Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review: Queen of the Tearling/Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Publisher: Harper
Release Date: July 8th, 2014
My Goodreads Rating: 3/5
An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy. Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom's haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands. Long ago, Kelsea's forefathers sailed away from a decaying world to establish a new land free of modern technology. Three hundred years later, this feudal society has divided into three fearful nations who pay duties to a fourth: the powerful Mortmesne, ruled by the cunning Red Queen. Now, on Kelsea's nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of the Queen's Guard—loyal soldiers who protect the throne—have appeared to escort the princess on a perilous journey to the capital to ascend to her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling. Though born of royal blood and in possession of the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea has never felt more uncertain of her ability to rule. But the shocking evil she discovers in the heart of her realm will precipitate an act of immense daring, throwing the entire kingdom into turmoil—and unleashing the Red Queen's vengeance. A cabal of enemies with an array of deadly weapons, from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic, plots to destroy her. But Kelsea is growing in strength and stealth, her steely resolve earning her loyal allies, including the Queen's Guard, led by the enigmatic Lazarus, and the intriguing outlaw known simply as "the Fetch." Kelsea's quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun. Riddled with mysteries, betrayals, and treacherous battles, Kelsea's journey is a trial by fire that will either forge a legend . . . or destroy her.
Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Publisher: Harper
Release Date: June 9th, 20145
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5
Trigger Warnings: Rape, Self Harm
With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion. But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out.

Originally, I was going to review these two books separately. However, my thoughts on them are so closely intertwined that it makes sense to do a joint review. I'll do my best to avoid spoilers, but some small details will likely slip through. That said, most people seem to have heard a lot about Queen of the Tearling already, so you may know the details about that book already!

So yes - Queen of the Tearling. I went in to reading it with muted expectations. It had been recommended to me as a feminist book, but I had also seen a ton of reviews slating it.

I actually really enjoyed it, but it felt a little bit like a guilty pleasure and that was down to two reasons. The first being the world building. I won't go into a huge amount of detail here, but beyond the immediate location of our characters there is this whole THING that just made me scratch my head. And there were no answers towards the end of the book to alleviate any concerns readers might have that this books premise was an absolute joke.

The second issue I had is much more closely related to the theme of this blog - it didn't feel all that feminist to me at all. Kelsea was 'strong' yes, but it didn't feel believable. Every thing just fell in to place for her. She was often reckless, but never faced consequences. There were times when I thought she was wrong, but the author made sure she was always right. She was also OBSESSED with outer beauty. Props to the author for wanting her MC to be 'plain' but did her plain looks constantly have to be held up against the beauty of others? And she just seemed to either feel uncomfortable around other women, or outright hate them. There's one line, which I'm sure has been gone over a ton of times by now, where Kelsea outright thinks the following (paraphrasing): 'the only thing worse than...was a woman who thought she was beautiful when she was not.'

UGH. Right? UGH.

Yet, I still enjoyed the read. Any high fantasy (sort of) world that taps on my favourite themes (stoic defender, mysterious rogue, queen becoming a legend and saving her people - to name a few) will be a fun read.

I went into Invasion of the Tearling expecting to have fun, and that was all. But I LOVED it.

I don't think it's a flawless book, by any stretch, but I had a good time. And it addressed my two big issues with the first book.

The world building, while still a bit shaky, was really fleshed out. We finally get some answers about the Crossing and just what the hell is going on in this new world. I doubt it will make everyone happy, but I applaud the ambition of it. It's certainly nothing like what I've read before.

And then we have the feminist aspect, and things were much improved here.

The one sticking issue I do still have is the obsession with Kelsea's prettiness - she actually 'becomes' beautiful in this book. I'm hoping she'll revert back to her plain self eventually, but it's a shame that this gets so much emphasis.

Also - her necklaces seem to be little more than an easy out for the author at all times. I hope they end up with some proper explanation.

But the good stuff?

Invasion made it clear to me that actually, Kelsea can make the wrong choices and she can be pulled up on those choices. In fact, I'm not sure that Kelsea is meant to be all that likable which, ironically, makes me like her infinitely more. She gets pretty dark in this book actually, and there's some self harm involved in her arc which might trigger some people. Ultimately, she's a good person at heart, but she's flawed. And I'm cool with that.

Kelsea is paralleled with the villian in this book, and it works pretty well. On top of that, the villain becomes a much more 3D character. Nothing about the Red Queens story is all that groundbreaking, but it's still good that she isn't just cackling away in her evil tower with her evil ways for no reason.

The romance is not your standard romance. Kelsea still pines for somebody that I genuinely don't think she will ever have. My sort of crack ship sort of becomes canon, and I have high hopes for it...but also, it's really NOT your standard romance at all. And I like that!

We also meet a new protagonist - Lily. I'm not sure that I really loved Lily, but I did enjoy getting answers and seeing into that world. And yeah...Lily's world is suuuuuper sexist. Her husband is abusive, and there are some pretty horrible abuse scenes within her parts. But it was really satisfying seeing her get out of that and start to find herself again.

Queen of the Tearling was definitely flawed, but I still think people should give Invasion a chance. I think that it is sometimes a bit too blunt and obvious in its attempts at representing feminism - and it occasionally veers towards a sort of feminism that doesn't really add up to its definition in my eyes - but it's a really ambitious attempt.

If anything, you'll have lots to talk about!

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