No spoilers in this review of The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. I loved it! I give it 4.25 stars. The whole book is cleverly written with an intricate plot, with much more to be explored and developed in books 2 and 3. I have read some reviews describing this book as boring, but I think the plot moves methodically instead of slowly. We get the backstory on many characters, even minor ones, and each one is interesting (and often heartbreaking). These tales establish what it has been like to live in the Tear kingdom from many different points of view.
Kelsea is the long lost princess of the Tearling. Her mother sent her away when she was very young for her safety. Kelsea was raised and trained by an older couple her mother trusted implicitly. When she turns nineteen, the queen’s guard arrives at Kelsea’s hideout to take her home to rule as queen. It’s a perilous journey to New London, the Tear capitol. When Kelsea arrives, she is confronted by the atrocities her late mother subjected the kingdom to in order to keep peace with Mortmesne, the wicked neighboring kingdom. Kelsea is a different kind of queen than her mother and immediately tries to make changes, but there are consequences for the Tearling. In the midst of this, Kelsea attempts to form alliances with and earn the respect of the people to whom she’s a stranger, both in her guard and in her kingdom.
Kelsea is one of the best heroines I’ve read about in quite some time. She’s intelligent and courageous. She has a strong moral compass despite denouncing the religion of her nation. Her looks are described as plain, which I think is refreshing in light of so many beautiful YA heroines of whom every man seems to fall at their feet. Kelsea works to earn the respect of those around her with her wits and her compassion instead of using beauty to sway them. There is the slight hint of a romance, at least on Kelsea’s side, with a mysterious character. I think it will be a slow burn relationship (if anything develops at all), and I’m excited to see if/how it plays out.
Johnansen’s writing style is unique. It’s not flowery prose, yet it is beautiful in its subtlety. Maybe it’s because of the humanity contained in her words, even when she covers the hard, sad parts of the human experience. I’m not sure whether this is considered YA; if it is, it’s the smartest YA I have read in a long time. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good fantasy series!
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