Title: The Queen of the Tearling
Publisher: Bantam Press
Hardback: 434 pages
Publication Date: 17/07/2014
I came to this book with no preconceptions. Meandering through a bookshop as I attempted to kill some time before an appointment [I am one of those insufferable people who is always early for everything!], I spotted the cover on one of the shelves in the fantasy section. And it was probably only the use of ‘Queen’ in the title that made me pick the book up and read the book description on the inside flap. In a way, it caught me at the perfect moment, with my mind in a very specific mood. I both wanted to read a fantasy novel, but also wanted something featuring a female lead. And this ticked both boxes.
It was only once I had finished the book, and was doing some research prior to writing this review, that I found the publisher’s description of the book; claiming that it had “the narrative drive of The Hunger Games, the dystopian thrills of Divergent with the political chicanery of Games of Thrones.” To be honest, if I had read this at the time that I bought The Queen of the Tearling then I most likely would have put it back on the shelf with a sigh and a grimace.
So I am thankful that I didn’t, because, despite this overblown and rather misguided attempt to describe and pigeon-hole the novel, I really enjoyed reading it.
The plot revolves around nineteen-year-old Kelsea Glynn, who has been brought up in remote isolation, but with the knowledge that she will one day inherit the throne of the kingdom of Tear. However, the crown is more poisoned chalice than prize – with few Tear monarchs holding the crown for long, due to frequent assassination attempts. So, when the Queen’s Guard come to collect Kelsea from the place where she has grown up, no-one expects her to survive more than a few days – let alone set about turning her decaying and corrupt kingdom back to its former glory.
As a heroine, Kelsea is strong and determined, and manages to be both naive and serious. At the outset of the novel she sometimes came across in her manner as somewhat younger than her nineteen-years, and part of me did wonder whether the author had initially written her as a younger protagonist. As someone who has read my fair share of historical and fantasy fiction over the years, I am all too aware that characters in these genres often mature at a far younger age than tallies with our modern conception of childhood and adulthood. As an example from history, Edward, the Black Prince, was sixteen when he fought at the Battle of Crécy.
Therefore, Kelsey’s being nineteen, and feeling like a young nineteen at that, didn’t completely feel right in the first half of the novel. In truth, part of me wondered whether this was a tactical re-aging done by the publisher to bring the character in-line with the current vogue for YA fiction to have its protagonists at the upper end of the teenage spectrum [which apparently is the sweet-spot to appeal to both the younger YA market and slightly older readers as well].
Nevertheless, Kelsea, despite some slight missteps as a character in the first half of the book, develops as the novel progresses. And the pace of the book and the action was enough to sweep away many of these concerns. Because there is a lot of action bookending the novel, and a page-turning pace that meant that the novel rarely got bogged down.
For me though, the element that really stood out, and which had me most intrigued for future books in the series, was the world in which the novel is set. Early on in the novel there were references to the ‘Crossing’. But this was cleverly and carefully teased out over the course of the book – creating a steady feed of information that kept the world evolving. So, whilst the world itself had a degree of magic within it – certainly in the sense that Kelsea possesses a necklace with apparently magical properties – it also hinted at some sort of intersection with the world that we know and live in. Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, America and Europe, along with computers, were all mentioned in the book – which only heightened the intrigue that I felt as a reader about this world, and what had come before.