Series: The Queen of the Tearling #1
Published by Harper Collins on July 8, 2014
Genres: adult, dystopian, fantasy, historical
Pages: 448 pages
Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • Goodreads
Magic, adventure, mystery, and romance combine in this epic debut in which a young princess must reclaim her dead mother’s throne, learn to be a ruler—and defeat the Red Queen, a powerful and malevolent sorceress determined to destroy her.
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.
Have you read The Queen of the Tearling yet?
If not: stop what you are doing immediately; do not pass Go; do not collect $200. Just go read The Queen of the Tearling.
You will not regret it.
I’m really bummed that I didn’t read it sooner. (And didn’t read it soon enough to count it among my 2014 favorites, because it definitely is, you guys.) It’s the sort of novel I’m predisposed to like because it features all of the following: lost princesses, a kingdom in turmoil, a tiny bit of romance, and ladies being badasses. And the underlying message is “this is why books are important, you guys.” So, this is all to say: if you like any of all of these things, please go read The Queen of the Tearling, and then join me in biting my nails, squealing like a ten year-old, and making grabby hands for the second book.
Before I get started, I want to mention that this book is adult fiction and not YA. So it might not be appropriate for some of our younger readers.
Here’s the premise: on her nineteenth birthday, Kelsea is taken from the only home and family she’s ever known. She’s the rightful Queen of the Tearling, but has been in hiding since she was a baby. She’s been raised and educated by her foster parents in almost total isolation; not only from other people, but from any real knowledge of both her past and the present fate of her kingdom. It’s time for her to return and reclaim her throne from her greedy uncle, restore order to the land, and protect her people from a neighboring kingdom, Mortmesne, and its queen, with whom they have a fragile and horrible peace.
But the journey to her throne is fraught with peril as Kelsea is a figure of interest to many – her uncle has hired assassins to take her out before she can be crowned, the eeeeevil Queen of Mortmesne is on the alert, and a mysterious intelligence network headed by a noble-ish thief, the Fetch, wants to assess Kelsea’s queenly potential before allowing her to reach the Keep. They have reason to be worried; although Kelsea doesn’t know it, the dead mother she’s idolized made an awful compromise with the Queen of Mortmesne that sends a set number of Tearling subjects a month to Mortmesne as tribute. In return, Mortmesne promises not to invade.
Anyway. Because Kelsea’s foster parents have raised her to be a just queen (thanks to an incredible library, because this book really wants you to know how much books matter), the Fetch and company recognize that Kelsea is just the kind of hero that Gotham deserves AS WELL AS the one it needs, okay?
So, to recap. There is intrigue: spies, murderers, and tricksy plots to dethrone Kelsea abound! There is romance (& just the right amount): Kelsea thinks the Fetch is super dreamy! There is badassery: View Spoiler » upon entering her kingdom, Kelsea puts a stop to sending her people as slaves to Mortmesne, even though she knows it’s likely that Mortmesne will invade and wreak total havoc as a result. « Hide Spoiler. And there is magic! It’s pretty much the perfect fantasy novel.
For those of you who like that sort of thing, I promise – this is the sort of thing you’ll like.
The two aspects of the book I loved most were Kelsea and the world-building. I found Kelsea to be a smart, capable, and strong-minded heroine — but also one who is really believable as a nineteen year-old. There’s so much real tension between her personal feelings and her desire to be a good ruler. For example – she’s attracted to the Fetch, even though she knows he’s basically a criminal; she’s hurt to discover that he thinks she’s plain (but recognizes she’s a badass anyway); and finally, she’s distraught when she finds out her mother wasn’t the queen she thought she was. But although she experiences personal hurt and betrayal, her first concern is always for her country. When she discovers the terms of the Mort Treaty, for instance, her first response is overwhelming loss for her constructed memory of her mother as a first-rate Queen; she feels like a fool. (Which is freaking heartbreaking as a reader, let me tell you. She’s been idealizing her dead mother for years). But Kelsea immediately moves beyond her feelings of personal loss and acts decisively to free her people from Mort Treaty.
If you need yet another reason to like her: Kelsea is ALSO a voracious reader who laments the lack of strong female heroines in literature. (There’s a wonderful scene where she’s searching for a good book for a teenage girl who lives in the palace, and she hands her The Hobbit so that she can eventually get to Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings.)
That brings me to my second favorite part of the book, and the part I’ve been thinking most about – the world-building. At first glance, the book seems like a history fantasy novel set somewhere in the medieval period. But it quickly becomes obvious (at first through small clues, & eventually with a longer, though still incomplete history) that the world Kelsea’s living in is our future. Much of the backstory has yet to be explained, but what we know is that there was this cataclysmic event – The Crossing – and it involved British and American people going somewhere – and en route, much was lost (human life! medical knowledge! other knowledge?). Books are consequently rare and undervalued in Kelsea’s world, but Kelsea’s been raised to value book-learning. (Go team, go!)
What I liked most about this: the novel plays with our expectations of what “the past” looks like (i.e., we’re lured into thinking that Kelsea’s present is somewhere in our past, because it looks the way we expect historical fantasy to look.) But we’re asked to confront that expectation and revise it fairly quickly; I really liked the sense of uncertainty I had while reading the novel about where and when it was set, because it forced me to think about what assumptions I make as a reader. That is to say, how are the ways in which I read historical fantasy different from how I read dystopian literature? What sorts of relationships do I form between my understanding of my own present and my understanding of Kelsea’s present, and how does that differ based on my perception of the novel’s genre? Are we being shown a past or a future? How / why does reading matter; what sorts of stories do we tell ourselves about the past; how do these stories shape our future? I liked the discomfort and uncertainty The Queen of the Tearling made me experience on that front, and I loved the novel’s emphasis on the importance of reading (in challenging how we as readers read the novel, and in emphasizing for Kelsea how important education, literacy, and accessible knowledge are in a healthy society).
So, long story short? Go read The Queen of the Tearling, you all. It’s wonderful. You won’t regret it.
If you’ve read it, what did you think?
P.S. Wendy loved it, too!