Written by: Erika Johansen
Book #1 / 3 of The Queen of the Tearling series
Review: 3.5 / 5 stars
* Please do not read if you have not read The Queen of the Tearling. My review of that novel can be found here.*
Summary: With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion. But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out.
Favorite quote (because it currently reminds me of the current U.S. president election going on, sadly enough):
“This, I think, is the crux of evil in this world, Majesty: those who feel entitled to whatever they want, whatever they can grab. Such people never ask themselves if they have the right. They consider no cost to anyone but themselves.”
Review: Okay, so, disclaimer: I loved The Queen of the Tearling. It was one of the few books in the last year or so that while sitting at dinner, or going out with my friends, or doing homework, all I could think was “I need to finish this, so I can finish this book”, and unfortunately, that’s a pretty rare feeling for me these days until I get into the very ending of books. But The Queen of the Tearling made me feel that way all throughout – and The Invasion of the Tearling did not. It wasn’t a horrible book by any means, and this is still one of my favorite series to recommend to people who enjoy the genre, but The Invasion of the Tearling suffered just enough from second book syndrome that it didn’t earn the 5 stars from me that its predecessor did.
I stand by what I said in my The Queen of the Tearling review in that Johnasen is one of my new favorite writers. She is extremely talented, painting such vivid pictures for her readers that it’s easy to envision exactly how she imagined the land of Tear and even of Mortmense to be. The dialogue is easy to follow, but is also used appropriately as a way to further advance the plot of the book and develop the characters, and although I don’t know where the plot is going exactly, it’s in a good way; it means I may be surprised about where Kelsea and the Tearlings end up, and it’s been a long time since I’ve really been in so much suspense about the ending of a series.
But the journey there is half the fun, and The Invasion of the Tearling helped guide the story right along, as most second books are primarily employed to do. Throughout the entire book, it truly did keep building up and building up to a climax that, while not necessarily akin to the hype leading up to it, was satisfying. As the entire population of Tear gets closer, the pressure on the city and especially Kelsea grows. She is being hounded by the elite for her kind actions toward the refugees; by her own Guard and advisors for some sort of direction (which always bothered me because all of them should work together rather than relying on Kelsea, whose been on the throne for only a few months); by the citizens of her nation for support and protection; by the Mort queen and the Cadmarese king for agreements to unsatisfying truces and proposed alliances; by a shadowy figure with only nefarious plans; and more. We begin to see the first explanations of how their world came to be, and what exactly the Crossing was – and it is extremely enticing, and very thoroughly explained, which really adds to the overall quality of the book. So many dystopian novels, especially YA ones, now a day mention how their ruined society came to be in almost a passing comment; The Tearling get a much more thorough explanation.
Beyond that, the development of all the characters, especially those surrounding Kelsea that begin to be profoundly affected by every move she makes, kept me interested when Kelsea’s individual story sometimes had me rolling my eyes. But a lot of questions that I asked in The Queen of the Tearling were answered, or at least alluded to, in this novel, promising answers may come in the third book. Something that I thoroughly enjoyed is that one of the plot lines from the first novel that I didn’t particularly enjoy is pretty easily tied up… only to replaced by a far more convoluted and interesting plot. Most people would see this as a discrepancy on the author’s part, but it’s done so fluidly you don’t even realize Johnasen has already finished one subplot and jumped to another. That being said, however, there’s still a lot that hasn’t been covered, and sometimes Johnasen’s plots seem a bit sporadic, introducing convoluted plot lines on top of pre-existing ones. Although I’ve seen that most of them do get finished, sometimes it left me confused about the correlation between different points in the plot, and that is one of the issues that kept The Invasion of the Tearling from getting 5 stars.
The other, perhaps larger, issue that kept me from giving this a 5 star rating is the main character: our queen, Kelsea. In the first novel, I really did enjoy Kelsea. She made some stupid decisions for sure, but it was because she was literally raised in a forest and forced onto the throne, and she’s basically still a young girl. But in this book, we see Kelsea begin to evolve into a more sophisticated and cunning leader – which, I hated, actually. I enjoyed the premise of her big, kind heart in the first book, and although she still does everything she can to appear to be on the right side of things, she makes some blatantly horrible decisions that end up looking selfish – including not getting married despite needing to have allies to fight the war that will otherwise destroy her country, and continuing to wear her powerful jewels despite the fact that they’re having the same effect on her mood as Horcruxes did on Harry Potter – and insulting to the power bestowed to her and the respect she garners from her Guard and select denizens. Although I did enjoy when Kelsea stood up to the elite who come to complain to her about refugees encroaching on their property, most of the fights she picks are petty and more out of annoyance than actual real sense of justice, and it really keeps me from appreciating her as a supposed “great heroine”. Additionally, there are too many “additions” to Kelsea’s character that are obviously intended to make her complex that just come off as cheap, including her sudden inability to slip into the minds of her adversaries (which like, where was this when she confronts shadowy man? JUST SAYING), as well as Johnasen’s blatant and frankly disrespectful use of Kelsea beginning to self harm to “relieve stress”. Perhaps the most stinging insult of all, however, was that with her growing magical abilities, Kelsea herself somehow becomes transformed physically into a beautiful woman, so much so that her Guard, however inappropriately, comments on her appearance. I’m not entirely sure why this was necessary. I enjoyed imagining that Kelsea was an average looking girl that just beheld an enormous amount of power, and not that beauty lessens that at all, but it was just a cheap and unnecessary change by Johansen to make her main character extra super special.
