August 11, 2014

The People's Queen

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Release Date: July 8, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper
Pages: 448 pages
Source & Format: Publisher at BEA; ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
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.

Thoughts on The Queen of the Tearling
In the last year or so, I've found myself gravitating toward fantasy. I never used to read the genre - and now it's where I'm finding all of my favorite books! In preparation for BEA, I looked through lists of some of the books that were expected to be there. One of those was The Queen of the Tearling, and I knew that I wanted to try and snag a copy. After having such luck with fantasy reads, this one sounded right up my alley! Thankfully, the HarperCollins booth was a fan of orderly lines so I had no trouble getting it.

When I got home, I added it on Goodreads and was dismayed to see numerous negative reviews. The book was being heavily promoted by the publisher, so I was wondered if it was only normal that a "hyped" title would be drawing mixed reviews. Either way, I didn't rush to read it. I ended up saving it to read in the car ride for my family vacation in July... and I read the entire book by the time we got there. My husband and brother were chatting away in the front, but I couldn't tear myself away from this book. I was seriously in love!

The Queen of the Tearling is the story of Kelsea Raleigh Glynn - a nineteen-year-old girl raised in exile until the day she's called to claim her rightful place on the throne. Separated from her mother for years, Kelsea has been sheltered and doesn't have so many of the things that others think she needs to be Queen. But she does have the Tearling sapphire, a jewel with an incredible amount of power, which she'll need to face the many enemies who'd like nothing more than to see her dead. She's accompanied by the Queen's Guard, brave knights with more knowledge of Kelsea's mother and their kingdom's history than the future Queen herself. When Kelsea discovers the secrets they keep, her actions will set in motion a series of events that will change the course of history and usher in a new era for her kingdom.

So, can you tell this is basically an epic adventure? I'm all psyched up again just recapping the book! The Queen of the Tearling is really unique in a lot of ways. The magical elements and inventive world are definitely indicative of fantasy, but there are other things that made it read almost like a bit of a mashup. It reminded me of historical fiction BUT it's actually set in the future (so there's also a dystopian feel to it). The world has fallen apart, and this society has sprung up in its place. It sounds confusing - and yes, you may still have some questions at the end of it - but it worked overall for me. However, I did wish that a few of the modern references (like one to Harry Potter) had been eliminated because they didn't seem to fit and took me out of the book as I was reading. In fact, I think I would have loved it without reservations if it had been strictly historical fantasy, but that was my only real dislike with the book.

Now, let's talk about what I loved... EVERYTHING else. Seriously. I kind of wanted some more romance (there's really not one here), but I also loved that it's really focused on Kelsea's coming of age. She's a fascinating heroine, and I absolutely adored her. Flawed but fierce, Kelsea is turning into a leader and a character I won't soon forget. She's clever, capable, compassionate, courageous... but she's also aware of her weaknesses and willing to admit when she's wrong. Honestly, she was probably my favorite thing about the book! But the secondary characters are also excellent and added a whole new dimension to the story. From the Queen's Guard to the people Kelsea meets within the castle's walls, The Queen of the Tearling is full of intriguing and well-developed characters.

The other thing I really loved about The Queen of the Tearling is that it really focuses on social and political storylines. It's one reason that I know the book won't work for everyone - it's a bit slower and more serious. Personally, I loved all those elements, but the pacing will likely be a problem for some readers. Slavery, prostitution, wealth, power, magic, control - there are so many layers to this world. You can feel all this tension warring within the pages of the book, and that made it such a great read for me. It gave the story so much depth, and I feel like there's so much left for Johansen to explore in future books.

Overall, I really loved this book! It was one of my top reads in July, and I'm almost positive it will make my list of favorites at the end of the year. I didn't expect to love this one as much as I did, and it's one of the best bookish surprises when a book totally surpasses your expectations. I cannot wait for the next book in this series, and I just have to note that the finished copy of this book is GORGEOUS. Seriously. Velvety cover, gorgeous endpapers, a red ribbon bookmark... BUY IT.

So Quotable
"Stories moved Kelsea most, stories of things that never were, stories that transported her beyond the changeless world of the cottage."
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

8 comments:

  1. Yayayaya!!!! Totally agree!! Loved the political aspect and the slow and careful building of the characters and this world. Unfortunately, it won't be for everyone but I LOVED IT!!!!! Team Kelsea.

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  2. I did buy this one and I can't wait to read it! Currently I have a re-read of Harry Potter going so it might take me a bit to get around to it -- glad to know it's worth the wait :)

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  3. Wow, this book sounds awesome! It just earned a spot on my "must read ASAP" shelf after reading your review! This definitely sounds like a book that I would really like :)

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  4. I got a copy of this to review yesterday and lamented the mixed reviews so I'm thrilled to see how much you enjoyed it. It definitely sounds right up my alley so all things crossed that it works as well as I'm expecting. Lovely review!

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  5. It just pleases me that you adored The Queen of the Tearling as much as I did! I was definitely not expecting to fall in love with it as much as I did. I just adored Kelsea (such a strong heroine!), and the other characters too. But the story really drew me in, because it was so convoluted and complicated and real.

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  6. Yay I'm always so happy to hear when people who don't consider themselves to be fantasy lovers suddenly realize that they do love a lots of the fantasies they've been reading!
    I agree that this really should have just been a more typical fantasy set in a pseudo-historical world. The futuristic elements weren't well explained and didn't make a whole lot of sense. Their language and dialogue, for example, was indicative of an older age. And one reliable thing about language is that it does evolve, that new slang and expressions are created. I don't see it ever reverting back to sound older, to be honest.
    But, like you said, I did find a lot to enjoy within its pages too and am definitely planning on continuing with this series!

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  7. Yay!! I've been worried about the mixed reviews but your review makes me want to run home and grab it right off my shelf! It sounds amazing! So intrigued by the historical/fantasy/dystopian mashup. Slow builds don't bother me as long as they're done right. Game of Thrones had plenty of socio-political machinations to wade through ;) This book really is gorgeous in person btw. You're so right.

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  8. I too have heard mixed things about this one, but being a lover of historical fiction and fantasy it does sound like the perfect mix to me. No idea when I'll be able to make time to read it, but I know eventually I want that to happen.

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