I received a review copy of this book from TLC Book Tours. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Series: The Queen of the Tearling #1
Published by HarperCollins in 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Once Upon a Time VIII
Buy the Book • Goodreads
Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen is an exquisite blend of sci-fi and fantasy. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world where much of of our technology has been lost. Modern medicine is nonexistent, but the villain is a geneticist, so scientific knowledge hasn’t disappeared completely. Magic seems to exist, but it’s unclear whether it’s really magic or if it’s just technology that mankind has forgotten. There aren’t printing presses anymore, but there are well-preserved volumes of Tolkein and Rowling. The mash-up of the modern and the medieval allows the novel to point at some of the problems that threaten our own society, such as the danger of income inequality to democratic ideals, or the fact that religion can be twisted to gain political power.
Kelsea Raleigh is the heir to the throne of the Tearling. Her mother sent her away when she was a baby, shortly before meeting her own untimely demise. At 19, Kelsea is now of age to reclaim her throne, if she can make it there without being assassinated.
While growing up, Kelsea learned political theory from her guardians, who happen to be strong proponents of democracy and utopian socialism. As such, Kelsea envisions a world where all people will be equal under the law, the populace will be educated, and anybody can have a decent life. However, her guardians haven’t told her anything about her mother’s reign or the current state of her kingdom, which is about as far from that dream as you can get.
Kelsea finds that problems such as slavery, prostitution, and drug abuse are rampant within the kingdom. The nobles are worried about their hair while the common people are starving. But, worst of all, on her way into the Keep, Kelsea uncovers an atrocity that changes everything. She discovers that her mother made a terrible bargain with a neighboring country to prevent the Tearling from being annexed, but at the expense of her own people. Kelsea can remain true to her ideals or she can risk an immediate war with the Red Queen, who has ruled Mortmense for over a hundred years and is rumored to be immune to physical danger.
There were one or two things that bothered me about Queen of the Tearling, such as the Hunger Games type lottery used to choose slaves to be sent as tribute to Mortmense, or the fact that the Red Queen and her magic seemed a bit too much like the Melisandre in Game of Thrones, but the writing was such that I’ll forgive the obvious pop-culture ripoffs. It’s still one of my favorite books that I’ve read so far this year.