wrong though. This book is definitely for a more mature audience. Slavery is a major topic of this book, rape is also mentioned multiple times and a lot of this happening to small children.
The same goes for the language. E.g. you get to read about a girl who was sold by her parents at age 14 and now “gets to lick another girl’s cunt” for the pleasure of the man who bought her.

What I liked a lot is the lack of romance, something very rare. Kelsea meets a guy she seems to have a crush on but that’s all there is. She has way more important things to think about and the story solely concentrates on those.

Even though there are a few things I didn’t like, I still enjoyed reading this book a lot. The Queen of the Tearling was surprising in many ways, often even shocking, tells the story of a great MC and seems to be the start of an epic new fantasy series. I hope we learn more about the Crossing in the next book and I can’t wait to see what happens next in this fight for a throne.

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  • I had the same thoughts about Kelsea. I really liked her, but those shallow moments bothered me a little. I could understand her insecurity and envy for beautiful woman, but sometimes she was a bit too mean. The world-building is a mess, haha. A good mess, that’s for sure, but we need more information in the sequel. I have no idea in what time it’s set.

    This book mostly surprised me, because another girl was reading it at the same time and she absolutely hated it. And the lack of romance was wonderful! I loved that, because it gave the story enough time to develop instead of focusing on something that is not the most important aspect here.

    Great review :)

  • Whoa, this sounds like a great book!

    I didn’t know this book existed and then everyone was reading it and I was like ‘Wha-?’ Ha ha but from your review, I’m sure I’ll have my qualms about it but in the end, I’ll probably enjoy it a whole lot more.

    Not sure about Kelsea though but I like that this isn’t strictly YA since Kelsea in 19.

    I love that the world-building is refreshing! I’ve been drawn to books with awesome world-building lately (Daughter of Smoke and Bone and the Grisha trilogies, for instance) and I want more.

Jul 04, 2014