The Queen of the Tearling
Published July 8, 2014
434 pages (hardcover)
As a general rule, it’s fair to say that I’m not the biggest fan of fantasy as a genre. It tends to be too long and drawn out, overly complicated, and requires too much suspension of disbelief.
That said, I do make exceptions. For example, I have seen every episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones. But I draw the line at reading the books. Honestly, I’d rather listen to South Park’s “A Song of Ass and Fire” for a day straight than read the GoT books.
Why am I so opposed to reading Game of Thrones? Well, first of all, each one of the books is approximately one billion pages long. I have made it clear time and again how I feel about exceptionally long books (I hate them).
Second, they have more characters than I can count on my fingers (and toes, for that matter). Anything that requires a family tree that looks like this is just too much for me to handle. Even after watching every episode of all four seasons, I can’t tell you half the characters’ names. I rely on nicknames like these:
(NOTE: This chart made the rounds on social media a year or two ago, and I found it again here . . . but I wasn’t able to find its origins. If anyone knows, I’m happy to give credit where credit is due.)
And third, there’s just too much going on. Khaleesi is delightful. And all the drama surrounding Ginger Stark is finally starting to get interesting. But, on the flip side, I really don’t care what’s happening at The Wall with Jon Snow and his band of losers and bastards. And the subplot about Crippled Stark in the woods with his giant, dopey servant and the kid from Love Actually got really old, really fast. I can’t imagine having to plod through all of those boring story lines in book form.
I have been vocal about my refusal to read the Game of Thrones books in the past. And that is why, when I started The Queen of the Tearling, my husband saw the cover and asked me teasingly, “What is this Game of Thrones book you’re reading?”
The cover is only one similarity among many. There is the “Queen’s Guard,” an uncomfortable metal throne, and scheming insiders vying for that throne. There are lots of weird, made-up names of weird, made-up places. There are brave knights and evil whoremongers. There is a creepy red queen. There is magic and weirdness and fantasy.
The book even begins with this map of The Tearling:
. . . which immediately reminded me of this:
But, for me, The Queen of the Tearling is way better than I imagine the Game of Thrones books to be. And here’s why: it is much more limited in focus. There aren’t seventy-five different, tangentially-related plots that are battling for your attention. Instead, there is just one. And it’s an interesting one.
For her protection, baby Kelsea was sent away from the Keep by her mother, Queen Elyssa. She was raised in a secret hideaway deep in the woods by two of Queen Elyssa’s faithful servants. Growing up, she was provided very little information about the kingdom or her mother’s reign. She knew only that her mother had died, leaving her uncle, the Regent, on the throne.
The book begins when Kelsea has reached adulthood and is ready to reign. She is retrieved from her hideout by the Queen’s Guard (her mother’s Guard, that is). Their duty is to get her safely to the Keep, where she will be crowned. There are, of course, many people (including the Regent) who would prefer to see Kelsea killed than to see her crowned, so the Queen’s Guard’s protection is vital.
Kelsea soon discovers that the Queen’s Guard (and Barty and Carlin, who raised her) were all forced to swear an oath to her mother to keep certain secrets about the Tear and its governance from Kelsea. Upon arriving at the Keep, Kelsea begins to learn that her mother’s reign was not all sunshine and rainbows. Kelsea must make some rapid and potentially dangerous decisions about how she will reign and whether she will follow in her mother’s footsteps. These decisions set in motion a series of events that Kelsea must face as she finds her footing as the new Queen of the Tearling.
This is the first book in a trilogy, and it definitely reads that way. Most of the book is introduction/exposition, and the vast majority of it is character driven. A lot of time is spent giving you a feel for who Kelsea is, what kind of Queen she wants to be and will become, and how her decisions will be shaped by her Guard.
Luckily, Kelsea is extremely likable. Long before this book was released, Emma Watson had already signed on to play Kelsea in the movie adaptations of the books (you can read more about that here). And she is a good fit–Kelsea is kind of like a grown-up Hermione. Kelsea is somewhat unassuming in appearance but smart and fair. She is brave and just. She is not constantly (or ever, really) enmeshed in mindless romantic affairs. She loves to read. She makes tough decisions. She stands up for what she thinks is right. And she has a magic necklace that makes her an even bigger badass than she would be on her own. She is, without question, a great female protagonist.
The book is long, yes, but it reads like YA (that is to say, the pages fly by pretty quickly). It contains some action, but the action is not super climactic. It feels more like a taste of what’s to come. The stage is set for the real evil to be waged by the real villains in the coming books.
The Queen of the Tearling does not read like a standalone book, which is a mild pet peeve of mine, but it did leave me wanting to read the second book in the trilogy.
- The #1 Indie Next List pick for July 2014
- A LibraryReads List selection for July 2014
Who should read it: Mom (i.e., people who enjoy the occasional fantasy, especially when the protagonist is all about being good and just); Shana (i.e., people who love a strong, smart female protagonist).
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique (this debut novel set in the Virgin Islands got starred reviews in both Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly)
- The Vacationers by Emma Straub (an Amazon Best Book of the Month for June 2014; an Indie Next List pick for June 2014)
- All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior (an Amazon Best Book of the Month for February 2014 and New York Times best seller)