Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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.

The Queen of the Tearling introduces readers to a world as fully imagined and terrifying as that of The Hunger Games, with characters as vivid and intriguing as those of The Game of Thrones, and a wholly original heroine. Combining thrilling action and twisting plot turns, it is a magnificent debut from the talented Erika Johansen.

My thoughts (SPOILERS):

Fair warning:  This is LONG, and I’m going to disclose the ending on this one…  Simply because I’m pretty conflicted and don’t know how not to…  This review is all over the place, so I’ll apologize in advance for that.  Forgive me?

Ok.  This is one of those books that you will either love or hate.  I skimmed through the reviews on Goodreads, and it seems like readers are very split on this one.  The overall rating is 3.9 stars out of 9,000+ reviews, but I give it 3.5.  Originally, I gave it 5, but the more I thought about it, I had to reduce it (see “Cons”).  Still, I read it in four days, because it did end up sucking me in.  While I enjoyed the book very much, it is definitely not for young readers!  It is very heavy on language, sex, and gore, with some alcohol and drug use thrown in to boot.  Some of the gory scenes are very graphic, and are guaranteed to make you cringe…  Women and young girls are sold as sex slaves and that is only the beginning. 

Kelsea has lived in hiding with her guardians, Barty and Carlin, since she was a toddler and her mother was killed.  Her mother wasn’t a very good ruler and seemed to be more concerned with herself than her people.  The Royal Guard comes to take her back to the Keep in New London when she is nineteen years old.  Before she leaves, Carlin gives her a small package that Kelsea opens one night while they are resting.  Inside is a sapphire necklace like hers.  She doesn’t think much about it and puts it in one of her pockets for safe keeping. 

Upon arriving at the Keep, she is shocked and disgusted to see that young women and children are being sent as slaves to stave off an attack from the Red Queen.  Her first act after revealing her identity is to abolish the slave trade and destroy the cages used for transport.  This delights the people of the Tear, but not the nobles.  The nobles live off of the backs of the common Tearling folk. 

She arrives in the Keep to usurp the throne and banish her uncle, Thomas the Regent.  Thomas is a disgusting pig of a man.  He revels in alcohol and his hired women, one of which he drags around on a leash like a dog… His guards attack Kelsea and the Royal Guard, but they are able to fend them off and Kelsea takes her place.  Later, during her crowning ceremony, there is another attack in which Kelsea is hurt very badly and it takes her a few days to recover.  There are many attempts on her life, since there are so many people that stand to gain something from her death AND there is a traitor within her own Guard, so she has one of her trusted guards train her to fight.

There was some serious book-bloat going on, so I’m going to skip over some of the less important stuff. 

Kelsea learns to fight.  She becomes a good queen.  Her Royal Guards come to respect her as they should’ve all along.  Lazarus takes on a more caring role (not romantic, but he is more gentle with her than in the beginning).

The Overseer of the shipments (I forgot his name, sorry) builds cages in secret and attacks outlying villages to get enough slaves to satisfy the Red Queen.  Kelsea finds this out when she has one of her “dreams”.  These dreams, so to speak, allow her to move around outside her body and see things.  Premonitions, I guess?  In one she is flying, like a hawk or something, and sees that the Mort Army is advancing and they have cannons.  This is concerning because everyone says that there should be no gunpowder.  But, why would they have cannons, right? 

Anyway, Kelsea and her Royal Guard follow said Overseer and his group of Benedict Arnolds and attack them, with surprise help from the Fetch and his men, in the gorge on their side of the Mort Border.  Upon the Fetch’s return, he gives Kelsea her twin sapphire back.  When the two are worn together around her neck, she feels a new power like none before.  She and her men are attacking the traitors and having some success until a cage is lit on fire.  Kelsea, horrified and desperate to do something, somehow makes it rain buckets and the fire is extinguished.  Some of the traitors get away, but a lot are killed and the traitor from within the Royal Guard is revealed.  He has an addiction to heroine and that is why he betrayed them all. 

Kelsea’s powers surprise even her, so we still don’t know much about how they work.  All we know is that her temper seems to trigger the sapphires’ power. 

In the end, the Red Queen realizes that she will not be getting her shipment, but she can’t attack because this mysterious being that she is scared of and we’re not sure why tells her that she can’t.  So she doesn’t.  It’s a cliffhanger ending for her, but Kelsea is enjoying some peace in her kingdom.

 - I love Kelsea.  Most of the reviews I read loathe her.  They complain that she is childish, na├»ve, not confident enough, whiny, stupid, etc.  Well hear this: She is a 19 year old girl who (yes she was trained her whole life, but) walked into a crapstorm much bigger than she had anticipated.  She wasn’t truly ready for anything that she saw at the Keep, and I can totally understand.  I don’t think anyone, regardless of the schooling received, would walk into that situation and be like “Oh, yeah, I got this.  Stand back.”  She isn’t described as this beautiful, thin girl that gets whatever she wants.  She is an average looking girl that maybe weighs a little too much, but she is compassionate, genuine, and truly wants to better her kingdom even if it means she isn’t able to see it all come to fruition. I couldn't find a accurate enough picture of how I think she might look, but this (below) is kind of close.  To me anyway. 

 -Lazarus, aka “The Mace”, is a character that I struggled with early on, but came to love.  In the beginning, he is cold and rude to Kelsea, but he comes to truly care for her, even if he doesn’t show it very well.

 -I HATE how the men in this book treat Kelsea.  Some change their attitude as the book progresses, but still.  The Fetch told her that she was much to plain for him.  -The world building could have been better, but I still love it. 
 -The Fetch is this renowned thief that kidnaps Kelsea early on and “steals” the twin sapphire of her own.  She just lets him, and I’m not sure why…  She knows that they are very powerful.
-The Red Queen could’ve been a little bit better as a villain.  We only get a peek at her side two or three times, and each time she is waiting for a sex slave or something equally ridiculous…  I’m assuming we’ll get to know her better in book 2.  She is the mortal enemy in this book, but it seems like she’s more of a fear monger.
 -Religious depiction.  I realize that we live in a time where the popular thing is to poke fun at people who believe in God or other higher powers…  It really frustrated me how she depicted the Church as being corrupt and evil, yet atheists were totally cool.  There is one part where she is talking to Father Tyler and she asks him how he expects anyone to believe in God.  He responds that he believes in his God, to which her response is that he is a fool.  Really… But all the atheists in the book are just the bees knees right?  Shut up already.

I know there are more cons than pros, but I was able to look over them because the book was genuinely great edit: good, in my opinion (not sure why I said great? It was late...).  Also, I can understand some people’s exasperation with Kelsea, but I like it because it shows that she is a nineteen year old girl… Yes, she is a queen and should act accordingly, but give her some slack.  It’s a big change!

Supposedly, Emma Watson is set to play Kelsea in a movie adaptation??

Sexual Content: Heavy
Language: Heavy
Violence: Heavy
Drugs/Alcohol: Heavy

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