The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

queen of the tearlingI couldn’t put this one down.

There’s magic, but it’s not overwhelming. See, this story isn’t set in the past, though the medieval setting might suggest it is. Instead, it’s set in the future, perhaps a few hundred years from now, when some sort of cosmic shift (this isn’t fully explained yet) changes the earth’s geography and creates a new land mass, where a bunch of leaders send pilgrims to start a new – and better – society. Of course, things go wrong and now the world has lost much of the technology and knowledge it once held dear. The sprinkling of magic throughout the book makes this much more believable than it might otherwise have been. It also serves to engross the reader in the untold story that lies beneath the few facts we get about “The Crossing” the brought about the civilization Kelsea lives in. There are a few familiar things thrown in that really give validity and surprising texture to the history of The Tearling. I, for one, was sold the second it was revealed that Kelsea had, in her possession, a copy of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, despite the scarcity of books in The Tearling (printing presses are rare, and books from before The Crossing are rarer still). That was the moment I knew I was hooked, though I think I actually hooked from page one. I know I couldn’t seem to stop reading, despite needing sleep and food and to go places like work and church. I found myself flying through this one, and if you pick it up you’ll soon know why.

There’s something to be said in a book that can hold your attention and keep you guessing even when the future has already been spelled out for you. Each chapter begins with a passage from books written after the events in the book take place, and the passages make it clear that good things are going to come from Kelsea’s reign. This makes it obvious that she’s going to succeed in her mission, yet I still found myself worried for her life on several occasions, and constantly wondering what was going to happen next.

This is fantasy at its best. As I read I found myself thinking of it as a conservative Game of Thrones. There aren’t as many players, death isn’t so loose and free-flowing so the stakes don’t feel quite as high, and the gore and sex is definitely muted here, but it’s the kind of novel anyone who liked GOT would enjoy. I’d recommend it to anyone who didn’t read Game of Thrones because of the gratuitous sex, violence, and profanity. While Queen of the Tearling definitely has some of all of that, it’s definitely more YA appropriate, and nothing too graphic or explicit that I wouldn’t let my high-schooler read it (if I had one, that is).

I do have to say something about the movie adaptation of this book – Emma Watson signed on to produce and star in the film, and its two successors, before the book even hit shelves, but as soon as I read the book I felt furious and betrayed by that casting choice. I know what you’re thinking – how can anything Emma Watson does be bad? Well, let me tell you – this book makes a HUGE deal about the fact that Queen Kelsea isn’t pretty. She’s slightly overweight, with a rounded boyish face, and it’s constantly reiterated that the men around her find her “plain.” Last time I checked, Emma Watson is one of the most stunning women in Hollywood. While she certainly has the brains and the acting skills to portray Kelsea, there is no way she can pull off looking anything but beautiful. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel betrayed by any movie adaptation that tries to “beautify” Kelsea to fit Hollywood’s ideal. Because I though Kelsea’s plainness was not only intriguing and refreshing, but also one of the most honest and believable parts of the whole tale. And without that the whole affair is, I’m afraid, going to feel like some fake plastic imitation of The Queen of the Tearling. I’ll try to withhold some judgement until the film trailers start playing, but for now I’m not looking forward to seeing what else they do to this enthralling novel.

But the actual worst part of this whole venture is having to wait for the sequel, which isn’t due out until June of 2015. At least if this novel is any indication, The Invasion of the Tearling is sure to be worth the next eight months wait.

Rating: 5++++/5 stars 

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