Okay, so I just got my new library card about four weeks ago. Shameful, I know. To counteract the shame, I decided to grab a book, any book, and write a review when I was finished with it. I grabbed The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. When I picked it up, I didn’t know there was any hype about it. I’d like to begin by saying: I have tremendous respect for anyone who writes a book. I don’t intend any criticisms about any book to be taken as criticisms of the author, or dislike for them.
Beware, spoilers ahead.
The book is about a young woman who has been hidden from her country for her entire life. At the beginning of the book, she is retrieved and taken to the capital to be installed as queen in place of her uncle, who has been serving as regent.
My first impressions of this book were that it was poorly written and the storytelling was sloppy. I was intrigued by the plot, though. I was interested in the “epic battle between light and darkness” that is supposed to take place between young Kelsea Raleigh, the new queen, and a “malevolent sorceress” you turns out to be the queen of a neighboring country. I’ll admit, I was only interested because I wanted to see how another author balances a heroine and villainess, as that is a key pairing in my own book. So I was willing to overlook my unfavorable first impressions to get to the meat of the story.
The first half of the book moved exceedingly slowly. Countless characters were introduced, described in annoying detail, given excruciatingly boring backstory, and barely touched on again. The main character herself was not a likable heroine. She wasn’t a Mary-Sue, because other characters didn’t like her either, but that made it almost worse. Them not liking her made Kelsea seem even more poorly written than in the first few pages. I will admit, by the end of the book I grew interested in her character, but not invested. The interest comes from an apparent descent towards villainy herself – a descent that I doubt Ms. Johansen intended.
It is clear, from Kelsea’s ending of the slave shipments to Mortmesne, her unwavering commitment to what is, supposedly, good, that she is meant to be a true hero. However, she is cold and cruel to the people around her, unwilling to give an inch of understanding (at least until the end of the book, when faced with traitor Mhurn – but I’ll get to that). She treats her subjects like silly children. In fairness, some of them act like children, but they’ve been under the regent Thomas’ guidance for nearly twenty years, and he allowed hedonistic indulgence in every way. When Kelsea refuses to try to guide these people into different ways, it comes across as the will of an intolerant ruler.
Kelsea thinks of anyone who doesn’t agree with her as below her, and unintelligent. This is especially pronounced when, obsessed with obtaining books, she degrades the captain of her guard constantly. He is trying to keep her safe in a city of people that want her dead, and she chooses to not only disrespect that task, but berate him for not agreeing with her that books are the utmost priority. The tendency continues to the end of the book, when she threatens to kill the captain if ever he disobeys her (which he has only done in order to save her life). She likewise threatens her bodyguard, who has done everything in her power to keep her safe. The only time she shows understanding is to Mhurn, a member of her guard who betrayed her more than once due to a drug addiction. With him she seeks understanding for why he did what he did, gives him morphine, and then kills him herself. In any other situation, a heroine killing a traitor herself might be honorable, but combined with her other unpleasant traits, this act only served to show that she has a thirst for blood.
Early in the book, I thought perhaps another character would have been a more interesting focus, and if Ms. Johansen continues to paint Kelsea as heroine, that is still true. However, seeing a character slip into villainy is an exceptionally engaging read, and I would be delighted if this is how the books continue.
As for the book itself, in part two I found myself skipping pages of unnecessary descriptions and conversations that added nothing to the story (but served to showcase Kelsea’s cruelty). There were many info-dumps throughout the book that could have been woven into the narrative, and many times we were outright told things that were better left to the reader to surmise. These points broke my engagement with the story. Jumps in perspective outlined what the antagonists were doing, and cut the tension of the story so much so that it was at these points that I set the book down entirely.
There was gratitude, yet poorly executed, violence throughout the book. I imagine that these acts were meant to inspire fear and worry, but they only made me disinterested. Mention such things a few times, and we understand the threat. Mention them on every page, and we become desensitized to it.
The only time I felt anything was at the very end of the book. Kelsea’s captain told her the story of how he’d delivered her to her now-dead foster parents, and that her foster-mother had sacrificed showing her love in order to help her be strong. This realization, coupled with the impossibility of resolution, brought tears to my eyes. But I’m also a sucker for such moments.
My final impressions of the book are much the same as first impressions. The storytelling was sloppy, the writing was at times painful. I am disappointed that the Crossing, a much alluded to historical event, seems to be the crossing of an actual ocean, and not space-travel. The story, for all of its shortcomings, was good and I am interested in reading the next one.