However, Johansen makes up for this error by introducing another strong female character – Lily Mayhew, a woman alive during the Crossing whose mind Kelsea slips into for unforetold reasons. Despite the fact that she is part of a mysognistic society, Lily is a badass – she sneaks birth control so she won’t get pregnant by her abusive husband, learns how to create a video loop of the security camera he always has on her so she can sneak some free time to read, and knocking her husband out to run to the Blue Horizon, the rebellion group, to tell them about their impending doom the next day and save the rebellion. I’m really hoping Kelsea takes a page from Lily and starts to embody her boldness a bit – although I am a little freaked out and confused about why Kelsea is actually physically morphing into Lily. All of the Crossing characters belonging to the rebellion – William, Jonathan, Dorian, etc. – are actually incredibly interesting and likable in vastly different ways, and I totally would read an entire series just based on them.
But fear not, bibliophiles – Johnasen’s book is chockfull of other lovable characters. Tyler, the priest that Kelsea chooses as her ambassador the church, is one of the most easily likable characters, although he too has his faults. But his love for books, and eventually his unwavering loyalty and kindness when he saves a fellow priest and chooses the right side of things despite what is easier really makes him one of the most noble and understated characters of the book. This moment in the books, when he escapes from the Church, literally had me screaming “HELL YEAH, TYLER!” Additionally, I love all of the individuals on the Guard, especially Lazarus and Kibb, and I really just want a whole book about their jobs before Kelsea came long, but I digress. Lazarus, who acts as a sort of advisor/unwilling father figure for Kelsea, is the much needed voice of reason, and I was so happy when Kelsea finally realized this and made him her regent, but so is another character – The Fetch. In The Invasion of the Tearling, Kelsea begins to consider making a deal with some rather unsavory characters, and the Fetch, in all his mysterious glory, is (literally) right behind her, telling her what she needs to hear – that she’s naive, too trusting, and basically stupid to think that working with this shadowy figure will bring anything but disaster. I did enjoy in this book that there was less “romance” between Kelsea and the Fetch, although I actually do want them to end up together, because despite Kelsea’s promiscuity with another character, I think it accentuates the fact that Kelsea is still trying to find out who she is as an individual without trying to attempt doing the same in a relationship. Also, there is a certain fan theory out there about who the Fetch might be which is extremely intriguing (comment below if you’re curious like I was), and really enhances how much I enjoy his character.
One of the most unique things about The Tearling series to me, which I know is an aggravating fact to others, is that there are so many different villains – Thorne, the Holy Father (Man #1 whose name escapes me and then Anders), the Red Queen, and now the shadowy figure – and they all are entirely unto their own as characters. Although I now scoff at the idea that I ever thought the Red Queen was going to be the main villain of the series, succeeded by actual laughter when I think about her compared to the other villainous characters, she still isn’t a horrible adversary and although she’s downplayed in most of the book, she becomes vital toward the end. But the others really shine. Thorne is as evil as they come, a man who works purely out of self interest more than anything, his lack of loyalty making him immensely dangerous and his connection to the strange Brenna intensifying the mystery around how exactly Thorne came to be such a powerful man in the first place. On the other hand, there is no doubt about how the Holy Father, a role that the nefarious priest Anders takes on, came into power, but there are many questions surrounding how he uses that power. Although I am Catholic, I love how sadistic Johansen makes the Church, including vivid scenes of homosexual priest castrations and breaking the legs of disobedient priests, and I love how Kelsea makes it her vendetta to cut off ties between the throne and the Church.
The Invasion of the Tearling probably deserves more of a 3.5 star rating, but I forgive it just a little bit due to it being the second book and all. Johansen is still one of my favorite YA authors, although she is definitely someone who kind of leans more into the adult side of YA. Although some scenes, such as the visual of the castration of the homosexual priest, were definitely graphic, it aids Johansen and the reader in the best possible way. Although some other readers saw her amount of detail as useless and tedious, I myself enjoy it. Although it is sometimes nice to be able to imagine the entire universe of the book on your own, the Tearling is too complex for me to do it any justice. As for the plot, it is incredibly easy to follow, fluid, and quick. And as much as I would like everything to be tied up nicely in a bow, I understand there is one more book that (I hope) will connect everything, because I still have so many questions: Who is Kelsea’s father? How will she (presumably) defeat the Mort? Who will die in the process? Who is the Fetch, exactly, and what is his relation to the shadowy man? Where did Tyler go? What happens to Lily after they finally “Cross”? SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. I can’t wait for the next and final book to come out!