The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #1) by Erika Johansen

17415882Expected publication: July 8th 2014 by Harper

“The Queen of the Tearling introduces readers to a world as fully imagined and terrifying as that of The Hunger Games, with characters as vivid and intriguing as those of The Game of Thrones, and a wholly original heroine. Combining thrilling action and twisting plot turns; it is a magnificent debut from the talented Erika Johansen”

I do not agree with the Marketing / PR statement.

The intended hype:

This magnificent debut, as the Marketing department insinuates, by the talented author, is already signed for a seven-book deal, film rights to the entire book series already sold to Warner Bros with “Harry Potter” producer David Heyman on board and best of all Harry Potter star Emma Watson signed on to play the lead in the saga.

“Harper Collins will publish the trilogy, which has been described as a female “Game of Thrones” beginning in 2014.”

I particularly don’t care about this “female” bullshit, as if I (a woman) should not like GoT but wait for a female version of the same? Now if the responsible for this logorrhea reads my review: Dear Sir or Madam, I hate women’s parking places, because I almost always see males parking there their big cars as they can’t be bothered to use the smaller parking lot 5 meters away. I don’t like being told that women can’t drive, spent endless time in front of the mirror or collect shoes en masse. If you read the book you’ll find out that our heroine is especially a character described as un-female-like.
Apart from my personal misgivings with the marketing I’d like to refer to the four points mentioned in the blurb:

1. A world as fully imagined and terrifying as that of The Hunger Games
2. Characters as vivid and intriguing as those of The Game of Thrones
3. A wholly original heroine
4. Thrilling action and twisting plot turns

1. A world as fully imagined and terrifying as that of The Hunger Games
Why do we always have to compare things to “The Hunger Games”, “Game of Thrones”, “Harry Potter” or “Twilight” or whatever? This book is no copycat; the world building is “same same but different”. It’s the typical fantasy world setup: a fictional European, feudalistic, medieval world with a backwards technological status. What makes it unique is the background history: William Tear, an utopist from our time, decided to cross an ominous ocean to an unknown new world on ships together with 2000 followers building a better world. His dream was that of pure socialism, leaving behind technology and religion (the false gods, so to speak). They land in a country of scarce resources. The great socialist vision of William Tear erodes after the Landing ending in a coup complete with assassination and finally initiation of a royal monarchy and the reawakening of religious fascism with some parallels to the National Socialism (->Cardinal Anders wore a small gold pin in the shape of a hammer, a memento of his time spent on the Regent’s anti-sodomy squads). The story starts a few hundred years after the Crossing. I was fascinated by this setup but found it rather disrupting to the flow. For example, a few times characters refer in dialogues to fictional or real characters: Caesar, Helen of Troy, Brother Grimm, Scheherazade or Leonardo da Vinci.

“What exactly are you asking for, Scheherazade?”
“Devotion to your God and your church is more important than your understanding of the things of Caesar.”

Whatever those names should have achieved, they didn’t sway me. A lot of books are mentioned, talked about or read: J.K. Rawlings’ seven-book-bundle of Harry Potter, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and the works of a historian called Barbara Tuchman.
The mentioning felt out of place, superimposed and constructed like when the Red Queen tells us she is a geneticist, perhaps the most advanced geneticist since the Crossing, or when a normal talk is interrupted by the mentioning of plastic or transplant surgery, eBooks, etc. For me this always felt more like a waking gong. Bam! It just didn’t fit at all with the entire magical, medieval world.

Having said that, there are also other references that I found totally awesome: A lot of well-known elements are integrated into the plot without being too obvious but still discernible: There is an almost Robin Hood like secondary character playing an important role, there is the “True Queen” element of the Arthurian Legend, there is of course the very plain addition of the Red Queen (no other name is known), a Lewis Carroll character from Through the Looking-Glass, we also have a lot of Scottish, Welsh, Irish mythology thrown into the mix. Names and nicknames are very important to the story. I won’t take your fun away looking them up. But I found this really a nice add-on. I like to look things up, and to see that an author has put some thought into naming characters and integrating folklore elements when it fits. Just a small example, the Robin Hood-alike is called The Fetch. This is a supernatural double or apparition of a living person in Irish folklore. It is largely akin to the doppelgänger, and sightings are regarded as omens, usually for impending death. The Fetch was easily one the most intriguing characters for me throughout the story.

