Sunday, 20 November 2016

Review: The Queen of the Tearling and The Invasion of the Tearing by Erika Johansen

Book cover of The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
I've not been reading all that much fantasy in 2016. It's not a conscious choice but more an unintentional leaning towards literary fiction. That's fine, I'm sure it'll skew back the other way next year (I'm reading Whatever the Hell I Want, did you hear?). It did mean, however, that I'd forgotten just how engaging and enthralling well-written fantasy could be. Enter, The Invasion of the Tearling.

Book cover of The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika JohansenPlot summary: Kelsea Glynn is the sole heir to the throne of Tearling but has been raised in secret by foster parents after her mother – Queen Elyssa, as vain as she was stupid – was murdered for ruining her kingdom. For 18 years, the Tearling has been ruled by Kelsea’s uncle in the role of Regent however he is but the debauched puppet of the Red Queen, the sorceress-tyrant of neighbouring realm of Mortmesme. On Kelsea’s 19th birthday, the tattered remnants of her mother’s guard - each pledged to defend the queen to the death - arrive to bring this most un-regal young woman out of hiding...

And so begins her journey back to her kingdom’s heart, to claim the throne, earn the loyalty of her people, overturn her mother’s legacy and redeem the Tearling from the forces of corruption and dark magic that are threatening to destroy it. But Kelsea's story is not just about her learning the true nature of her inheritance - it's about a heroine who must learn to acknowledge and live with the realities of coming of age in all its insecurities and attractions, alongside the ethical dilemmas of ruling justly and fairly while simply trying to stay alive...

I'm going to review both books as a whole, as I didn't get round to reviewing The Queen of the Tearling earlier in the year. That said, there will be no spoilers for either book. 

The Good

I really like these books, although I do have some concerns as well. I actually left it a few days before starting this review, because sometimes my opinion of a YA-esque book (that isn't actually YA, not really, but I'll talk about that later) fades after a few days and I end up shrugging my shoulders and deleting the next installment from my wishlist after all. Instead, with Invasion of the Tearling, I've actually just gone ahead and pre-ordered it.

It's rare to find a light fantasy book that's both well-written and has a unique premise, but it's fantastic when it happens. The plot is definitely a page-turner - a new Queen, difficult decisions to make, a looming invasion... it's wonderful. The dialogue isn't stilted and I didn't feel I had to concentrate overmuch to unravel the world building, which is also very impressive.

Invasion of the Tearling is definitely slightly better written than Queen of the Tearling, however. It's not that the latter was bad, not at all, but there were far too many instances of 'Kelsea suddenly just knew...' or 'With a flash of intuition, she realised...' for my liking. Seriously, it's really frequent. But that was my only gripe with the writing in either book and that particular flaw doesn't crop up even once in Invasion of the Tearling. I love it when I can see an author develop between books.

I love the characters. Well, aside from Kelsea, but that deserves a whole paragraph to itself. My favourite is Father Tyler, the elderly priest inserted into Kelsea's Court as essentially a spy, but who finds himself racked with indecision. I also like the Mace, Andalie and the whole of the Queen's Guard. They're all unique and well-written, and I can't wait to hear more about all of them.
It looks like a YA book and it has the tone of a YA book (albeit better written), but I don't think it is. Kelsea is nineteen years old, a little out of the scope of teenage books, and there are some fairly graphic scenes of violence. There's also a sex scene but it's vague. It would probably fit into the New Adult category, as loathe as I am to say it. Why is that even a thing!? It doesn't really matter anyway - it's an adult plot with quite informal and casual prose.

The Bad

I wasn't a huge fan of the narrative suddenly jumping to the year 2050, in our world. It was ridiculously jarring to read The Queen of the Tearling and the first third of The Invasion of the Tearling, which are set in your typical high fantasy world (magic, dungeons, horses, torches, etc), and then suddenly the next chapter talks about cars and mobile phones. It's meant to be flashbacks to just before the Crossing, set in 2050 or so, but it just doesn't fit at all. There was nothing in either book to indicate this was going to happen and it felt grossly out of place and completely unnecessary.

The Ugly

So I'm not usually great at picking up on these things, but it was too sledgehammery in both these books (but especially The Invasion of the Tearling) to go over even my head. There's no getting past that these books set an appalling example for young women.

It's possible that I was hyper alert to the possibility when reading the second book, just because I was so shocked at this sentence in the first book:

Kelsea saw now that there was something far worse than being ugly: being ugly and thinking you were beautiful. 

The context of the above quote refers to an older women dressing far younger than Kelsea deemed that she ought, but I don't care. Who approved that sentence for inclusion in a novel that will cross the paths of thousands of impressionable teenagers!? That quote is absolutely disgusting and I was genuinely shocked when I read it. It's not okay.

So yes, I was potentially on the look-out. But even if I wasn't, there are some truly awful examples of how not to come of age.

Kelsea. I was really impressed by how she was described in The Queen of the Tearling. She was a little bit chunky, with a flat, pudgy nose and a sort-of okay complexion. Slightly short, to boot. Awesome. An average looking fictional heroine that we can all admire and feel better about ourselves. Except, in The Invasion of the Tearling, her magic gradually transforms her and now she's notably beautiful. Fuck you. The one thing about this woman that didn't make me want to scratch her eyes out, and then it's 'rectified.'

Let's see. The way she treats men is appalling. She essentially wants to hump all of them and has a bitch fit when they turn her down. "You're just like every other man!" she spat. Really, though? Because I'm pretty sure the stereotype is that they want to get in your pants. If this was a novel from the male perspective and a man was treating a woman like that, there would be outrage.

The bit that really got me though, is that Kelsea cuts herself. That's fine (well, not fine, obviously - but I mean in a literary sense) as perhaps teenagers who are already self-harming need to see it brought into the spotlight a little more. The Invasion of the Tearling seems to almost glorify it, however. The narrative frequently talks about the release it gives her and how good it feels... but then in literally one sentence towards the end she realises she shouldn't do it anymore (with no explanation) and that's that. It's shoved in almost as an afterthought and the benefits are pointed out in a way that borders on negligent.


I really like this series and I've pre-ordered the next book. I genuinely can't wait to read it. However, I do have some concerns about the messages contained within - and I will continue to think myself beautiful, thank you very much.


  1. I was umming over continuing this series earlier today. I have only read the first one and was quite surprised to see the third is out soon. I've pretty much forgotten half of it now. Not sure, I think I have become a lot more aware of gender issues in fantasy over the last few years.

    1. The third book came out at the beginning of December - I reviewed it last week.

      I would have said that you should continue but the ending to the whole series isn't great, to be honest. If you can overlook the crappy finish, it's worth reading overall.


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