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

The Invasion of the Tearling picks up right where The Queen of the Tearling left off – with the army of Mortesme looming right on the border of the Tearling. Nineteen-year-old Queen Kelsea may have stopped the trade in human trafficking that has plagued the Tearling since the reign of her mother, but her problems are only beginning. Her army can only delay the approach of the Red Queen’s forces—if they make it to New London, it won’t be a fight as much as a slaughter. As if an invading army weren’t bad enough, Kelsea faces fierce opposition from forces within the Tearling as well—ones that aren’t as eager for a new age of peace and prosperity as Kelsea is.

Although I enjoyed The Queen of the Tearling, I liked The Invasion of the Tearling even more. Though I absolutely adore Kelsea and was intrigued by the premise of her situation, The Queen of the Tearling had a lot of things it wanted to be: a YA novel? an adult novel? fantasy? science fiction? In The Invasion of the Tearling, Erika Johansen has found the footing for her series without losing any of what I loved about it before. With a more mature Kelsea, Invasion firmly cements itself as a book for adults, and a rounding out of the Tearling mythology is going to satisfy many readers who were frustrated by what they perceived as gaps in the first book. As it turns out, Johansen was just playing her hand close, and when she lays all (or some of) the cards on the table in Invasion of the Tearling, the series becomes a whole new being altogether.

What many readers are going to be most excited about is that we finally get a glimpse into the pre-Crossing world. More than a glimpse, really—we actually get to spend some time there. I didn’t even know that I was interested in seeing Johansen’s pre-Crossing world until she showed it to me. I was impressed by the depth it added to her world—not necessarily because pre-Crossing America is unlike anything I’ve ever read before but because of the issues Johansen chooses to highlight in her dystopia. I won’t say anything more about what you’ll find in the book, but this does bring me to what is perhaps my favorite things about these novels.

Personally, I think the best feature of the Tearling world is the way that the author incorporates today’s social issues into her fantastical world. Often, sci-fi/fantasy only deals with issues of gender inequality or bigotry through a lens of otherness—we can recognize discrimination and sexism and realize that it’s a commentary on our world, but the main point is that we need to prevent Mars from being blown up or deal with that guy who keeps trying to stab us with a broadsword.

In Tearling, the issues of inequality and corruption that plague our society are exactly the forces that Kelsea is trying to fight—and are a large part of what caused the problem in the first place. It’s relevant without being didactic. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think how perfectly Emma Watson’s recent advocation for gender equality aligns with Kelsea’s ideals. It’s going to be interesting to see her embody that role on the big screen. I will say, however, that in the midst of today’s headlines, one glaring omission is the topic of race. Though sexuality, domestic violence, and women’s rights have thus far all played a role in the Tearling saga, the issue of race is largely unexamined. In today’s climate, and with the series’s dogmatic condemnation of other forms of injustice, this absence is notable.

You may notice that in this review I haven’t given you very much information about what actually happens in the book—that’s partly because I think Invasion is structured in such a way that it is more fun to go in knowing as little as possible and partly because, for me, the greatest pleasure in reading this book wasn’t found in how the plot progressed, so to speak, but in the journey it takes you on along the way. If you enjoyed The Queen of the Tearling, I think you’re going to love this book twice as much. If you weren’t such a big fan of it, I’d suggest you give the series a second chance—Invasion of the Tearling may very well change your mind!

Be sure to read MuggleNet’s exclusive interview with author Erika Johansen right here!

A copy of The Invasion of the Tearling was provided by the publisher for review.