“Her throne awaits . . . if she can live long enough to take it.”
Even before opening this book its readers are duped into believing that The Queen of the Tearling will be a faced paced, action-adventure with a heroine worthy of Emma Watson’s performance. However, this apparent ‘Female Game of Thrones’ (like women don’t like Game of thrones) falls short of every single hurdle in the worst possible way. It’s because of this that I am astounded by the amount glowing reviews. Did other people read this book? Or did they see Emma Watson’s name attached to a future movie version and decide to love because no one can ever deal with the fact that Harry Potter wrapped up and we have to blindly love everything all of the actors do until they die.
I have to admit it was a genius move by the publishers to move so quickly on the movie rights and get Emma Watson to sign up, after all look at all she’s a “feminist” and Emma Watson. That means it’s obviously a progressive story offering a relatable female lead breaking away from the Mary Sue mould in a male dominated genre, right?
At the time of writing this The Queen of the Tearling has accumulated almost 40,000 ratings on Goodreads and only 995 of these are one star which is the rating I gave at the heat of disappointment and thorough frustration on finishing the 434 pages of misled reading. So because of this I am going to tell you everything that is wrong with The Queen of the Tearling.
- This world makes absolutely no sense.
So we meet Kelsea when her Queen’s Guard arrive at a top secret cottage where she’s been living in hiding for eighteen years so she can go and reclaim her throne from her evil uncle and save the world. It sounds like a standard plot of a high fantasy. There is no issue with the typical and unoriginal sentiments of the plot, after all, fantasy readers like myself love to soak up the exact same story told over and over again but with the authors individual and worthwhile twist on their own fantasy world. However, plot holes appear from the very first chapter. Why is it that the Tearling absolutely has to wait for a nineteen-year-old girl to emerge from hiding and become queen after eighteen years without her? Why is she the only person who can be queen? She has some magic necklaces which allude to some kind of special snowflake reason why she’s the queen but the demands of the world don’t fit with this trend.
The story take place in the future, that’s right feudalism returns in the future, and there is some Crossing where only Britain and America, geologically inconvenient, seem to survive (Or so that’s how I read it). My knowledge of Marx’s Theory of History prevented me from blindly accepting this as a legitimate occurrence but I was open to being convince. But it never happens. In this so called ‘Crossing’ electronic devices, manmade materials and all of the education from our time were lost yet blacksmiths, stonemasons, devout Christianity and a hell of a lot of paedophiles survived. And books. It wouldn’t be right if Kelsea didn’t absolutely love books in a cheap appeal to make the reader like her because they are also reading a book. They couldn’t save basic engineering techniques but we made sure to pack multiple copies of The Lord of the Rings in the Crossing. All the doctors and nurses drowned because the special doctors and nurses ship sunk but as long as we’ve got books to read, right?
This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. Because apparently only white Britons and Americans survived whatever caused everyone to cross to wherever the hell the story takes places now, which I can’t wrap my head around. As I’m sat in the middle of Britain now all I can think about is how far away America is and how much more reasonable it would have been Britain crossed to wherever (We never find out) with Ireland, France the Netherlands; you know a country that isn’t thousands of miles of ocean away.
Evidently all other ethnicities didn’t seem to get the memo when the world ended and we all needed to get on a ship, because Kelsea has never seen a black person before so naturally she can’t stop staring at him. I suppose you could argue that she’s been in hiding all her life so it’s feasible yet it’s not just Kelsea who is so awestruck by the sight of a black person but everyone in Tear.
“When they went about undisguised, it was Lear’s black skin that caught the world’s attention. He loved to have people stare at him, riveted, while he spun his tales, but he hated to be an object of curiosity.”
What on earth happened to society to make black people the ‘objects of curiosity’. This is supposed to be in the future. I can accept lost technology but the loss of basic human interactions? Was there some kind of virus that killed every other ethnicity in the world apart from white people? All but the token black person who I’m guessing won’t see out the entire trilogy, just a funny feeling I’m getting. The author does realise that America and Britain are multi-ethnic countries with a magnitude of diversity especially in cosmopolitan areas. But all the doctors and nurses drown, I remember now. So if were being casual racists stereotyping we can assign the absence of ethnic diversity in the future because they were all medical professionals whose boat didn’t make the Crossing.
- Is her name Kelsea or Mary Sue?
