Written by: Erika Johansen
Book # 3 / 3 of The Queen of the Tearling series
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Summary: To protect her people from such a devastating invasion by neighboring Mortmense, Kelsea did the unthinkable – naming the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, Regent in her place, she surrendered herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign from her prison in Mortmesne. However, their enemies extend beyond the Red Queen’s terrain; a savage and sinister force from the past and far beyond their understanding is threatening the Tear and the Mort alike, challenging Kelsea, Mace, the Red Queen, and all inhabitants of the New World to question and fear their own respective fates.
“Hatred is easy, and lazy to boot. It’s love that demands effort, love that exacts a price from each of us. Love costs; this is its value.”
Review: There is nothing more disappointing in this world than when a series you love so much ends with a cop out.
I loved this book… until about the last chapter, when suddenly, I realize what Johansen is about to do. I’ll try to put this as blandly as possible so as to not out-right spoil the book, but she ends the series with the kind of ending that is only comparable to a slap in the face. I don’t mean this as if to explain a shock factor, although I was shocked; I mean it as a disrespectful gesture from Johansen to her readers. Not only does the end of the book basically tell the readers “You basically wasted your time reading this” or “I didn’t care enough to come up with a sufficient and reasonable ending”, and not only does it not explore the fate of about 90% of the characters we’ve met so far, but it leaves so many additional unanswered questions from the plot at large, like the origin of Tear’s sapphire and how they arrived in the New World and more details on Mace’s backstory and so on. I’m not like some other readers, where unanswered questions enhance the book’s quality to me by encouraging my own imagination to answer the questions, because I don’t like assuming anything about a world someone else has created. Even when she did answer some of the questions, like why Row Finn was so evil (which I predicted) and who Kelsea’s father was (which I definitely did not), the answers felt lazy and added into the story almost as an afterthought to appease the readers.
What makes me so upset about the series is that it was incredible up until now. Johansen needed to work a little bit more on her world building, but her character development and what scenes she did feel inclined to share with us were practically jumping off the pages. Whether it be the Red Queen quivering underneath Kelsea’s stare, or the Queens Guard tightening into a protective circle around their charge, or the first village in the New World as seen and experienced by Katie, it was easy to see how Johansen imagined any and every scene in her head. The dialogue, for the most part, was prevalent to the scene or issue at hand, and oftentimes had worthy banter and deeper context underneath; the world Johansen created, although fantasy, wasn’t too ridiculous or frivolous to earn an eyebrow raise; and up until this book, I only had minor weariness with some of the conveniences of the plot, such as Kelsea being the only one able to use the sapphires and the ability of Father Tyler to sneak out the Arvath without much obstacle. But this book felt disjointed from the rest of the series, in various ways:it almost makes fools out of all the villains and other characters that had previously been deemed respectable or terrifying; it created answers to subplots that were a bit too convenient for my liking and, ultimately, quite unnecessary; it didn’t really delve too deep into subplots that had promised, previously, to be revolutionary and pivotal to the rest of the story; and so forth. I remember reading that Johansen delayed the initial release of this book because she felt that the book wasn’t “up to par”, and I’m sad to say that she should have delayed the book even further so these bits of laziness throughout could have been remedied.
Throughout the series, at least there has been one constant: despite Johansen’s best attempts to make her likable, Kelsea, our protagonist, falls flat of that hope. Despite her finally stepping back from the proverbial cliff of crazy and realizing that she was making idiotic decisions under the influence of the sapphires, she still doesn’t prove to me anywhere in the book that she is a good leader, of her country or even of her own Queen’s Guard. Whereas in previous books, I relied on the characters of her Guard to relieve me of wanting to strangle Kelsea at every turn, they were barely mentioned in this book, used more as names in a line to keep the conversation going. Even Mace befell this fate, which angered me to no end; at the end of the last book, Kelsea had left the Mace as her Regent, and I was really hoping to see more of him as a ruler of the Tear’s land rather than just of the military. Additionally, Father Tyler was one of my favorite characters throughout the series, and I was hoping there would be more of an adventure for him and more glory awaiting him after he escaped the Arvath with the Tearling crown in his possession and after saving the punished priest, Seth. I figured that Johansen would spend the book sharing with the reader more about how these characters grew in the absence of Kelsea and then after her return. But, alas – that was not meant to be, as Johnasen decided to spend far more of her time developing and explaining the characters outside of the Keep.
We learn a lot more about the Fetch, which definitely intrigued me, but Johansen revealed what a truly despicable man he was, even more so for pretending that he was ever more superior than the likes of Row Finn and the Red Queen. Speaking of the Red Queen, we delve a little bit deeper into her past (although not as much as the previous book) and her character develops into a pitiful version of the all-powerful villain Johansen promised in her first book, thus letting me down again. But it is Row Finn’s past that is the most interesting: how he came into “power”, how he developed his abilities, and how he started forming a creepy little army. It is one of the few things in the book that Johansen manages to do right, portraying the darkness of his origin story and the darkness of his motives so vividly that many of the scenes with Row present had gooseflesh crawling up and down my arms. As for his other compatriots of the New World – Jonathan Tear and Katie, to be more specific – we see a lot more of them as well, and although part of me yearns for a story in which Jonathan Tear was allowed to rule and another part of me yearns to take Katie and shake her by the shoulders for how idiotic she can sometimes be, I know that both of those are just fantasies. All of Katie’s character development seemed a little too convenient for me, so I’m bound to dislike her as well. All in all: it’s sad when I have to say that the series’ villain is the one who receives the most respect from the author.
Ultimately, Johansen’s finale to her incredible series fell incredibly short of even my lowest expectations. She failed to connect parts of her world and the plot specific to her characters that were vital to the reader’s understanding of their lives; she somehow managed for me to dislike even the characters she was obviously trying to have me support; and, more than anything, she copped out of explaining all the complex subplots she had weaved by proffering a lazy ending that undid all of the great work she had done previously. I wish that it was not that way, but I suppose that can happen when you have two incredible books to start with and your chances for finishing off strong steadily decline. Johansen, however, is still an incredible writer, and I would be interested in picking up any future works by her. I just hope they end better than the story of The Queen of the Tearling.