I keep waiting. Waiting to pick up a book which is complete and utter rubbish. The kind of book that makes me want to give up reading forever with its sheer awfulness. Since start the blog back in July and beginning to compile my random thoughts in to some kinds of cohesive reviews, I haven't picked up a terrible read yet. I've only dished out one single star review and that was to a re-read (Allegiant if you're interested). I'm long overdue a dud. This book however, is not it. This book is absolute reading perfection. Captivating, exhilarating, with a heroine up there with the best of them, if you only take one thing away from this babble please let it be this: Read this book. Read it now!
After narrowly making it to Tearling with her life, Kelsea immediately shreds the treaty with Mortmesne that crushes her people, ousts her weasely uncle from the throne and survives a knife in the back at her own coronation. What I utterly adored about this book, and what sets it apart from virtually every other book of this genre I've read recently, is the heroine, Kelsea Glynn. Now I'm prone to exaggeration so you may not believe me, but I can honestly say she's my new favourite book character ever. No unique and special snowflake, who's so witty and clever and beautiful that everyone she crosses paths with instantly falls in love with her, Kelsea is one of the most well written protagonists I've read about in ages. Described as "too plain" by the one character and "too wide" by another, she survives scrape after scrape, not by virtue of simply being the main character, but because you believe she's got the guts and determination to make it. We're spared endlessly scenes of her pirouetting through bad guys, slashing down scores of faceless extras to prove what a badass she is. Every action she takes, every decision that reaches, you believe it of her. A testament to nurture over nature and becoming your own person no matter what your past, she's ballsy, she's brave and she's fiercely loyal, the kind of hero that if I ever have a daughter I'd be proud for her to look up to. The scene where she changes her name to honour the foster parents who made her the person she is is especially touching.
There's plenty of support in the awesome character stakes elsewhere in the Tear court thanks to Kelsea's most loyal soldier Lazarus/The Mace is just as brilliant, equal parts guardian/mentor/protector. At first he, like pretty much everyone else, thinks nothing of Kelsea, expecting another feeble-minded princess or more likely still a walking corpse, but her tenacity wins him around, the wonderful development of their relationship one of the strongest threads of the novel. Seriously, this stuff will hit you right in the feelings. Outlaw "The Fetch" is the closest thing this book has to a love interest, but not much comes of it, the focus refreshingly on Kelsea and her attempts to cleanse the rot from her kingdom. There's no obligatory pick between two equally bland love interests here, nor the insta-love "because the book says so" get together between the heroine and the male character that seems to be necessary in most other books and it's just another reason that this book is so refreshing!
Likewise, the book doesn't sugarcoat anything. It doesn't skirt around the issues of war crimes and the suffering they cause, nor does it shy away from the odd swear (even one eyebrow raising use of the one curse word that makes me wince, and I swear like a trooper). The Tearling is all but broken by the war with and domination of Mortmesne, the atrocities committed on the people by the invaders not spared mention, but it's necessary to feel the desperation of many for a leader willing to lead. There are a few intriguing mentions of ancestors fleeing an old world to found a new land free from modern technology, place names like New London and references to the Americas, but to be honest I read through these, happy to focus on what was happening in the kingdom over where it came from.
Red Queen is a brilliant villain, just revealed enough to seem a credible threat to Kelsea and Tearling, but kept in the shadows enough to keep you guessing. The late reveal of a new antagonist did diminish her badassery a bit, but it's a minor quibble, especially as the real threat comes from within the Tear kingdom. Arlen Thorne is a complex guy, a bad guy who commits nauseating acts, but does so under a strangely honourable, if utterly misguided, belief that he is protecting his home. There's very little black and white about this story, and it's all the better for it. I could totally get on board with the "redheads are awesome" sentiment in this book too. Ok, it might be because they are the most desirable as status slaves, but still.
I've re-read The Queen of The Tearling in preparation for starting the sequel; The Invasion of The Tearling (thanks to Lydia over at Something Like Lydia for keeping on at me until I picked it up!) and I'd forgotten how much I loved it. I tried really hard to make this review objective and not descend into the crazy fangirling that has been fighting its way to the surface as I type. I barely made it through without the excessive use of gifs. In the end there were so many I got rid of them all for fear of triggering photosensitive epilepsy. Simply put, this book is incredible. A dark, intriguing tale of power, responsibility and justice with a kickass heroine and a sprinkling of magic. What's not to love?