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.
*Blurb taken from Goodreads*
THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING is an interesting mix of fantasy, post-apocalyptic setting, and a coming of age story of a young girl who has to embrace a throne and a troubled kingdom under threat of an invasion. With this premise, I had to check this book out, and overall this was an enjoyable and engrossing read. There were some issues, especially with the world-building, which was pretty weak although interesting for me. However, I really liked the heroine, Kelsea, who is thrust into the centre of intrigue, assassinations and danger. I really felt that the author captured the themes of the New Adult subgenre with the themes she explored with this book.
The book opens up when Kelsea is called upon by the Queen’s Guard, who are her deceased mother’s bodyguards, to leave her foster parents cottage and to embrace her heritage of being The Tearling Queen. Kelsea has become of age to sit on the throne, which is currently held by her uncle who is the regent caretaker. He’s allied with the enemy of their kingdom, the Red Queen, who has demanded tribute of thousands of Tearling citizens. Kelsea is seen as an interloper and a danger to their plans. This makes Kelsea’s quest to be crowned queen dangerous, and she faces assassination and kidnap attempts by various factions on her journey to the capital. That made for an exciting and fast pace introduction to the story.
I really liked Kelsea who is pretty ordinary and plain, and a has a real love of books and a fun sense of humour. There are some great scenes with humorous dialogue exchanges between her and the guards which helped to create a fun chemistry which I found relatable. I didn’t understand the emphasis on the themes of beauty. I found Kelsea to be insecure; she was not beautiful and there was a lot of focus on her physical appearance. Throughout the book, there were lots of mentions of being beautiful which was seen to be a flaw because her mother who was regarded to be very attractive. frivolous and superficial. It was one of the reasons why the kingdom became enslaved under the Red Queen’s influence. I found this a bit disconcerting and off-putting because the message behind this seemed one dimensional and a bit heavy handed.
Another aspect that I had issues with is the world-building, I was very confused whether this was set in a fantasy or an alternate world. But it was only a bit further into the book that I realised that this was set during a post apocalyptic world where the survivors had to journey to new lands across the ocean to restart society. Society had devolved into this semi medieval/feudal society with a lot of previous technology and knowledge which was lost. This was an interesting and intriguing premise, however, it was very vague and I was left very frustrated in the lack of the world-building making sense, especially when magical elements were introduced. Kelsea is given two magical pendants which is part of the heritage of being the Tearling Queen, and they do aid and influence her in many ways. Nonetheless I think this aspect of the story would have worked better if the world was set in a real fantasy setting than a post apocalyptic world because it really didn’t make sense in a lot of ways for me.
I was also not a fan of the trope of the main character who “must not be told of important things to keep them safe.” In this case, keeping Kelsea in the dark about the secrets surrounding her heritage and her family’s past didn’t make sense. I really loathe this trope because it didn’t help her prepare in the daunting task to rule a troubled kingdom and it didn’t help to evolve her character or the plot if she did know of these facts beforehand. I also found the pacing of the book a bit uneven despite the strong start in the beginning, but I didn’t mind this because the strength of the characterisations and the plot kept me engrossed into the story and I hope the world-building becomes more fleshed out in the sequels.
There was also a hint of a very subtle romance being set up. I loved the introduction of one of the faction leader called Fetch who kidnaps Kelsea and one of her guards and he becomes a mysterious player towards her path to being queen. He was very ambiguous and enigmatic and there was some potential chemistry between him and Kelsea and I really hope this gets developed further in future books. But I liked that the focus for the story was on Kelsea’s growth and exploring the coming of age theme which really is focused as the main plot of this book. She really grows and becomes more assertive in a world where she is surrounded by men who disbelieve in her visions like her personal lead guard, Mace, or the different factions like the Church, or the slaver courtier Thorne who wants to retain their power and profit over the kingdom. I really liked that she uses her wits as well as her stubborn will to rebel against their dictates or plots. It was also really interesting to see that her opposing foe is the Red Queen, another woman who has managed to grasp and keep power with magic and the set up between their adversarial positions will create a fantastic dichotomy especially in the sequels which I really looked forward to.
Overall, THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING was an enjoyable start to a trilogy that promises to be epic in scope. I love the themes in the book which was truly New Adult; the coming of age with Kelsea discovering herself with what kind of queen she yearns and wants to be. I also liked that the focus on the story was on Kelsea herself and fitting into her role which I found refreshing. Although I had issues with the weak worldbuilding, Erika Johanson has created an intriguing world with engaging characters which is dark and chilling but with hints of humour and light. I will definitely be checking out the next book in this trilogy!
I give THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING a B/B+