Book Review: “The Queen of the Tearling” by Erika Johansen

July 8, 2014

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The Queen of the Tearling was introduced to the world in a flurry of publicity. Debut author Erika Johansen received a much publicized seven-figure advance when she sold the rights to her trilogy to HarperCollins, and not long afterwards, Emma Watson was attached to produce and star in the film adaptation of the novel – before the first installment was even published!

In The Queen of the Tearling, the time has come for nineteen-year-old Kelsea Glynn to ascend to the throne of Tearling. Because of a tumultuous political climate, Kelsea has been kept hidden since she was a young child, raised by trusted advisors of the monarchy to be a queen. Despite her training, Kelsea is not prepared to be thrust into the world of Tearling politicking, where she must avoid assassins sent by the formidable Red Queen of Mortmesne, foil her traitorous uncle’s attempts to murder her before her coronation, and, above all, work to build a better life for her people.

For seasoned fantasy readers, Johansen’s world building may feel a bit clumsy. In the age of Sanderson, knights, rogues, orphans, and mages are old hat – Tearling offers no new takes on many fantasy tropes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it may make the book more accessible to readers who haven’t necessarily devoured every book with a wizard on the cover that’s been published in the last twenty years. Plus, the storytelling is swift enough that it’s easy to overlook this and get on with the action.

By far the best thing about the book is Kelsea herself. I’m a huge supporter of female-driven fantasy and science-fiction stories, and this one is a powerhouse. I love the way that, unlike in so many similar stories, Kelsea isn’t some clueless waif thrust into leadership without a clue as to what’s going on. She may be naïve in what she believes she can achieve for her kingdom, but she was trained for leadership. Even before she’s crowned, she possesses her own kind of power, one that only becomes stronger as the book goes on.

But my favorite thing about Kelsea is how idealistic she is, breaking the mold of reigning monarchs in fantasy novels. At this point, readers of spine-busting fantasy epics have gotten used to a bit of moral ambiguity even from the good guys, I, for one, hate those moments when your hero leaves behind a bit of their innocence to defeat the bad guy. Kelsea never does – she always does the thing she believes to be right. It’s a weird, unexpected feeling as a reader, though perhaps unsurprising given that Johansen has admitted she was inspired to write the series after hearing one of Barack Obama’s 2007 campaign speeches.

Tonally, the book is a bit odd – it’s not dark enough, violent enough, or sexy enough to fit on the shelf next to Game of Thrones or The Wheel of Time, and a nineteen-year-old protagonist makes the book read younger. Still, there is a tad too much strong language and racy content to give the book a totally YA feel. I’ll be interested to see if the tone evens out in later volumes.

All in all, Tearling is an enjoyable read. You should take my few critiques with a grain of salt – this is, after all, a debut. For a new author, Johansen shows agility and remarkable imagination. Tearling is a world full of promise and surprises, one that I’m excited to revisit.

  • ShutUpandRead

    Is that what I call a “marketing book”? I mean what’s the point of producing a movie before the first installment is published?
    You should go to a library and discover yourself some new authors and not be amazed by the big marketing plot, publishers and money makers are trying to impose.

    • Phil Boswell

      I’m not really understanding your apparent confusion. Would you be shocked if the novelisation of a movie were to be published at the same time as the movie was released? Is it so difficult to imagine how the two different versions of the same story can be prepared before being shown to the general public?

  • Reilly

    I’m most excited to see a female protagonist who’s not described as this raving beauty and who is described as “plain” (by the Amazon description). Having protagonists like this really supports young girls struggling with their insecurities and body image (much like Hermione did for so many). I’m not quite sure how well suited Emma is to this role because she’s one of the most “conventionally beautiful” women in Hollywood, but I’m hoping movie magic will pull through and give us the plain, awesome protag this book demands of its film counterpart.

  • Hope Bagarus

    I am always down for a strong female main character and I am excited to see Emma in a movie similar to Harry Potter (in terms of the fantasy genre) but portraying a character that is the main focus of the story and the growing up process

  • mtthew

    I’m all about strong female lead characters, especially in fantasy. I’m also excited about Emma being attached to this movie because she’s one of my favorite actresses!

  • Stefani Wilson

    I’m really excited for this book! I feel like we need more fantasy stories with female leads who know what they’re doing and what they stand for. And I’m also looking forward to a character who isn’t defined by her romantic aspirations! This book sounds like it’s going to be a breath of fresh air in a genre dominated by male protagonists and female characters who aren’t as strong as their male counterparts. I cannot wait to read it!

  • bec

    I’m really excited to see how Emma portrays another female character in a fantasy setting. She is a phenomenal actress and I know she’ll be great. This book sounds highly intriguing and right up my ally, Im excited to read this and watch the film. Awesome giveaway

  • Erin

    I was really disappointed when I saw how many negative reviews there were on this book coming from people who haven’t read it and don’t plan on reading it just because of the many comparisons to other books. I thought is was a great book. Yes, there are some confusing parts and many unanswered questions, but for this being the first book in the trilogy, I feel it did its job. It was a great story, and I’m sure the next two books will be just as good.

    Now, I am really looking forward to seeing Emma Watson play Kelsea who is pretty much described as being dull looking and slightly heavy. Emma is a great actress, so I know she can pull off Kelsea’s traits. I just loved that Kelsea is described as being physically different than many of the characters in books.

    Emma is brilliant, so I’m excited to see her produce this. I can only hope that the movie gets here soon.

  • visual.destini

    Johansen shows agility and remarkable imagination. I’m hooked!

  • Sheila

    Excited to see what Emma’s going to make with it, not only as an actress but as a producer as well!

  • Liv

    The book sounds exciting, and I’m really excited about a strong female lead. I’m particularly looking forward to Emma’s role, because I know she’ll perform fantastically!

  • Abbey B.

    I’m really excited to see Emma in a lead role, particularly in such a powerful one. Can’t wait to read this and see the movie!

  • FawkesFan

    I am looking forward to being introduced to a new book universe and of course seeing Emma dominate the screen as the lead.

  • Adriene

    I wanna find out why the heck Emma Watson and David Yates signed on to make this book a movie before it was even published. What’s so great about it? I need to know!

  • I love fantasy and I love magic. I’d love to read a something that is a new world with these elements in it and see why my beloved Emma is so interested in this project. It’s such a pleasure to see her acting I would love watch the movie too!

  • Shannon D

    I love fantasy books, and “The Queen of the Tearling” just sounds very exciting! I heard about this book several months ago when Mugglenet had posted about Emma Watson’s involvement in a movie version, and I have been eagerly awaiting this book since.

  • Danielle Karthauser

    I’m excited for another fantasy read, especially this one since it has been so hyped up. Plus, Emma Watson being in the movie adaption sounds pretty sweet

  • Mairead Nguyen

    It’ll be interesting to see how David is going to put a cinematic spin on it. Emma’s going to be great in it no matter what!

  • Tucker Conley

    I’m excited to see what Emma brings to a new book adaptation.

  • Aaron

    I look forward to see how magic plays a role in the book and how intriguing the plot will be and learning about this new fantasy land

  • Leah

    I’m really excited to read this book because I’ve heard good things about it, and Emma Watson is starring in the movie adaptation! Plus I’m looking forward to trying out a new fantasy series that has a female protagonist.