Friday, 13 January 2017

The Fate of the Tearling

In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has grown from an awkward teenager into a powerful monarch and a visionary leader. And as she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, she has transformed her realm. But in her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies - chief among them the evil and feared Red Queen, who ordered the armies of Mortmesne to march against the Tear and crush them.

To protect her people from such a devastating invasion, 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. So, the endgame has begun and the fate of Queen Kelsea - and the Tearling itself - will be revealed...

The Fate of the Tearling closes with the author acknowledgements, as most books do. What makes this one different is that it's the first I've seen that contains an almost-apology to the readers. It's unusual, to say the least! But contains a warning that not all answers are given in this series. And the author is not kidding. There are so many unanswered questions, so many dangling or unresolved (at least satisfactorily) plot threads and things that made absolutely no sense!

After the pure fantasy of The Queen of the Tearling, I was a bit surprised when The Invasion of the Tearling started to veer towards sci-fi, something that continued at pace in Fate. There's still an element of fantasy here, even if the magic powers that are wielded by some characters remain frustratingly vague and unexplained, but with religion getting a poke in the ribs and time travel thrown in, Fate seems to be more sci-fi dystopia than anything else. It's a strange mix that sits uneasily at times, leaving the story muddled and confused in places. As with Invasion, we get dual timelines, this time with a new character from the past. These parts - from the pov of character Katie - were my favourite parts of the book. The fall of the Tearling's perfect utopia to fear, suspicion and the rise of religion is fantastic.

Unfortunately, the present day story doesn't fare quite so well. There are so many disparate characters, including new ones who seem to bring nothing to the stroy (Jeval anyone?) that the central characters from the last two books get lost in the mire. What happened to my beloved Pen?! He's mentioned about twice, once drunking and crying over Kelsea, and once more telling her that he can't be around her anymore (their "relationship" is one of the many plot threads that feels like it's been short-changed), and that's it! Poor guy gets about two pages of book time! Things get a little better in the second half of the book when the ranks are thinned a bit, but it still feels like the main plot from Queen has faded rather than being enhanced. After two books of teasing, the reveal of who Kelsea's father is was indeed the damp squib I was expecting. It's revealed in a throwaway sentence and has no bearing on the rest of the story.

There's some nice humanisation of the mysterious Red Queen, who was the antagonist for book one and much of book two, but I do prefer my big bads to remain just that. Back stories and tragic childhoods do go some way to watering down a really good villain. The creepy Brenna makes a return too, but her presence feels unnecessary, and her quick departure feels totally wasted. Sure, she instigates a plot point with the Red Queen, but it's nothing that justifies the characters presence.

I absolutely loved Kelsea Glynn in Queen. She kicked ass and took names, not afraid to stand up for her beliefs and her people. The scene where she gets coronated with a knife in her back was an act of utter badassery! After becoming a pale shadow of her former self in Invasion, I was happy to see her snap out of her funk and be a bit more like the old Kelsea. Unfortunately, she doesn't get many opportunities to show off here, what with being imprisoned for most of the story, but it did remind me why I fell so in love with the first book.

The ending could be a redeemer for you, depending on how you like your twists, but for me, I just found that it came out of nowhere and was confusing as hell! I had to read the final three chapters about three times to work out what happened - not to mention how, and I'm still not 100% sure I got it right! Time travel is a tricky beast to get right, often leaving more questions than it answers, and, unfortunately, that's what happened here for me. It also meant the the big showdown that I was expecting between Kelsea and the mysterious Orphan is completely glossed over and robs the book of the dramatic showdown ending I was looking forward to.

Taking away my issues with the story, I still love Erika Johansen's writing. She's without a doubt a fantastic storyteller, and paints a vivid picture with just a few words. I really think that if the story was tighter, I'd have rated this book much higher on the strength of the writing alone. It's not utterly flawless though. There were two appallingly written sex scenes. They were just . . . weird. They came out of nowhere, were confusing as hell to read (I had to read them a few times to confirm that sex had actually occured) and were about sexy as being rubbed down with a raw chicken. I'm not sure what tone the author was going for, but it did not work. And, I'm sorry, but if you've never had sex before and someone abruptly "shoves" themselves inside you with no warm up, you don't immediately orgasm, you have to be prised down from the ceiling!

If you'd asked me when I'd finished Queen (which I loved) whether the conclusion to this series was a disappointment, I'd have said hell yes! If you'd asked me when I'd finished Invasion (which I hated for the most part but ended up liking overall by the end), I'd have said probably. But if you'd asked me part way through Fate, I'd have said no. This series started so strong, but I felt that it tried to be too many things and ended up losing sight of the heart of its story and characters. Maybe I wouldn't have been so hard on this book if the first in the series hadn't been so fantastic. As it is, this is a disappointing end to a steadily declining trilogy.

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