Book three of the Queen of the Tearling trilogy
By Erika Johansen
Available now from Harper (HarperCollins)
I am happy I began this trilogy when all three books were out, since this is the sort of series best read at a breathless clip, eager to find out what happens next. I'm certainly happy that I didn't have to stop at THE INVASION OF THE TEARLING, with Kelsea a prisoner.
The first book set up a fascinating world filled with danger in every corner, and the odd reminder every once in awhile that it was not a fantasy world, but a far future version of our world. The second book delved deeper into this by having Kelsea relive memories of Lily, a woman living at the time of the Crossing, the end of a dystopic period that gave rise to the country of the Tearling. I wasn't a fan of this method of revealing secrets of the Tearling's past, because I prefer fantasy to dystopian fiction, and there was a strong theme of reincarnation, which I've also never been a fan of.
THE FATE OF THE TEARLING, unfortunately, takes this thread up and runs with it, introducing even more past characters to reveal the secrets of Kelsea's sapphires, the Fetch, and the man in the fire. I admire how thoroughly Erika Johansen seeded her surreal twist in the story. THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING never hides that it is supposed to be our world, and the mystery of why it had to be set in our world when it didn't seem to fit was one I wanted answered. I simply preferred the more fantastical setting and the characters from the contemporary period of the novel, so I was sad to see the focus shift away from them.
In THE INVASION OF THE TEARLING, Kelsea was teetering on the brink of her worst instincts, her temper and the burgeoning war giving her a chance to indulge in cruelty instead of being the purely altruistic ruler she wanted to be. I found her corruption interesting, and felt that her arc was not entirely satisfying. For a series that focused much on the consequences of the characters' actions, Kelsea gets to sidestep the consequences of her own worst decision. I'm glad that things ended happily, against all hope, but the solution felt more like cheating than the hard-earned triumph Kelsea deserved.
While the ending didn't bring it home for me, I thought this trilogy was an incredibly fun read and it was full of characters I fell in love with. Lazarus, Kelsea's chosen regent and her most trusted man, was a personal favorite. He's a tough, hard-bitten man who couldn't be more obvious about how much he was searching for hope and someone to believe in. And I loved Father Tyler, an old priest who has a good heart and loves books and becomes the possessor of an important MacGuffin in THE FATE OF THE TEARLING.
I can see the populace of the Tearling having lives beyond where they intersect with Kelsea's journey, because Johansen wrote them with such nuance. Even the evil Red Queen, who has had her sympathetic moments from book one, gets to be more than evil even as she's moved into the position of the taunting captor.
I'm excited about whatever Johansen's next venture might be, especially if she decides to go for pure high fantasy. I can appreciate how she experimented with genre, even if the end effect wasn't for me.