16 Jun 2015

Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Queen of the Tearling

Publish Date: 8th July 2014
Publisher: Harper
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback | Purchased

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Plot synopsis (from GR): Her throne awaits . . . if she can live long enough to take it. It was on her nineteenth birthday that the soldiers came for Kelsea Glynn. They’d come to escort her back to the place of her birth – and to ensure she survives long enough to be able to take possession of what is rightfully hers. But like many nineteen-year-olds, Kelsea is unruly, has high principles and believes she knows better than her elders. Unlike many nineteen-year-olds, she is about to inherit a kingdom that is on its knees – corrupt, debauched and dangerous. Kelsea will either become the most fearsome ruler the kingdom has ever known . . . or be dead within the week. Combining thrilling adventure and action, dark magic, mystery and romance, The Queen of the Tearling is the debut of a born storyteller blessed with a startling imagination. 

My thoughts: I read this book because Emma Watson was rumoured to be in talks to play Kelsea, and Emma's been involved in some good adaptations (Harry Potter - obviously, also the foundation of my childhood and basically the series that shaped who I am as a person; The Perks of Being a Wallflower). This book had the potential to be a good book, but unfortunately wasn't executed as well as I had hoped. Don't get me wrong - this book has readability (and will definitely be a book that readers Love or Hate), and I'm still planning on reading the second book to see how much Johansen has been able to develop her story-telling - but I think that the world-building needed to be fine-tuned and the stakes raised for Kelsea. 

My first complaint is that the Queen of the Tearling takes place in a future where a bunch of people have decided that the European Middle Ages were a better time and sailed off to new lands where they can renounce technology. I didn't even realise this until mentions of Rowling and The Hobbit cropped up. If you're going to expect me to believe that people decided this was a good idea - and I don't, because vaccinations and women's rights, that's why - then you need to explain to me in greater detail why. Info-dump away, it'll be better than me left scratching my head at your world-building, I promise! Or better yet, just either pick the future or the past and stick to it. Given that these people had decided that the Middle Age life was the better life, there were a lot of anachronisms and inconsistencies. For example, at one point we're told red hair is a rarity (these people understand recessive genes, apparently, even though a lot of knowledge was lost through the Crossing - they were only able to bring ten books with them - and then through people burning books in their desperation to survive) and so a lot of people dye their hair. Up until the 1900s, dying hair wasn't a consistent practice, mostly due to the cost (the flappers brought about its popularity, due to black hair being ~in~. The 1940s saw a rise in blonde bombshells). Also, the chemicals were a lot harsher than modern chemicals, and the colours you could dye it depended on what natural resources you had available, so I don't think it would've been possible for a lot of people to be dying their hair red on what was apparently a fairly regular basis in Tear. 

 The things that boggle my mind don't stop there, though. Did the future magically grew new continents? Did plate tectonics cause countries to split and float away from one another? Did we just start plopping down man-made bits of land in the middle of oceans to make new countries? Are there actually the existence of alternate realities and SOMEHOW new countries just starting appearing in our universe? There's an apocalypse of some kind, did 99% of humanity get wiped out and a kind of British colonialism thing start happening with the remaining population? They just sailed from America (?) to England (New England? WHO KNOWS) I DON'T KNOW, THIS IS NEVER EXPLAINED. The entire point of the first book of a trilogy is to establish the world and its rule, the characters and their battles. NONE OF THIS WAS DONE IN QofT. NONE OF IT. I don't understand Tear or how it came to be. The Queen's Guard - they're apparently the best in the land, the crème de la crème. Do they do soldier-y type things while on duty? Setting watches, building perimetres, avoid doing things like making noise and building fires so the assassins after the person they're guarding don't spot them, preparing themselves to get away quickly if necessary? NO. They get drunk and sing bawdy songs at the top of their lungs, obviously. They are then shocked when they get captured. It really is a miracle that Kelsea makes it to The Keep alive, you guys. Seriously. 

Kelsea is... difficult to like and understand. I like that she takes a stand for what she believes in - but she talks about wasting resources, and then sends her Guard to fetch the books from the cottage she grew up in (and excuse me, how can a cottage on the woods house 2,000+ books?) pretty much immediately after settling into The Keep. She's plain and spends most of her time wishing she were beautiful, yet judges older women for doing the same. I mean:

How could a woman who looked so old still place so much importance on being attractive? (...) she saw now that there was something far worse than being ugly: being ugly and thinking you were beautiful.

Despite the fact we're told that she'll probably have to fight for her life and her throne, I never felt that Kelsea was in any danger of losing either. The Red Queen, for all her blow and bluster, is reluctant to declare war on Tear. Her uncle - who has being doing pretty much anything possible to make sure Kelsea doesn't get to sit on the throne, including hiring assassins - is allowed to stay in the castle for a month? The man undermining her is still able to keep his cushy position in The Keep, even though everyone knows that he's the mastermind? I don't understand how these characters came to make these decisions, because they're never explained. There is so much philosophising and internal monologues, and yet I STILL DON'T UNDERSTAND. 

Nevertheless, Johansen is actually quite good at writing actions scenes, so the last fifty to a hundred pages held my attention pretty well. I quite enjoyed them, and will be checking out the sequel for those last fifty to a hundred pages alone (or because I like existing in a confused and pained state). 



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