July 17, 2014

The Queen of the Tearling - Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling book cover
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Series: The Queen of the Tearling #1
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: July 8, 2014
Source/Format: BEA 2014 || ARC
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects my review.]

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. 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.

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.

A really good fantasy novel always hits my reading sweet spot! It’s the genre I love the most, my book “comfort food” per se, and I find myself instantly wanting to read a novel when I learn it’s a fantasy. One of the latest fantasy releases to earn that sweet spot distinction? The Queen of the Tearling.

There are quite a few reasons that I enjoyed this one so much! It’s got a powerful political situation, rife with plots and subterfuge and difficult economic and social conditions. There’s a great + varied cast of characters, spearheaded by an awesome (female) main character named Kelsea. The world-building is pretty solid too, with vividly painted settings and a determined culture, though I do wish my review copy had a map.

But this novel’s biggest accomplishment lies in the fact that it successfully crafts setting, political and cultural climate and characters… without indulging in an info dump. I never encountered a moment where I felt like too much information was being laid on my head, as everything was integrated seamlessly into the scenes where they were needed. This is a rare skill indeed, and Johansen definitely nailed it – and in her debut too!

So, in terms of story, The Queen of the Tearling is a pretty solid fantasy novel. Kelsea, the true Queen of the Tearling, has been hidden away for years for her own safety. She’s grown up taking lessons in just about everything she needs to know from two trusted members of her mother’s court – except nobody has ever told her about her mother, or what’s really happened to the Tearling kingdom. On her 19th birthday, her escort arrives in the form of the Queen’s Guard, all leftover from her mother’s reign save a few new members. After a harrowing journey, complete with encounters with their enemies, they arrive at the Tearling capital, where Kelsea unseats her Regent uncle and rises to take her place, and bear all the responsibility that comes with being Queen. Torn between protecting her people, fixing the Tearling economy and preventing war with the neighboring Mortmesne, Kelsea’s got a load on her hands and many people watching to see how she does.

This story seriously reads so, so well. I was caught up immediately in Kelsea’s story, from her journey across the country to her arrival at her palace seat to the new situations that arose as a result of choices she makes. It was captivating, and I could not tear myself away (and wound up reading until 3AM). It’s got the right combination of action, subterfuge and introspection, elevating Kelsea’s tale into something pretty extraordinary.

All of this story wouldn’t have worked half as well without an excellent main character. Kelsea is, without a doubt, one of the strongest female fantasy leads I’ve encountered in a while. She’s skilled in just about everything you’d expect, including history, self-defense and surviving in the wild. Even though she’s not sure what lies ahead for her, even though she could potentially ditch her destiny, she doesn’t run from it but embraces it and stands her ground. Her compassion for others weaves the strongest thread in her desire to embrace being queen. And it is her strength, determination and cleverness that helps her succeed! (Seriously, something of the physical things she’s had to endure were crazy, but the girl just took it all!). I admired her greatly, and felt not one iota of doubt in her success even when it seemed to be in peril. If I were a Tearling subject, I would definitely be loyal to her!

Though The Queen of the Tearling ends on a note of finality, there’s definitely room for more to come. What is to be done about Mortmesne and the Red Queen that rules it? Who is the Fetch (a favorite character of mine) and what will he do to or for Kelsea? How will Kelsea and her household and her guard manage to maintain the safety of her home? Can Kelsea help her people recover from their suffering and bring her kingdom back to a time of bounty and peace? All these questions, give or take a few, linger in my mind and have me eager for the next installment to be in my hands already.

The Queen of the Tearling really caught me off guard, but in the best way possible. I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did! While I do wish there had been a smidgen more of a connection with and between characters, overall, this was really, really good. It’s definitely a book I’m adding to my fantasy series shelf!

If you had a magical talisman, what would it look like or what stone would it be?

I wanted to make this question a fun one to balance out the seriousness of my review and this novel. A part of me does covet Kelsea's sapphire necklace, since my favorite color is blue! But I have always imagined that, should I ever have my own magical talisman, it would be a silver bracelet with three stones: a diamond in the center, a ruby to the left and a sapphire on the right. 

But here's a fun fact for you! When I was in high school, I had this necklace that I called my "talisman" and it was a white, pearl-shaped moonstone. I've always felt a special affinity with the moon, and the moonstone was my favorite thing to accessorize with.


  1. To me, there was actually too little information about the world-building. I could have used some more to get a better idea of the setting. I really liked Kelsea too! She was enough flawed to make her interesting :D

  2. I especially can't wait to delve deeper into the man who is the Fetch!!

  3. I've seen this one around a few times, but this is the first review I've read. It sounds good! I'll have to check it out.

  4. I'm glad this book worked out so well for you! It's rare that a book keeps me reading into the early hours of the morning. Fantasy is my first love, and I was really excited to get this in the mailbox from Harper Collins. I can't wait to get started on it!

  5. Yay for the reading room love! Have I told you lately how much good stuff I always find from your Monday Mix? I love it!


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