Note: There are very minimal spoilers for Book One, and none for Book Two.
The Queen of the Tearling is Book One of an adult fantasy/post-apocalyptic fairy tale. Like a fairy tale, it has plenty of overused tropes and caricatures. Yet it also includes some unique aspects, and is riveting and entertaining, perhaps explaining why it has been optioned for a movie and is set to star Emma Watson as Kelsea, the main protagonist.
In this future world, Kelsea has just turned 19, and therefore is scheduled to take over the throne of the Tearling, an area in what was once England. The Tearling was named for the person who established it several hundred years ago, after a crossing from America. Kelsea has been brought up by foster parents who have hidden her to protect her from enemies such as her uncle, who has acted as Regent and would like to keep that position. But now that she is at the age of ascension, she is taken by a group of her late mother’s guards to New London to be crowned. There is doubt, however, she will make it there alive.
We know she will, of course, since this is a trilogy, but the journey is full of surprises, especially about Kelsea herself. Most significantly, Kelsea is what might be described on a good day as “plain,” and is zaftig to boot. She is insecure about her looks only because she knows that men value prettiness, but she consistently manages to focus her concerns on (1) staying alive, and (2) righting the wrongs perpetrated on the kingdom by her incredibly evil uncle.
She becomes queen, and also inherits the two sapphires associated with the crown and said to have magical powers. Indeed they do, and the jewels are coveted by The Evil Queen of the neighboring evil kingdom, Mortmesne. In fact, the first thing Kelsea does as queen of the Tear is to antagonize that queen by putting a stop to the regular shipments of slaves paid as tribute – an arrangement made by Kelsea’s mother to bribe the Mort Queen not to invade Tear. But after Kelsea’s act of defiance, the threat of a war with the overwhelmingly superior forces of the Mort threatens the kingdom of Tear.
Book Two picks up less than a month after the conclusion of the first book. The Kingdom of Tear is trying desperate measures to delay the invasion by the Mort. Kelsea hopes at least to get her people safe inside of the walls of New London before the Mort forces arrive.
This book is full of surprises too, the biggest being the juxtaposition of Kelsea’s story with that of Lily Mayhew, who was born in 2058, some twenty-five years before the crossing from America, and some 300 years before Kelsea was born. From Lily’s story we learn what led up to The Crossing, a very dark story indeed.
Back in the Tear, we follow the preparations for war, and see Kelsea learning to harness the powers of the sapphires she has inherited as Queen. She is also discovering that the sapphires can also anticipate her wants without her even articulating them. This creates a great deal of danger for her and others, because people don’t always have just “good” thoughts and desires.
There are some astonishing developments in this book, and if you liked the first book, you won’t want to miss this sequel. It is not your average Book Two of a trilogy. I can’t wait to see how it turns out!
Discussion: There is a lot of physical and sexual abuse, a dashing “bad boy,” guards who are either loyal to the death, treacherous, or corruptible because of some weakness or other, and a very corrupt and evil Church. The series is being hyped (or discredited) as a mashup of “Game of Thrones,” “The Hunger Games” and “Maleficent.” But what really makes this book stand out is the character of Kelsea.
Kelsea, as mentioned above, is not stereotypically good-looking. Although she is 19, she has never been involved with any other children, much less any boys. When she tries to train to use weapons, she is a failure. But she grows up very fast, in almost every way. And she shows that value comes from what is invisible to the eye, to paraphrase The Little Prince. Kelsea is unlike any other YA heroine I can think of.
Evaluation: This series has its faults, but it makes for irresistible reading.
Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2014 and 2015