Following good stories wherever they lead
A fantasy centered around an untested, exiled queen in the making, this first novel has an engaging narrative and some strong elements. Don’t be fooled, though: it’s not The Hunger Games meets Game of Thrones. Be patient, and see if this tale grows on you.
Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 mugs
If you’re in the mood for: Queens in the making, with dash of magic and a slice of sword.
We first meet Kelsea in the forest, waiting for a group of armed men to either escort her or murder her.
Soon enough, a few things become clear. Kelsea is the heir to the throne of the Tearling, presumed dead by most and hidden in a forest hermitage with two guardians, harsh Carlin and gentle Barty. She has been trained from a little girl to prepare for this day — the day when she steps forward to claim her rightful place as Queen.
Kelsea is going to make a bid for the throne of her kingdom, and nearly everyone is ready to kill her for it.
She is not without defenses, we find. There is the sapphire that she wears, a symbol of the throne and a source of mysterious powers that she doesn’t fully understand. Her own determination and judgement will serve her well in forging alliances quickly, and her training with Carlin taught her strategy in this strange new political contest. The Queen’s Guard has sworn to deliver her safely to the throne, at least — if she can prove her claim, and win their regard.
There is no shortage of other players. The Fetch, a mysterious masked vigilante who will take a personal interest in the prospective Queen and her plans. Kelsea’s own uncle, Thomas, who currently holds the throne, with no intention of giving it up. And the Red Queen, monarch of a rival kingdom that ravaged the Tearling and now demands tribute in the form of regular slave shipments, culled from the general population.
Kelsea has her work cut out for her. She must first survive the journey to her kingdom, and then establish herself on the throne, usurping her own uncle — even as the forces of Mortmesne, led by the Red Queen, threaten to overrun the Tearling itself.
This has been described elsewhere as a conservative novel, and I agree — The Queen of the Tearling doesn’t attempt to break new ground in the fantasy genre so much as deliver a slightly reconfigured version of a familiar story. That doesn’t make it a bad read. In fact, the narrative was compelling enough to keep me reading steadily over the course of several days. The style was a bit more removed than I’d prefer, in that we spend most of our time in a third-person narration that keeps us just over the character’s shoulder, instead of directly in their minds. But in some areas this perspective worked quite well, and Kelsea showed enough surprising reserves to make her character an interesting subject of observation.
Other characters are fleshed out with varying levels of success — Thomas, in particular, seems a waste of pages for all the depth he shows — and the world itself is a confusing amalgamation of elements that needs further explanation.
This is not a sprawling fantasy epic on the level of Game of Thrones, and it is too impersonal for the gut-wrenching impact of The Hunger Games. Having those expectations will lead to disappointment. Instead, you’re best served to approach this story on its own terms, a tale that brings us an untried, untested heroine and invites us on her journey to become something more — perhaps even a queen for the ages to remember.