Book Review: The Queen of the Tearling

Okay, I get it. I understand the criticisms of this book, I even agree with most of the them. But damn if I didn’t enjoy reading it. This book doesn’t do anything too shocking, or really anything that we haven’t seen before. Fans of fantasy will find the setup familiar: a young woman named Kelsea reappears from a life of hiding once she comes of age to inherit the throne. She battles political infighting, an embittered populace, and several attempts on her life. Oh, there’s also the looming threat of an evil queen in a neighboring state, and a couple of powerful family gems thrown in the mix. So fairly familiar territory, but despite this (and it’s few blatant flaws), I think it is a fun read.

Speaking of those flaws, the book does a few things that really didn’t work for me. These are actually more important to know than the things that do work. If you cannot get past these problems you are going to be in the “this book really isn’t for me” group.

  • The weird future medieval time period. At first glance the story feels like it takes place in another world during a medieval time period equivalent. But then it becomes apparent that is is actually our world, in the future (there are references to the Internet, Harry Potter, modern medicine). So something happens that causes us to regress, lose all of our technology, etc. On the surface this is fine, many post apocalyptic stories deal with a society that crumbles, but in this novel it feels odd. So some sort of catastrophe happens and we lose access to much of our technology, but no one even tries to retain the knowledge or regain what we had? We just regress back to swords and shields, horses and carriages? And no ones seems particularly bothered by this? Even in post apocalyptic stories the characters are generally striving to keep some semblance of what they had. They search for fuel to keep vehicles running, they search for medicine, they cling to whatever pieces of modern life they can. So it just seems off to me, and rather unlikely, that the people in this novel would just give up. In all fairness, as of yet we don’t know what happened to bring the world to this point,but I’m not sure what could possibly explain this level of regression. I managed to get over this by pretending that it is actually a different world, one that just happened to have Harry Potter as well. This was surprisingly easy.
  • The body image/self esteem issues of the main character. Kelsea thinks about how plain she is, a LOT. At times and in situations where it doesn’t even make sense. Despite having these self esteem issues herself, Kelsea has no problem tearing down another woman for believing herself to be beautiful even though she is OLD. You would think she would be more sympathetic towards the plights of an aging woman dealing with beauty and self image in a society that measures a woman’s worth based on how she looks. But no, if you’re old you should just shut up and stop trying. Now, I can forgive this because I think I see what the author was trying to do, and I respect it. Kelsea is a heroine whose beauty is NOT one of her key traits. She struggles with body image and self esteem, she worries she does not fit what her society deems a queen should look like. So the story is trying to touch on these issues and how they affect women, even women in power, even fantasy heroines. But it doesn’t always feel natural and it isn’t always consistent, so at time it feels like it is doing more harm than good.

However, the book is still FUN. Despite the body image issues, Kelsea is an interesting, multifaceted character. The politics are intricate, the fantasy elements intriguing, the characters endearing (or aggravating in the case of the “villains”). I’m excited to pick up the next installment of this series. I believe the flaws could be easily addressed in a sequel, or at the very least the enjoyable elements can continue to carry the weight.