2. Characters as vivid and intriguing as those of The Game of Thrones
No, no, no. Simply said the characters were not that intriguing as those of GoT. A lot of the secondary cast was quite flat or one-dimensional. There were almost no characters with duplicity or hidden motifs. As with the world building sometimes also the characterization seemed too technical, straight out of the textbook. The Red Queen, even though we have her POV, is typical evil, ordering slaves killed for snoring. Arliss, the new Treasurer, is a bookie and black market business man, with a lame left side; tufts of white hear sprouting out of his ears and the acrid smell of old flesh. There are also spiderlike, cunning, evil characters, crazy albinos and self-pitying, fat and illiterate adversaries. It is overdone, in my opinion. You are simply not guessing long who is standing on which side. If someone claims those characters are as vivid and intriguing as those of GoT, then I simply have to say, no they are not. But I still liked reading about them. It would have been maybe better to integrate more POV like those of Javel, leave the Red Queen POV out and make some of the characters less obviously loyal and more ambiguous.

3. A wholly original heroine
I’ll keep that one short. Kelsea is original, I’ll grant that. She is intelligent, calculative so far so that someone even compares her to a computer, a machine who can compare many variables at once. It is not a too farfetched observation as Kelsea really seems very rational and even cold / offish at times. Outwardly she acts and thinks well above her 19 years. She was born and educated to be a (good) queen other than her vain, superficial and helpless mother. But her character is overdone. She is not only plain, but almost pudgy. This circumstance is being conjured a lot throughout the story. As if not enough she also has to wear an armor (that flattens her breast) and to cut her long hair at some point, which to me was not that necessary. At the end of the book she has almost no feminine qualities left and looks just like a chubby, young soldier. Can’t an intelligent girl be also kind of nice looking? She doesn’t have to be beautiful but at least leave her some female appeal. It disappointed me a little bit to see Kelsea’s character reduced to a virago.

4. Thrilling action and twisting plot turns

I don’t complain, but this is a long read. There is a lot of introduction, set-up and bit of info-dumping in the beginning but not too much. The action is limited to a few chapters but it is thrilling, with a lot of blood and amputated arms and legs flying around the battle. Gory! But plot turns? Not much. I think this might get better in following books but in this one the plot flows fairly lineal and predictable.

Finally, I really did like this book, and I am looking forward to the next in this series. But I don’t think this book merits the marketing hype.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for providing me with the ARC!




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9 thoughts on “The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #1) by Erika Johansen”

  1. If you had to give this book a rating (eg PG-13 or R) what would you give it as I have heard some conflicting reports with some people saying it is probably not a young adults book but is geared to be older than that. What is your opinion?


    1. I think this might be a good book for young adults, depends on the reader. Some of the discriptions are bloody, but some fairy tales are even more so. I don’t know, to be honest. If a child watches The Walking Dead it can read this book 🙂

      1. Thanks a lot for the reply as it is really appreciated. Fairy tails in particular can be a lot more bloody than most people think.

        Feel free not to answer this question but I heard there is quite a bit of off page rape that happens in this book? Is this true and if so what characters are doing it?

        Thank you.

      2. I read another review which implied one of the female characters drugged men and had sex with them but all this happened off page (as it it is not explicitly stated in the book that it is happening but it is strongly implied).

      3. Thanks for that. A part of me thought it was the main female who was doing that and it sounded odd to me that the main protagonist was also raping people so thanks for the correction.

  2. Great review, I particularly agree with your statement: “The mentioning felt out of place, superimposed and constructed”
    That bit really caught me off-guard, too. Although I didn’t particularly give this a high rating, I’m still eager to continue on with the series and hope to see some character development!

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