I don’t read much Young Adult these days. It’s not because I don’t enjoy them; I buy all my books, and it simply takes far too little time for me to read a YA book. It’s not a good investment of my money. But when our very own Red Queen loaned me these and said I’d really like them, I decided to give them a shot.
As heir to the throne of the Tearling, Kelsea Raleigh Glynn has been raised and educated in secrecy. That changes the day she comes of age, when her mother’s guard shows up to escort her back into the public eye for her coronation. Kelsea must survive the ploys of her uncle the Regent in order to claim her throne, all the while learning more about the royal sapphires that mark her as the true queen and coming to terms with the idea that her mother was not a good queen.
A lot of fantasy these days has been sucked at least marginally into the grimdark area – characters that aren’t wholly good or bad, lots of character deaths, dark worlds full of blood and violence, etc. etc. So it’s refreshing now and then to read a book where the characters are clearly good and bad and the hero is easy to root for. Kelsea is Good. Her uncle is Bad. The Mace, leader of Kelsea’s guard, is Good. The man who runs the slave trade, Arlen Thorne, is Bad. So watching Kelsea toss her decadent uncle out of the royal keep, seeing her stop the slave tribute going to the nearby kingdom of Mortmesne – all of these passages are very satisfying.
Sadly, Kelsea faces none of the consequences of her actions in this novel. Those are pushed off to the sequel, ending the book on a high you know the second one won’t be able to maintain.
As far as characters go, you’ve really got two primaries: Kelsea and the Mace. Kelsea is, in essence, your standard female protagonist. I could swap her out with almost any other YA female protagonist in terms of the actions she takes and struggles she faces, other than the unique decision that she is decidedly not pretty. (In fact, many of the characters comment on it). I did strongly empathize with her love of books though.
The Mace is a bit more interesting, something along the lines of the rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold stereotype. He starts out dubious of Kelsea and grows more and more loyal to her over the course of the novel, almost serving as a father figure to her as he coaches her through her accession to the throne. Oh and literally everyone is pants-shittingly terrified of him. The “why” behind that is never quite explained, but the effects it produces are fun to watch.
The world seems to be a vanilla fantasy land at first, but there are inklings of something more. Characters repeatedly refer to the Crossing as the event that brought them to this land, the capital of the Tearling is New London, God’s Church appears to be some form of Christianity…it’s evident that there’s some connection to our Earth, but the novel never quite makes it clear what that connection is. There’s also the Fetch, a thief who is obviously more than he appears, and the dark creature that the Red Queen of Mortmesne summons, both of which hint at more magic than the book initially lets on about.
Saying all that to say – I liked it. It didn’t blow me away (I know there’s talk of a movie, but I just don’t see it being a record-smashing success). There wasn’t a “wow factor” there that made me want to jump up and down after reading it, but it was an enjoyable read and intriguing enough that I want to see the series to its end, if only to get answers to the questions I have about the world.