Agony's Shelf: 'The Queen of the Tearling'
Kelsea Raleigh has been hidden away all her life until her nineteenth birthday, the day she is old enough to ascend the throne of Tearling. It is not a day for celebration so much as it is the most perilous day of her life, when she must leave her studious, anonymous childhood behind and step straight into the deadly world of power and politics.
Death from unseen and unknown foes follows Kelsea as she tries to reach her capitol, ascend her throne, and survive the first few weeks of her rule. There is no course of action that will not call down either morally reprehensible failure on her part or powerful enemies for herself and her kingdom. She is hindered at every step by a frustrating lack of information about her own identity: what was her mother like as a ruler? What happened at the end of the last war between the Tear and their deadly neighbor, Mortmesne? And who, among all the handsome men the last Queen kept around her, is her father?
There are too many problems to solve quickly and too little time to address them all at once, in a kingdom so far diseased and decayed that Kelsea may be too late to save anyone, much less herself.
few books in recent years have come to your Aunt's shelf as highly recommended as this one but I find myself puzzled as to what, exactly, it is. Fantasy, yes, certainly that- there is magic here and there, though it does not over-saturate the story as is so often the case- and yet despite what appears to be medieval clothing, architecture, and social norms it is set in the far future instead of the distant past. One character pulls a sword, and in the next chapter a different character checks her watch. It is disconcerting, though perhaps just a new format.
One thing I must ensure you are aware of is that this is not the lukewarm, coming-of-age, chaste tale you may be a bit more used to. Profanity is not overused but it does come up from time to time and although sex does not happen on the page it is alluded to in no uncertain terms. So too do prostitution, pedophilia, rape, and narcotics addiction rear their ugly heads. Again, there is little to no graphic tell-all but those who prefer a gentler, milder sort of fiction might find the story not quite to taste. This is a grown-up fantasy for grown-up persons and I would not recommend it for anyone under sixteen.
Having said that, I must applaud the learning curve of Kelsea, the Queen and main character. Events progress quickly enough to keep the pace moving right along without feeling unrealistic or as though she is doing a little too well given her sheltered upbringing. She is also plain, a rare designation for a female main but one I have seen cropping up a little more these days; even more amazing, she is a little bit overweight. It is a change of pace that I enjoyed, not for Body Positivity reasons or whatever the kids call it these days but because the author skillfully makes it feel like a natural part of the story instead of a preachy moment.
There are many unanswered questions at the end of the book, clearly set up for a sequel, but I am easily satisfied and intrigued enough to pick up the next volume. A bit of mental adjustment will still need to be made for the blend of time periods and the adult subject matter but all in all I am relieved to see a modern day fantasy writer breaking more than one mold-- and making it work.
Your Truly Devoted,