The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

I am not normally into the fantasy genre of books, but Erika Johansen’s The Queen of the Tearling intrigued me.

Here is a summary of the book from the publisher:

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.

Most books about magic or fantasy do not interest me, but this book is different. It is a mix of fantasy and realism. Fantasy in the magic and realism with a post-apocalytpic modern world. As mentioned above, the magic comes from Kelsea’s sapphire and the Red Queen’s powers.

Johansen teases the reader regarding the post-apocalyptic new world. The founder of the country of Tearling took a group of people on boats away from the old world to found a utopia. But, that utopia is more medieval than postmodern where armor, swords, and arrows (with a hint of cannons) reign supreme. There are references to weapons of today, but the technology to produce those weapons seems to no longer exist. I am assuming that Johansen will flesh out more details on the fate of the old world in later books.

The character development is good with the main characters – Kelsea and Lazarus – and some of the minor characters – Red Queen and some of the other Queen’s Guards.

The plot is intriguing with the rise of Kelsea as the Tearling Queen. Johansen masterfully keeps the reader guessing about the fate of the old world and how it fits into this new world.

There are some parts of the book that are a bit dark, especially the parts with the Red Queen. For example, she must sacrifice a young boy to some spiritual being (a demon?) to get advice and guidance.

Overall, this is an intriguing beginning to a series that holds a lot of potential.

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