A review by Nalini Haynes
Queen of the Tearling has a beautiful hardcover dust jacket featuring a dark chocolate background with dusty gold highlights in the illustration superimposed with gold embossed lacework and lettering. Peeling back the dustjacket exposes a matt black hardcover with a ‘seal’ imprinted on the front cover and a reinforced spine with gold lettering. The end pages are a mustard yellow with black ink, revealing tall ships on an ocean with wave in the lower-right corner. The reading pages are high-quality, pleasant to the touch, and just a hint of ‘old book smell’ possibly due to skipping the final bleaching process? Each ‘book’ within is heralded by an illustration reminding me of THAT landscape in the BBC TV series the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; every page number is highlighted with decorative features harking back to older times.
Yeah, I get excited by beautiful books. Don’t you?
Kelsea is approaching her 19th birthday when, traditionally, the women of her line are crowned queen if their predecessor has already been assassinated. Kept in isolation for her childhood with no memories of her parents, Kelsea is about to return to the ruling seat of her land escorted by the Queen’s Guard.
The Regent’s assassins search for Kelsea — hints of Nazgul searching for the one ring — while Kelsea and her protectors ride and hide.
Her guardians kept her ignorant of contemporary politics because Kelsea’s mother made them promise not to reveal mistakes she made as a queen. This was less-than-useful preparation for the Queen-in-Waiting who must learn fast, earn the people’s respect and enter into international politics.
The Red Queen, queen of Mortmesne (think France versus England except they’re not divided by a Channel) invaded Kelsea’s country, Tear, and left after Kelsea’s mother agreed to send a tribute of hundreds of citizens to Mortmesne every month.
Kelsea is outraged. She sets her people free, but at what cost?
Oh, yeah, and Kelsea has a crush. Expect romance later in the series.
This world seems to be Earth but in a new country where the gods raised a new country above the waves (reverse Atlantis?), then sailed to this new land in a one-off journey to settle in the least profitable, least hospitable country while another socialist country, Mortmesne, took all the good land. Although Mortmesne started as a socialist country with liberty and justice for all, the Red Queen took over, expanding her reach throughout this new world like a malevolent spider sitting in the centre of its web.
No successive crossings have been made from the old world. This struck me as extremely odd, a fracture in otherwise excellent world-building. I wonder if Johansen plans for a Pern-like discovery that they’re on another planet, making the ocean crossing apocryphal, but I wouldn’t expect an event like that to fade from memory in a mere 300 years.
Queen of the Tearling has a strong social justice focus and ‘ordinary people’ focus. Kelsea doesn’t consider herself beautiful. Even her close allies are somewhat pointed about Kelsea being overweight, her weight holding her back when training to defend herself. Kelsea’s own ideals are those of social justice, ruling wisely and well, ruling for the people.
Those who molest children, rape and mutilate women — some do — are all unequivocally bad guys. In fact, the bad people tend to be a bit 2 dimensional although the good guys’n’girls can be more complex. The Red Queen allows her servants and allies to molest children, rape and mutilate women although she doesn’t approve. I have a theory about how the Red Queen has extended her life; if I’m right, her disapproval is hypocrisy.
There’s an albino and a ‘gnome of a man’, who are both ‘bad guys’. Of course. None of the good guys have disfiguring features; one of the good guys is even black. But the albino, who serves no purpose to the plot, is companion to a major bad player and she stimulates her nipple as she gets off on someone else’s pain. The ‘gnome of a man’ is a carpenter working for the bad guys in the full knowledge that his wooden creations will be used for evil.
So Johansen wrote a fairly equity-focused story but included some rank discrimination and vilification of people with disabilities. Oh. Joy.
Overall, however, I enjoyed the story. Even though “I” am depicted as evil, sadistic and perverted. I guess I should be used to it by now.
It’s an interesting story with detailed world-building although some of the backstory (the new land on Earth, no successive voyages between the old and ‘new’ countries) jolted me out of the story. The good guys tend towards the complex even though the bad guys tend toward the 2-dimensional. Queen of the Tearling is a good epic fantasy read with social justice as the foundation for a new ruler. I highly recommend it.
Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5 stars
ISBN 10: 0062290363
Imprint: Harper (HarperCollins)