Review can also be found on Bibliodaze
The Queen of Tearling has been called “a female Game of Thrones”. Before starting the book I wasn’t quite sure what they meant by that. After finishing I can only say that if there is such a thing as “a female Game of Thrones” this book is certainly not it because The Queen of Tearling pretty much manages to fail in every way imaginable.
First: The world-building.
We’re in a post-apocalyptic world. What exactly happened? When did it happen? How much time has passed since then? Who cares? It also takes a few chapters till you realize that this is a future world and not your average pseudo-medieval fantasy-setting because at first it looks a lot like one. The states we hear of are monarchies, the weapons used swords as well as bows and arrows and horses are the only means of transportation.
However the apocalypse can’t have been that long ago because a lot knowledge about the technology still seems to exist. Kelsea even knows that e-readers were once a thing. Now people can’t even built a printing-press anymore… however they can do cosmetic surgery and organ-transplants. I was tempted to start a drinking-game for such world-building inconsistencies but my liver is not that strong.
There is also The Crossing. At one point it is also referred to the British-American Crossing which should give you a vague hint about starting and landing point. It was lead by a guy called William Tearling and he also gave the new country his name. Why did they need new names for places? I have no idea. For a while I thought that perhaps the Crossing referred to some kind of space-expedition but it clearly must have been a voyage with actual ships (as somehow they thought it would be a smart idea to put all the doctors in one ship which then sank). So…has whatever apocalyptic event happened changed the earth so much that continents and borders as we know them don’t exist anymore? There is also mention of “uncharted territories” which are rather rare on this world. Is it perhaps set in space after all? Then how did all the technology for space-ships get lost? Read this book and get absolutely no answers to these questions!
More than once I got the impression that originally this was planned as a typical medieval-style fantasy and then last-minute some vague references to some dystopian settings were added. That would explain many of the inconsistencies also those about the role of the church and of women.
See: William Tearling was an Atheist. A quite strict one apparently. But in Kelsea’s Tearling the church is quite influential again. So influential that Kelsea will only really be accepted as Queen if she is crowned by a priest. What happened that the church gained so much power again? Don’t ask. Why would anybody care abut such minor things? (Drink…just drink)
Generally the church is very typically medieval-Catholic (even though it is described as mixture between Catholizism and a ‘post Crossing Protestant sect’…whatever that means). Only read the Bible and other religious texts, no worldly books, abortion is evil, who gets to be pope has more to do with politics than faith and so on. Now I’m the first to admit that the (Catholic) church is not exactly progressive but the apocalypse happens and all it does is catapult its views a few centuries back? I’d have expected some major changes.
It gets even more confusing when you try to figure out the role of women in this world. To give but one example, Kelsea’s mother became queen even though she had a younger brother. So we’re clearly in a world where inheritance rights don’t discriminate against women. Additionally nobody knows who Kelsea’s father is (a few know but won’t tell because of reasons) but there seems to be no issue with this. Everybody accepts her as queen.
Think about that: in (western) history you get a few queens who became rulers because there was no male offspring but an illegitimate offspring on the throne? With no knowledge of who the father is? Unthinkable. But not even the church objects and they usually are somewhat conservative in these matters.
To cut it short: if the royal claim can be passed through the female blood-line alone, that should indicate a pretty awesome setting with equal rights for men and women (most royal families today don’t even have that law) – except that it really isn’t.
The warriors/guards are all men, the women cook, care for the children, knit and weave (while men can’t even distinguish knitting-needles from a weaving-loom), and do all the other stereotypical female work. When Kelsea demands sword-training and an armour, the others look at her like she’s insane (even though an armour should really be no question considering how many people are trying to kill her), the captain of her army is reluctant to discuss strategy with a woman and we only ever meet churchmen, no female priests/bishops etc.
Drink some more before we get to:
Second: Logic. Or the lack thereof.
I won’t deny it. I have read fantasy-novels with bad world-building before and I’m able to overlook it if the rest of the book at least had a decent plot. This is clearly not the case here. Every single person is just extremely stupid. If they weren’t then the book might have been over in a third of the time.
Kelsea’s mother died when she was just a year old and out of fear for her life she was raised in exile. Her foster-parents did make sure she received an education. She knows a lot about ancient history (whatever that means in this world), she’s a fast reader and she can hunt and skin animals.
Go and pick out the skills that are important for somebody who needs to rule a whole country.
They barely told her anything about the current state of Tearling. Kelsea doesn’t even know how her mother died or what kind of ruler she was because… because… why would that be important? Later, when she is with her guard (who also served her mother), she asks them too but they all refuse to tell her. Then she actually asks how she is supposed to make good decisions if they don’t tell her what happened which might be the only smart thing she does in the whole book. The answer:
“Why dwell on the past Lady? You have the power to make your own future.”
I don’t know… Have you heard the phrase “Learning from past mistakes” before?
Speaking of the Queen’s Guard: they get drunk while on duty and fail to stop two assassination attempts on Kelsea (as well as one kidnapping). Only Jaime Lannister has a worse record of protecting royalty.
Third: This is not how to write likeable love-interests.
At one point Kelsea gets kidnapped by bandits (because of reasons…) As she’s injured she passes out quite quickly and when she wakes up again she notices that she has been cleaned and is wearing a new dress. When it turns out that the head of the bandits did this she is clearly uncomfortable. His reaction: smiling and telling her she has no need to worry because she’s too plain for him.
Yes. And a few days later she actually has a very similar conversation with him. Later she spends a lot of time day-dreaming about that guy because he’s so hot and charming…
That’s especially jarring as in the rest of the book we learn that pretty much every single bad guy is also a rapist. Just so we can be sure that they’re really evil. But they’re also all ugly so it’s different. Hot guys are allowed to tell girls they’re not pretty enough for them to even consider such a thing.
Is there alcohol left? Because I don’t even know what to say to that.
Fourth: There’s a plot somewhere
Mostly it involves Kelsea acting stupid and spoiled. She also has a Jewel of Plot Convenience that makes most decisions for her so she doesn’t need to worry. Who wants a protagonist who makes their own decisions anyway? It’s much more interesting if her magically jewellery actually drags her along and gives her powers as the plot demands so she’s always protected. Otherwise this could get exiting and we don’t want that.
ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review