Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Reviews: The Queen of Tearling by Erika Johansen

While working at Shared Worlds Creative Writing camp this past summer, the staff asked us to sort through the hundreds of free books donated by various publishers to give to the kids at the end of the two weeks. It’s not surprising of course that I was drawn to a few or several of the titles I sorted. Particularly those with pretty covers. This was one of those books with pretty covers that I decided to give it a go. I mean, we didn’t have to hand the books over until the two weeks were up. Plenty of time to read a few books. So what did I think of this one in particular? Let’s find out.

The Plot: 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. (Summary according to Goodreads)

Characters: In my perusal of reviews on this book in Goodreads, I find that many of the more critical reviews point to the main character as this books main failing. Personally I don’t see the hatred she gets. Kelsea has her faults but she is on a constant learning curve throughout the book. She is insecure but who wouldn’t be with so much responsibility placed on their shoulders. She, like many YA heroines, thinks that she is plain but she acknowledges her other strengths. And I appreciated that she could stand on her own as a character with no romantic subplot. I found myself rooting for her at every turn. The characters around her are strong as well and varied. I particularly like Mace, her body guard, and the enigmatic leader of an outlaw band, Fetch. Her villains were less interesting but the real fun of the story is watching Kelsea deal with complicated politics and her kingdom rather than the villains themselves.

The Good Points: I appreciate that there is no romantic subplot in this book. I really do. A lot of people say that you can’t market a book without romance to Young adult, which is stupid. When I was a teenager, I often longed for a book when a girl MC could just be a girl and kick ass on her own merit. The plot of this book also stands out as it focuses on the complexities of ruling a kingdom and making tough decisions. It reminded me of Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson in a lot of ways, another book I really enjoy. Over all, I think the plot was the strongest part of the experience.

The Bad Points: The villains, as stated earlier, are a little typical of fantasy novels, but they don’t hurt the book too much. The plot can be slow at parts and its heroine, according to reviews, seems polarizing. You either love her or you hate her. Personally I liked her though. I do think that this book had the potential to be larger and more ambitious but it stopped short of being completely extraordinary.

Even if Queen of Tearling isn’t unforgettable, its certainly enjoyable on the whole. Check it out if you enjoy YA Fantasy and want to see a girl star in something without romance for a change.

Final Rating: 4/5 Stars

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