Audiobook Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Audiobook Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika JohansenThe Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Narrator: Katherine Kellgren
Length: 14 hrs, 30 mins
Series: The Queen of the Tearling #1
Published by Harper Audio on July 8, 2014
Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
AmazonThe Book DepositoryAudible
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two-half-stars

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. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But 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.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But 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.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend…if she can survive.

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.

A couple of weeks ago, The Queen of the Tearling was in my DNFed Fictions post. Pretty much immediately after, circumstances were such that I had to give The Queen of the Tearling another try. My memory is such that I started right over from the beginning with an open mind. The novel and I got along better on this go-round, but I’m still not convinced that The Queen of the Tearling is actually good. It became oddly compelling at a certain point, but a host of problems remain.

Let’s get the most obvious element out of the way. I’ve written a post, inspired by this book specifically, about how certain novels are futuristic when they would make more sense as straight up fantasy. I stand by this opinion now that I’ve finished. I suppose it’s possible, distantly, for Johansen to satisfactorily explain HOW this society would have come to be, but this book does not contain any such explanation. If you can ignore the fact that The Queen of the Tearling is supposedly the future, then it’s much more enjoyable.

Johansen doesn’t make that easy, though, keeping up a stream of references to our current culture, primarily through literature. Kelsea, following literary tradition, is a reader. It’s a shame that a heroine obsessed with reading has become such a cliché that I’m immediately skeptical when it happens, particularly in a futuristic society with almost no books. Of course, the heroine can read and has a good portion of the kingdom’s books at her disposal. This felt like a plot device to make me love Kelsea. All it actually did was remind me regularly that the Grimm fairy tales and histories of Barbara Tuchman exist in this magical fantasy world for inexplicable reasons. Also, if you love your ereader, you should know that ebooks are why the future has so few books left. Womp womp.

Kelsea reminds me heavily of Elisa from The Girl of Fire and Thorns, if not from the latter novels. Like Elisa, Kelsea loathes her personal appearance. She feels like she makes a terrible queen because she does not look the part. Much like Elisa’s early narration, Kelsea’s first response to anyone is to evaluate their appearance. Young or old, she must consider whether they are currently attractive or ever were. Kelsea hasn’t yet learned anything about beauty by the end of the novel, except that she is, as you are oft told, ugly, but that being ugly and aware of the fact is better than to be ugly and think you’re beautiful. Her focus on outer beauty is Kelsea’s only real flaw, which is why she doesn’t feel like a real person to me.

Much is made of Kelsea’s terrible temper. I’m clearly meant to see this as a flaw in her character as well. However, what I’m told and what I’m shown are two different things. Kelsea’s temper empowers her, literally and figuratively. Not only that, but her temper never leads her into making unwise choices. Whatever call she made always turns out to be the correct one. Her temper and instincts, which she always follow, lead her on the best path, so I really cannot see them as a flaw.

Elisa has a jewel in her navel, a gift from God that will help her to fulfill some great destiny. Kelsea has two blue jewels on necklaces which prove that she is the Queen of the Tearling. In both cases, the jewels help the women know what to do. They’re sort of led around by their jewels and have additional power because of them. The differences, however, are many, and all make The Queen of the Tearling come out the weaker novel. View Spoiler »

Where Elisa constantly struggles with the point of her quest and how to accomplish it, everything comes naturally and easily to Kelsea. She never has to actually study or practice anything; she’s just good at it innately. To try to keep the reader from noticing that Kelsea discovers a new strength every time the going gets tough, Johansen makes sure that Kelsea suffers physically constantly. In pretty much every intense scene, she’s wounded, often very badly. I’d like this if it weren’t just to disguise how easily Kelsea accomplishes every single goal she sets out to do. View Spoiler »

To top it all off, aside from her focus on beauty, Kelsea’s PERFECT. She stands for absolutely everything that is right and good. Her enemies are evil wastrels who rape and murder and hate children. Obviously, even though I don’t like Kelsea, I have to support her, because what other choice is there. There are a couple of secondary characters who show shades of grey exist in the world View Spoiler », which I do appreciate, but the protagonists and antagonists are too clearly good vs. evil. Kelsea always makes the ethically correct choice without considering political ramifications and that doesn’t backfire on her. It’s ideal, sure, but I don’t find it realistic in the slightest.

There’s no romance to speak of either. It’s honestly astounding I wasn’t still bored this time through. I suppose that must be due to the wonderful narration by Katherine Kellgren. She’s almost like a full cast narration all by herself, since her various accents and voices are so good and distinct. Thus far, the characters I’m most impressed with are the queen’s guards and the two women Kelsea rescued (one from an abusive husband and one from her uncle). View Spoiler » They have their own motivations and undecided loyalties. In a book that’s so cut and dried, they’re refreshing.

The Queen of the Tearling did entertain me, but that’s about all I can say. I might read the next one, if only because the comparisons to The Girl of Fire and Thorns intrigue me. That series I didn’t like at the start either, but then became one of my favorites by the end.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 gif melisandre game of thrones
Because the villain reminds me of her and also that expression.

2 responses to “Audiobook Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen”

  1. Meg says:

    I HAZ a saaaaad but also damn you and the excellent points you make. Being an easily distracted reader I totally didn’t notice the using physical consequences to hide relatively ideal outcomes thing but that is absolutely right. I did notice that everything was pretty damn convenient but then just went with it. Definitely agree about the read it like a fantasy.

    I’m glad it sucked less and also am sorry it still didn’t work. I’ll be your guinea pig with book two if you want 😀
    Meg recently posted…Review: Lailah by Nikki KellyMy Profile

  2. Gwen says:

    Oh how I adore Katherine Kellgren’s magic! So sad she only narrates the first novel in the series…
    Lovely review thank you! ~Gwen

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