Series Review: Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Tearling SeriesBook One: The Queen of the Tearling
Book Two: The Invasion of the Tearling
Book Three: The Fate of the Tearling
by Erika Johansen

Published by: Harper
Form: Hardback
Big Themes: Leadership, Knowledge, Choices, Morality, Feminism, Utopia

Summary from Goodreads (Book One):
Magic, adventure, mystery, and romance combine in this epic debut in which a young princess must reclaim her dead mother’s throne, learn to be a ruler—and defeat the Red Queen, a powerful and malevolent sorceress determined to destroy her.

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend . . . if she can survive.

What I Loved:
This review is for the series as a whole, but is safe from spoilers!
Kelsea’s Character. Kelsea is a book lover and unafraid of leading her people. For fans of Hermione Granger, this is a book where the smart girl gets to play the hero and make the tough choices. She evolves throughout the series, and though a flawed character, she ultimately sacrifices for her people.
Unique Concept. This setting is so very unique. I have not ever read a setting such as this. The first book reads very much like a fantasy kingdom, but the second book flips that on its head. As a writer, I can admire how difficult this was to pull off in terms of both plot and genre.
The Ending. A lot of people don’t seem to like the ending from reviews I’ve read. But I actually think the ending was perfect in terms of tying together the overall themes. Without giving any spoilers–The Mace asked Kelsea at one point if she made her decisions for the good of the kingdom or out of her own desire for fame. And this ending allowed Kelsea to show that she was selfless and not going after fame. And it fits with the overall message about equality. (If you want to discuss the ending, comment below!)

Pacing. Books two and three had major pacing issues for me because huge chunks of the book followed new characters in unfamiliar settings. And while everything tied together well, I was often wishing we could get back to Kelsea and her kingdom and the characters I was more invested in. These final two books took me forever to read for the reason–I finished, but it was a slow chug.
Side-plot resolution. There were several characters that I wish I’d had more resolution/time with. (Andalie and her children especially.) Given the way things ended, this might be an impossible request. But I was definitely wishing for more resolution with certain sub-plots.

I give this series four stars because the story was overall ambitious in what it was trying to take on and had some incredibly fresh ideas. But pacing was an issue. And I also felt like the messages/agenda/morals of the book could be a little heavy-handed at times.

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