****Spoilers abound in this review. Please do not read if you haven’t read the book yet.****
Kelsea was born to be queen. Marked by fire and in possession of two magical sapphire necklaces, she’s taken away from the only home she’s ever known on her 18th birthday to go rule her country. Kelsea’s uncle, the regent, wants her dead. In the neighboring country, the perpetually young Red witch queen, who’s been ruling her people for a century, also wants her dead. There are very few people who don’t want Kelsea dead. She, obviously, wants to live and rule justly. So, our story begins.
I’m not so sure about this fantasy. First of all, the characterizations were so simplistic. Kelsea is good because she reads a lot and doesn’t want people to exist in poverty or slavery. Her mother was bad because she liked to wear dresses, have a lot of pillows on her bed, and sleep with a bunch of dudes. Lazarus is good because he wants the young queen to live long enough to make a difference and is quick with his sword. Arlen Thorne is bad because he supports the black market slave trade and black mails people to have his way. The Red Queen is bad because she keep slaves and rules with an iron fist. I think the most ridiculous characterization was the noble whose crown Kelsea commandeers in her coronation. (I listened to the audiobook so I’m having trouble recalling the name.) She is bad because she literally barred the doors of her keep against her own people when the neighboring army was invading. Not a lot of grey area, is there.
I thought, with the flat characterizations, that this was a young adult offering, but then, the author would slip in some graphic child rape details or language and I’d be reminded that this wasn’t for young adults. I couldn’t quite figure out the audience that Queen of the Tearling was reaching for. Maybe something entirely new like “cozy fantasy”? I suppose she could have been appealing to people who wanted to like a fantasy, but didn’t want to have to think too hard about it. Game of Thrones Lite or Diet Malazan Book of the Fallen.
Two of my best friends love this book. It grew on me a bit. I mean, towards the end, after fourteen hours of narration, I did feel like I wanted things to work out for Kelsea. But, I didn’t feel like the author gave us any of the details that were important. Who is Kelsea’s father for pete’s sake? It was only hinted at a dozen times. Inquiring minds need to know.
Lazarus’ past? More about Tearling history? We’re told that Kelsea spent her formative years with a historian who didn’t want to teach her any history. Why not! Or how about that intriguing scene with the Red Queen and the talking shadow? I could have read another six chapters about that alone.
Also, I had a bit of an issue about the world building. So it takes place in our world, but something cataclysmic happened or society fell apart? Then why is there magic. Did nuclear fall out mutate people so now magic is real? Basing this story in our world felt lazy to me. The author uses our monetary system, our names for drugs… it is the small details that make the world and all of these were so boringly familiar. I would much rather have had Kelsea spending sea stars or her uncle sniffing ground unicorn horn. But, maybe that’s just me.
I’m not sure who to recommend this to. With the material, I’d certainly lean towards the 18+, but I don’t think that the story is complex enough to really entertain adults. I did listen to the whole thing, so that’s saying something and, like I said, I know at least two discerning friends who loved it. I’m going to have to have an in-depth discussion with those ladies. I was neither thoroughly charmed nor disgusted by The Queen of Tearling and feel decidedly middle of the road about the whole thing.
Thanks for reading!