Title: The Queen of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Review: I have been reading and reviewing books for nigh on seven years now, and in that time I believe I have noticed a creeping trend migrating from the world of comic books, infiltrating the world of genre literature. No longer is a book written solely for the purpose of entertaining a hoped-for reader, rather, some authors view the book-stage of their stories as simply a convenient stepping stone towards the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and big-budget movie deals.
The first I heard of Erika Johansen’s ‘The Queen of the Tearling’ was news that Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame) was championing the cause of a movie based on the novel. She will not only star as the main character in the movie, but she is taking on the responsibility as one of the producers for the film as well.
Understandably, given my love of all things Emma Watson, I wanted to know more about this book she so loved. The blurb seemed interesting enough, and while I was a little nervous of finding myself reading yet another ‘Hunger Games’/’Twilight’/’The Bone Season’, I wanted to make the decision for myself.
Sadly, I found myself working very hard to keep reading this book, and by the end I was left disappointed – as if I hadn’t actually had the opportunity to read a new book, but rather just the screenplay for an upcoming movie, with all the plot holes and two-dimensional characterisations you’d expect.
To be clear, I think that The Queen of the Tearling is going to make a terrific movie! It has everything you’d want for a teen-drama-fantasy: Nineteen year old girl is the long-hidden queen; She has no experience of the wider world, and falls inexplicably for the obviously dark and brooding criminal; She makes decisions based almost entirely from her heart, and only seems to be cross-examined well after such opinions would have been useful; She’s ‘plain’ looking, but kicks ass!
But as a book, there is much missing. Character development is relatively non-existent, and I’m left feeling as if I should have been rooting for the main character, but without any reason why. Everything felt very as-expected, with very little in the way of twists and turns to keep the reader interested beyond the next chapter. And when something couldn’t be legitimately told from the main-characters point of view, Johansen just skips to someone else for a few moments, lazily filling in information that will be needed to understand the protagonist’s later events.
Robin Hobb is the master of telling a story from only one characters point of view, without having to resort to spur-of-the-moment POV changes to fill in the story. The answer is not to avoid POV swaps, but rather to either commit to them or not – you can’t just dangle in the middle.
There are genuinely interesting plot-points at work here, but in almost every instance they are executed with a somewhat lack-lustre feel – as if hoping an actor will be able to convey the relevant emotions. The trope of the long-hidden queen is dealt with well, in a way that exceeds the written pitch. Her looks are plain, and remain so throughout the book – a genuine surprise, as I was waiting for someone to take her glasses off (ok, she doesn’t wear glasses), and toss her hair about and lo and behold!
The references to our culture are disconcerting without any context as to why Lord of the Rings or Rowling should exist in this narrative, and by the end we are no closer to understanding the veiled hints to America and Europe. Where does this story take place? What’s the history? Are the references to Earth names and places relevant?
In the end, I wouldn’t steer someone away from reading The Queen of the Tearling if the blurb catches your fancy (or, if you’re like me, you have an unresolved crush on Emma Watson), but I’m not going to go out of my way to secure copies for you either. In the end, it was a mediocre book that I’m glad to have read, and glad to have put behind me.
Buy it here:
Kindle Edition: amazon.co.uk