Published: July 17th 2014 by Random House AU
Format: ARC, 432 pages
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Her throne awaits . . . if she can live long enough to take it.
It was on her nineteenth birthday that the soldiers came for Kelsea Glynn. They’d come to escort her back to the place of her birth – and to ensure she survives long enough to be able to take possession of what is rightfully hers.
But like many nineteen-year-olds, Kelsea is unruly, has high principles and believes she knows better than her elders. Unlike many nineteen-year-olds, she is about to inherit a kingdom that is on its knees – corrupt, debauched and dangerous.
Kelsea will either become the most fearsome ruler the kingdom has ever known . . . or be dead within the week.
Kelsea has been raised by her foster parents in hiding since she was a baby. She knows her mother was the Queen of the Tear, and that she’s the heir, destined to return to public life at nineteen to take up her throne. She knows her uncle rules as Regent in her stead. She knows that the neighbouring kingdom of Mortmesne tried to invade Tear, and her mother signed The Mort Treaty to keep everyone safe.
Unfortunately, Kelsea knows nothing else. Her guardians swore an oath to her mother to never reveal the true state of the kingdom to the Princess, which is weird and awkward because how the hell is she meant to rule when she doesn’t know the first thing about the tenuous political climate?
Well, she manages, because Kelsea is an intelligent, fearsome, determined person: she was born to rule. Her foster parents spent every day of the last nineteen years preparing Kelsea for her throne, and she’s simply amazing to watch as she navigates the dangerous political waters of her kingdom. I have the biggest crush on Kelsea!
Alongside Kelsea are her Queen’s Guard: old and jaded soldiers who guarded her mother’s life and now guard hers. They too are bound by their oaths of secrecy to Kelsea’s mother (seriously, Kelsea’s mother was ten kinds of stupid for making everyone swear to secrecy), but never hesitate to step between Kelsea and anything that might threaten her. The relationships Kelsea forged with her guards were great, especially her interactions with her close-guard (her always-present bodyguard) Pen, and the leader of the Queen’s Guard, Mace.
Kelsea being as young and inexperienced as she is, she found that she had to prove herself to everyone she met. It was very satisfying to watch as she met all these people who underestimated her and treated her like she was a puppet ruler at best and a little girl at worst. They came into the room thinking they knew everything and usually left the room quivering or in awe. Good times.
My favourite aspect of The Queen of the Tearling, aside from Kelsea’s character, is the world-building. I loved this fictional world, and I’m really glad there will be more books set there because I just want to step through the pages of the book and live here. It’s vividly imagined and gorgeously brought to life through the prose. There are a few secrets about this world that readers will need to unlock, and that was a great experience for me (and that’s all I can say because I don’t want to ruin the adventure for you).
Another great thing about The Queen of the Tearling is that it is told in the style of many modern high-fantasy novels where each chapter has a little quote from somewhere. If you read these quotes, you can basically piece together how this story (that is, the series) ends. It’s fascinating because we know how history works, we know who gets to write books after an event has happened and who gets to pen memoirs about great Kings and Queens, and so the narrative isn’t really being pushed along by an urgent need to know WHAT happens, but rather a need to know HOW it all unfolds.
And so we come to my only disappointment in The Queen of the Tearling: the fact that Kelsea has many and varied relationships with all the men in her life, but has only negative-leaning relationships with the women. There are five significant women in the book aside from Kelsea herself (that is, they were given speaking lines, were mentioned by name, and Kelsea noticed their existence). Of them, one is the Queen of Mortmesne, who isn’t going to become Kelsea’s friend any time soon. Another is Kelsea’s foster-mother, with whom she has a lukewarm relationship. The third is Kelsea’s Dame of the Chamber Andalie, who has some Mort blood in her and is quite intimidating. Kelsea doesn’t try to make friends with her and instead skips right along to feeling irrationally jealous that Andalie would make a better queen than Kelsea herself. The fourth woman is Marguerite, a slave that Kelsea rescues and then gives a place within her household. Marguerite is incredibly beautiful, and Kelsea, who is repeatedly described as “plain” and “carrying too much weight”, is jealous of how she looks. The last woman in our list is Lady Andrews, a noble woman with a penchant for expensive clothes and hats, and lots of make-up. Kelsea hates her on sight based on her appearance, and judges her for liking fine things (Kelsea herself prefers plain dresses and no jewellery, and would never dream of wearing face-paints).
Taken individually, Kelsea’s reactions to the women seem understandable, but the broader picture makes me sad. The Queen of the Tearling has shown us so many positive relationships between men and women that aren’t limited to romance: we have a foster-father and foster-daughter, we have the Queen and her Guard, and the Queen and her Priest. And that’s something I love because we get to see so little of it in books these days. But Kelsea never makes a truly positive relationship with any of the women around her, and I feel that’s a huge let down. Are women in fiction destined to always be portrayed as irrationally jealous or hateful of other women, even when written by women? That’s just sad.
It’s a small issue to have with The Queen of the Tearling, which is otherwise an amazing book, even more so when you realise it’s a début. Début novels usually don’t come to readers so richly told and well-executed. I’ll be looking forward to anything and everything else the author writes – I think it’s obvious she’s going places!
I recommend The Queen of the Tearling to readers of fantasy, and fans of the works of Trudi Canavan and Sarah J. Maas will devour it. I’ve loved it, and am looking forward to the rest of the series eagerly.
It’s also going to be a movie with Emma Watson playing Kelsea, and I think that will be perfect.