The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling,
Erika Johansen’s debut novel in what is set up to be a series, reads as A Song
of Ice and Fire in which not all of your favorite characters die.  Johansen has an intriguing idea for her
world, and manages the slow reveal well enough to keep readers interested
throughout the novel whether or not they identify strongly with any of the main
characters. 

Nineteen-year-old
Kelsey has known her whole life that she will one day be queen of her country,
The Tearling—if she survives long enough to be crowned.  Johansen takes readers on a merry chase
with Kelsey and her Queen’s Guard, sent to collect her from her foster parents
in an out of the way forest cottage, reminiscent of high fantasy coming-of-age
journeys like Rand al’Thor’s in The Eye
of the World
, or Frodo and Sam’s at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring
Suddenly the outside world is not just a concept, and is a lot more
dangerous than Kelsey could have imagined. 

Johansen
works hard to make Kelsey into a believable female protagonist who doesn’t just
drop into the story being perfect at everything, an effort many readers of
fantasy will appreciate.  Kelsey
develops strong relationships with her guards and other men whom she encounters
in her quest for the throne, which is important because despite a woman being
able to become ruler of the country, in general women are left out of positions
of real importance.  Kelsey earns
esteem by saving poor women from slavery and insulting noble women are selfish
and rude to her.  As Kelsey goes
about righting the wrongs that had been done in her name by her uncle the
Regent and others, her story asks the question, when will a woman ever be good
enough, as she is required to prove herself to the men on whom she depends
repeatedly, especially as she is learning to control the magic that is slowly
manifesting within her.  The Red
Queen, of neighboring Mortmesne, is set up as a foil to Kelsey, ruling through
magic and exercising almost absolute power over all, down to keeping slaves for
her own personal gratification. 

Despite
the interesting world building Johansen has done, she shows some first
novel-itis, as The Queen of the Tearling
seems somewhat unsure how to get from point A to point B, plotwise, and then
what to do when it finally gets there. 
For readers tired of waiting on A Song of Ice and Fire and looking for a
new fantasy series, The Queen of the
Tearling
may do, though as a standalone it doesn’t hold up well.  Readers tired of exclusively
male-driven plots will appreciate the effort Johansen has made to create a
young woman protagonist, and even the questions the story asks—though somewhat
clumsily—about authentic female characters and what it takes to create
them.  The Queen of the Tearling occasionally trips over into grimdark
territory, and readers looking for a bit of “grit” to their fantasy may find
this novel enticing.

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