Plot: Kelsea is the heir to the Tearling, raised in hiding to protect her from those who would never see her on the throne. But in her 19th year the Queen’s guard come to take her to the capital for her coronation. Reaching the capital is a challenge in itself but even once crowned, Kelsey will have to deal threats of invasion and with the troubled, impoverished country that her mother and her uncle the regent have left her.
I picked up this book because an interview with Johansen in which she discussed (among other smart things) how heroines always seem to be beautiful and are so often forced into romances that do not fit their plot. If I find it again, I’ll post a link.
Kelsea is not one of those heroines: she is plain and though she has an unwise crush, she has no time for romance. She has a whole, troubled kingdom, full of traitors to run. She is also fiercely intelligent, a great reader and has real care for her people and her country. She wants to be just and refuses to bend her morals in order to make things easier. Our first introduction to Kelsey reminded me a lot of Elizabeth I own rise to Queendom. She is quickly forced to acknowledge her naivete and adapt to the world outside her sheltered upbringing. Everyone around her, even those sworn to defend her with their lives, doubt her and are waiting to see if she is worthy of the role she has been born to. And over the course of the novel, she grows immensely and learns a lot and we truly get the sense that she could one day become the True Queen. It is an amazing process to watch.
The world that Johansen has created is an interesting one. It works like a medieval fantasy, something like Game of Thrones more focused on politics than magic, but there is also an element of the Post-Apocalyptic. We get the sense that the Kelsea’s ancestor’s left our near future to create a utopic socialist, low tech society across the sea (this last is not quite clear in my mind). And this utopia completely failed leading to the flawed monarchy that Kelsea has been saddled with. Johansen fleshes out the history, mythology and politics of this world, weaving these tales into the action so skillfully that it never interrupts the narrative. And anyone who knows me, knows how I love a political fantasy. I was thrilled to find that Johansen made this her focus. Further, she addresses issues of slavery, rape, serfdom and many others that many other fantasy worlds simply take for granted.
The Queen of the Tearling was a real page turner. Working full time makes staying up all night to finish a book something that I can (sadly) no longer afford to do but in this case I couldn’t resist. This is the first book in a series and I cannot wait to see where her rule takes Kelsea next.