I often say that I don’t like high fantasy – fiction set in an alternate/fictional world. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is probably the best and most well-known example of this genre. I absolutely appreciate that series on one level, but I would cry genuine tears if you told me I ever had to read it again. Please God, no! But the problem is that I’m always stumbling across an exception to my ‘no high fantasy’ rule – Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, and now The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen – so it looks like I’m going to have to adjust my expectations of this genre!
The Queen of the Tearling opens on the nineteenth birthday of Kelsea Raleigh Glenn. On that day the Queen’s Guard (whom she’s never met) arrives to take her from her sheltered and secluded life to be crowned in the capital city. Her guardians have given her a rigorous education, but told her very little about her family’s past. She has no idea of the danger and intrigue she faces, and it seems most of the guard barely expect her to survive the journey.
All of this takes place in an alternate world that is very like our own but with distinct differences. Kelsea alludes to many things that indicate a shared history and culture between this world and our own – namely literature. But the narrative often refers to a past event, ‘the crossing’, which utterly transformed this society in some critical ways. For example, a great deal of technology was lost (including access to modern medicine), and it seems that most of society is illiterate and printed books are extremely rare.
The real draw here is the mystery surrounding Kelsea’s past and the meticulous and complex world building. It just drew me in and never let go. This was a book club pick and I do believe it’s the first book that has gotten unanimous praise from all members. Everyone was so enthusiastic about it, in fact, that they all requested the sequels for future book club reads! I’m absolutely planning on reading the sequels either way, and I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming film adaptation starring Emma Watson!
*One note: I see this often listed as YA, and it definitely does read like YA except for some really very gritty/shocking moments.