Kelsea Raleigh grew up in hiding, training for her future on the throne as Queen of the Tearling. Although she received the best education any fledgling Queen could hope to receive, Kelsea grew up in ignorance of the problems that plagued her realm. She wasn’t surprised when the Queen’s Guard came for her, after all, she was always meant to take the throne back from her uncle. What Queen Kelsea did not anticipate were the dangers she would encounter before she even ascended the throne. Dodging the elite assassins hired by her uncle become the least of Kelsea’s worries when she enters the Tearling capital and discovers the internal chaos and corruption destroying her realm. But even this pales in comparison to the threat of neighboring Mortmesne and its leader, the Red Queen.
Kelsea may have Queen’s blood in her veins and questionably magical sapphires to prove it, but is her cunning and strength enough to save the Tearling from internal chaos, making ready to face the Red Queen’s impending attack? How is Kelsea supposed to rule when she falls victim to pre-Tearling flashbacks, rendering her catatonic for hours? Can the Queen’s Guard set aside its own internal disputes to support Kelsea Raleigh in her attempts to bring justice to her realm? And who is the mysterious, handsome Fetch? Why does he show up precisely when Kelsea needs him most?
The Queen of the Tearling trilogy is being hailed as the YA version of A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones, to you HBO watchers). However, the comparison is not made to belittle Erika Johansen’s work as little more than a rip off. The Tearling‘s similarities lie in its complexity and uncensored approach to medieval-like rule. George R.R. Martin refuses to create wholly good or wholly bad characters, asking questions like: what happens to the realm when the war is over, after the “good guys” win? Johansen’s characters and their motives defy easy categorization. I think what makes this book a YA fantasy novel (rather than high-level fantasy, like Martin’s work) is Kelsea Raleigh’s POV, which naturally leads the reader to root primarily for her cause. However, Tearling‘s hero and her world leans far closer towards Westeros than Hogwarts. Despite initial appearances, there’s few clear good and bad guys in this series.
My main complaint for Tearling was world building. I use was purposefully. Although I was enamored with the story in Johansen’s first installment, I was disappointed in the lackluster and unclear depiction of the Tearling. I was wistfully remembering the fantastic world building of Seraphina or Harry Potter. Then I read the second Tearling installment. As Johansen further reveals the mysterious crossing to the reader, more world building falls into place. I can’t say much more without being spoilery, but I want to suggest being patient with a couple world building holes in the first novel.
Overall, two thumbs up for the Tearling trilogy. Shout out to Hollywood for nabbing film rights and for the rumors that Emma Watson will play Kelsea in the film version!
-Signing off, Jenny Barrows (who is also reading A Song of Ice and Fire and is starting to wonder why her world is so suspiciously fantasy-free)