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The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
4.5
Book Name: The Queen of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Publisher(s): Harper (US) Bantam Press (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: July 8, 2014 (US) July 17, 2014 (UK)

My hardback cover of The Queen of the Tearling is emblazoned with a bright red sticker telling me it’s: “SOON TO BE A MAJOR FILM starring Emma Watson”. On the inside, the blurb claims that the book is: “the debut of a born storyteller blessed with a startling imagination”. There’s much to live up to, before I’ve even began to read. A few pages in, and there’s a map; without giving anything away, there are names of places that I immediately found intriguing, and my imagination was already whirring when I started the first chapter.

I was hooked. Just like that, the writing embraced me and took me into a new world I knew nothing about, where a girl in her late teens is taken from her foster parents, exchanging a simple life in a log cabin for that of a queen on her throne. Kelsea isn’t so much a Chosen One as an Unlucky One; of the guardsmen who have been sent to protect her, not one of them can see her reign lasting long enough for her to make it to being crowned.

The story that develops doesn’t break any new ground – Kelsea is unsure of herself and has to avoid attempted assassination at almost every turn – yet amongst the intrigues and scheming that appear somewhat straight-forward, there are plenty of surprises. The plot has a linear pace that will keep the pages turning; it slows when it should, but is never dull, instead giving the reader a chance to have a breather and consider the repercussions of events. We’re fed snippets of information about the history of the Tearling and its surrounding land, fascinating bites that suggest it’s a world somehow connected to our own.

Above all, it’s the characters that drive the story, none more so than Kelsea herself. As well as being the focus of the novel, she’s our eyes and ears in this new world, and it’s here where Erika Johansen’s writing truly impresses. At first, it appears as if Kelsea is going to be the same as many other fantasy characters that are destined for greatness, but once the reader begins to spend time with her, we’re allowed to share her thoughts and feelings, giving true insight into what makes the young woman tick. She becomes our companion on this journey, and the writing is such that we feel we’re making it with her rather than reading about it.

As much as Kelsea shines, it’s not because she’s surrounded by a cardboard cut-out supporting cast. On the contrary, once roles have been established, many often become more than they seem, while all of them have recognisable motivations, distinctive personalities and voices. Like Kelsea, they’re brought to life by emotive writing that never becomes too overbearing, and it’s hard not to think of each of them as the hero of their own story, doing what they feel is right, however damaging the results may be. Even the villains have this sense of purpose; there’s no wringing of hands of maniacal laughter here, just the necessary cold and calculating deeds intended to further their goals.

The Queen of the Tearling appears to be marketed as a YA novel, but in reality it’s a book for readers of any age or gender. Inevitably, much has been made about it being a story about a female protagonist by a female writer. Granted it’s one in the eye for those who doubt women as fantasy writers (incredibly, there are still those who do), but to those of us who appreciate good storytelling, it’s brilliant, and there’s a range of characters for everyone to have a favourite. While the plot could have been deeper, it wouldn’t have made it the book I was reading long into the night, a book that more that justifies the hype. This is an incredible debut, written by an author who makes her craft appear effortless, and should this high standard continue, I’m sure we’ll see Erika Johansen on ‘best of’ lists for many years to come. There’ll doubtless be more attention when the movie is released, but I can’t help wondering if I’m the only one who thinks Emma Watson would be better suited as the villain than the heroine?

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Rating: 9.7/10 (7 votes cast)
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, 9.7 out of 10 based on 7 ratings
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