The buzziest new fantasy novel out there has to be The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. The first novel in a planned trilogy has been garnering comparisons to The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones. Plus, Emma Watson just signed on to star in the movie adaptation, and it’s hard not to be the buzziest thing in Fantasyland with Hermione Granger in your corner.
The novel, a hybrid of fantasy and post-apocalyptic fiction, takes place after an environmental catastrophe decimates modern society. Remaining survivors flee to a land mass that has mysteriously emerged in the wake of the catastrophe to make a fresh start. Several centuries later, this planned utopia is now a medieval mess.
On her 19th birthday, Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey to “The Keep,” the castle of her birth, to claim her throne. Along the way, there’s magic and sword-fighting and political intrigue and constant danger and basically just everything you want in a big-ass fantasy novel.
One reason this book is getting so much attention is because it dares to mess with the conventions of a female-driven fantasy novel. Heroine Kelsea is not considered beautiful, nor does she embark on a romance with any of the eligible male characters who populate the book. Her journey to queendom has absolutely nothing to do with her looks or her ability to attract a man, and that sets her apart from her scores of fantasy peers.
This would be progressive enough for a fantasy novel. But The Queen of the Tearling doesn’t stop there. Once Kelsea gains power, she becomes a champion of her people, in particular her female subjects. She works to stop human and sex trafficking and speaks out against domestic abuse.
This to me, was the real feminist power move of the novel. Too often in fantasy stories that have a Medieval Europe-y feel to them, violence against women is just an accepted fact of life, social injustice is just a part of the world building. In recent seasons of the Game of Thrones television adaptation, rape is an ever-present part of the plotline and it’s explained away by many fans as just a part of the fictional world’s landscape. But that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
One of the things I loved best about The Queen of the Tearling, was that it acknowledged violence against women through characters who wouldn’t stand for it. The author gave her heroine a crown and a throne and the power to make a serious dent in that violence. This book proves it’s not only possible for an author to believably find modern sensibility in medieval-type stories, it’s a completely refreshing change of pace from the typical fare.
Ultimately, what bowled me over about this book was the storytelling. It is such a great yarn! And the characters that populate this story are compelling times a million. But I loved that this was a fantasy with a social conscience. Nothing about The Queen of the Tearling‘s agenda felt preachy. It just felt powerful.
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