The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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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.
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Book One of The Queen of the Tearling Trilogy
High Fantasy/Dystopia

2 out of 5 Stars 
The rumored setting of The Queen of the Tearling was intriguing, though perhaps it should have been more of a red flag. Here we have a novel with a typical fantasy setting that takes inspiration from the Middle Ages... and yet it takes place in the future, presumably on Earth. For whatever reason, the British and the Americans made "the Crossing," and sailed to a new "continent" to reestablish society. Our setting is this new society, several generations later, though no advancements seem to have been made. Much knowledge was lost in the journey, and the Tear kingdom has been stalled on any sort of progress. A priest, at one point, comes across a book with a purple cover and remarks upon the color of the dye - apparently, in the many years they've existed on this continent, they've been unable to rediscover how to dye things purple. This gives you an idea of just how hopeless this setting is. Everyone seems to have knowledge of all that was lost in the Crossing, and yet no one seems inclined to try to regain that which was lost no matter how much they long for it.

Within this haphazardly constructed setting, we follow Kelsea Raleigh. Kelsea has been raised in isolation with two assigned guardians. Her mother was once Queen of the Tearling, and decided to send Kelsea away to grow up in safety until she was of age to inherit the throne. At the start of the novel, Kelsea is reclaimed from her secret home by the Queen's Guard and brought back to a kingdom she has never known and is fully expected to immediately become its ruler. Her mother died shortly after sending Kelsea away, and Kelsea's uncle has had the honorable position of Regent in the Queen’s absence. Greedy to keep his power, and gain the true power of a King, her Uncle hopes to kill her before she can ever come into her crown. Her journey to Queendom is filled with assassination attempts, and it seems that the Regent may not be the only one who wants her dead.

Kelsea, as a main character, is interesting. Too often in fiction a female character must be attractive, and female protagonists are quite often driven by romantic plot lines. Kelsea fits neither of those criteria. As a matter of fact, readers are repeatedly reminded that Kelsea is indeed "ugly" and overweight. She is constantly told by men that she isn't physically attractive enough for them. While I respect Johansen for allowing her protagonist to have her story without needing to be beautiful and loved by men, the story isn't all that interesting. Kelsea is a very introspective character, and both her characterization and the plot rely almost entirely on her reacting to injustice. The novel is filled with Kelsea's realization that things in her kingdom are absolutely awful, and her attempts to shoddily patch things up. If I'd been more drawn to her character, perhaps this would have been enough to sustain me. That unfortunately wasn’t the case.

Inevitably, I wasn't entirely satisfied with the characters, the setting was too aggravating to allow me full immersion into the world and the plot wasn't all that riveting. I would definitely say that this was a disappointment. I'd also like to add that this is a strange book to market - it has been labeled as YA by many readers and yet most consider it to be something "other". The coming-of-age elements of the story definitely give it a YA feel, but the content doesn't shy away from sex and violence. Regardless, I don't think everyone will feel as harshly about this as I did. This would probably fit best with readers who aren't as critical of world-building as I am and are looking for a unique female protagonist in a world where we seem to have "beautiful" and "romantically involved" on our checklist of things we must be. 

I received an eARC of The Queen of the Tearling in exchange for an honest review.

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