The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Series: The Queen of the Tearling #1
An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.
Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom’s haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.
Long ago, Kelsea’s forefathers sailed away from a decaying world to establish a new land free of modern technology. Three hundred years later, this feudal society has divided into three fearful nations who pay duties to a fourth: the powerful Mortmesne, ruled by the cunning Red Queen. Now, on Kelsea’s nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of the Queen’s Guard—loyal soldiers who protect the throne—have appeared to escort the princess on a perilous journey to the capital to ascend to her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling.
Though born of royal blood and in possession of the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea has never felt more uncertain of her ability to rule. But the shocking evil she discovers in the heart of her realm will precipitate an act of immense daring, throwing the entire kingdom into turmoil—and unleashing the Red Queen’s vengeance. A cabal of enemies with an array of deadly weapons, from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic, plots to destroy her. But Kelsea is growing in strength and stealth, her steely resolve earning her loyal allies, including the Queen’s Guard, led by the enigmatic Lazarus, and the intriguing outlaw known simply as “the Fetch.”
Kelsea’s quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun. Riddled with mysteries, betrayals, and treacherous battles, Kelsea’s journey is a trial by fire that will either forge a legend . . . or destroy her.
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THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING is an absolutely amazing book. It should be on everyone’s Must Read list. Simply put, Erika Johansen’s debut is stunning and you will love every single page of it, so much that you won’t be able to put it down. At least that was my experience. I devoured THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING in a single day and my first thought upon hitting the last page was, “How do I get my hands on the sequel?” (The answer, of course, is painful waiting but I’m trying to forget about that for now.)
It’s hard to identify particular elements that standout because the entire novel is amazing. THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING is beautifully written fantasy with strong characters, rich worldbuilding, and lots of political intrigue. I’ve seen Johansen being called the female George R. R. Martin and I think it’s an apt comparison because Johansen is such an amazing storyteller. She may not have the overwhelming number of characters that typify a Martin book but she’s just as gifted as he is when it comes to her craft. The pages flew by as I was reading. I just couldn’t get enough of Kelsea’s journey from a plain girl hidden from the world to the Tear Queen, a role she slowly owns over the course of the novel. Kelsea is tested on every level and her personal development had me captivated.
Of course, it helps that she has a truly menacing foe. The Red Queen is something of a mystery since we only get glimpses into her life but we know that she’s super evil and aligned with dark powers. In her unnaturally long life, she has turned Mortmesne into a terrifying and terrified land, and she’s willing to do the same to the Tear to get her way. She’s more than a match for Kelsea but the Red Queen fears our heroine for reasons that aren’t quite explained in the THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING. Kelsea has these two magical necklaces and I expect we’ll see her learn to use them eventually — and then we’ll understand just why the Red Queen wanted Kelsea dead before she could ascend to her throne.
Each character in THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING is well written and developed. They all have distinct personalities — and the secrets to go with them — and I enjoyed watching Kelsea slowly unwrap some of their mysteries. There are still characters I don’t fully understand but I think that’s part of the fun. It would be a much more boring book if everyone’s motivations were laid out from the first page, don’t you think, especially since Kelsea is taken away from everything familiar at the start of the novel. Instead, there’s a lot of intrigue and plotting, some of which is incredibly obvious and some of which is much more subtle. And it’s the subtle problems that are causing the most issue for Kelsea and her Guard, which makes sense.
Finally, I’d point out that there is no romance in THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING and I’m glad. I love a good romance as much as the next reader but there was no darn time for Kelsea to start making out with someone, and I’m very happy that she didn’t get completely distracted by a boy while her kingdom is under threat. There’s a little moment here or there where you could see something blooming eventually but Kelsea doesn’t focus on finding her true love in the novel. She’s got bigger issues on her mind and I’m glad that she doesn’t dither too much about romance. She does fret a bit about her appearance because her mother was quite beautiful and Kelsea’s rather plain but what teenager doesn’t worry about their looks a bit? I hope she’ll start owning her look as things go on but she makes some steps in the right direction in THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING.
There are a lot of mixed reviews out there (check Goodreads, for example) but I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING. I’d suggest you try the excerpt before buying but only because the book seems to have really polarized the Goodreads crowd. I thought this was a fantastic debut novel and the beginning of an amazing career for Johansen.