The most painful thing about reading this book was the monstrosity of Kelsea Glynn. She’s apparently worth political upheaval because she cares about the poor and isn’t vain like her useless mother. There are many failed attempts to make the reader feel Kelsea is worth our admiration by making her think she’s not pretty, thus making her unthreatening to other women, littered throughout the book. Making the main female lead think she’s not pretty is just as bad as making her so insanely beautiful that everyone falls in love with her because it makes it seem that we’re supposed to like her because she’s not too pretty. Making her pretty or making think she’s pretty won’t affect how much a reader likes a character. It’s insulting to readers that writers think it’s that simple. What makes a character likeable is how they treat other character, how they react to situations and how they deal with things when it isn’t going their way. You know, character development.
But the fact that Kelsea is “plain” seems to mean that she thinks people who aren’t, or who just have the confidence to accept their appearance and love their life anyway, are silly and vain. Throughout we are led to believe Kelsea will be a good queen because apparently her mother wasn’t because she was vain and liked pretty dresses. Yes, my fellow females of the species; if we like getting dressed up or putting on makeup we’re intellectually inferior and aren’t worthy of being queens.
There is a large dose of “I’m not like other girls” shoved down our throats as Kelsea and her annoying Queens Guard make comparisons every second word just to make Kelsea feel better about herself. Yet she possesses every single trait she seems to detest so much in the most woman hating way possible. Here are just a few examples:
“Poor Elyssa, who had needed most of her brains to decide which dress to wear in the morning. The girl (Kelsea) was worth ten of her.” Why is Kelsea worth more? Because she doesn’t put thought into her appearance or because caring means you’re an airhead? I can’t quite grasp the criticism here.
“Kelsea picked up her tiara from the gaudy vanity table and considered it thoughtfully. It was a beautiful piece of jewelry, but flimsy, too feminine for her tastes… ‘Well, let’s make sure to pay that hussy for this thing’”. Because a woman has good taste in feminine jewellery it makes her automatically a hussy. That’s logic right there.
“He was the ugliest creature Kelsea had ever seen in her life. Finally, she thought, regretting her own unkindness even as it crossed her mind, someone who makes me look beautiful.” So appearance and vanity conveniently matter after all.
“My mother was a vain fool.” And so are you. Like mother like daughter. Why are we so determined to make vanity the sole trait of evil? It’s not the best quality in a person but it certainly isn’t the worst.
“Venner was old enough to be her father, but she didn’t like hearing criticism from him.” She doesn’t like hearing criticism from anyone because she’s the queen. And while people are praising this book for the absence of a romantic plot moving the story forward, Kelsea doesn’t stop going on about how she needs validation from every man she meets, even if they are old enough to be her father.
“Kelsea had made it clear that she didn’t require help with her bath (her mind boggled at the sort of woman who would)”. Her mind boggles at aristocrats who keep Lady’s maids. Isn’t she supposed to be a queen? Queens would have maids attending them. She does know this, right? The whole point is to have a trusted inner circle.
“Kelsea stared at her bewildered. She would give anything to look like Marguerite…She had already noticed how, on those rare occasions when Marguerite emerged from the nursery, the guards’’ eyes followed her across the room…sometimes she wanted to reach out and slap them, scream in their faces: Look at me! I’m valuable too!” I thought she believed placing importance on appearance was the downfall of her mother?
“What does she see when she looks in the mirror? Kelsea wondered. How could a woman who looked so old still place so much importance on being attractive? She had read about this particular delusion in books many times, but it was different to see it in practice. And for all the anguish that Kelsea’s own reflection had caused her lately, she saw now that there was something far worse than being ugly: being ugly and thinking you were beautiful.” Because how dare an older woman have an ounce of confidence and self-esteem. Delusions and confidence are completely the same thing.
- Rampant Conservatism
Another feature that really irked me while reading was the conformity to conservative gender roles. I could accept the consensus views of the Tearling but as I’ve previously ranted about before it doesn’t make any sense. Christianity has survived whatever apocalyptic event that will never be explained to my satisfaction yet apparently Darwin was wrong the entire time. It isn’t survival of the fittest, its survival of the rich, white entitled princesses. It is completely plausible that in wake of an apocalyptic event a sect with dangerous and extremist views evolves, but Christianity? I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the Christian faith but no other religions survived? Really? Furthermore, the homophobic, traditionalists path that this story attempts to take doesn’t fit. The world ended and obviously we care about eradicating homosexuality. It’s not like they need better health care and education. And apparently because not one person in the Tearling could figure this out they needed to wait hundreds of years for nineteen-year-old Kelsea. Not one person considered this before?
Also the way in which gender roles are assigned and dealt with left a bad taste in my mouth. The consensus is that all women, of which the attractive one’s can only be describe with overt, sexual adjectives, need to be maternal and loving or else be deemed a bad person. The people in the Tearling have some kind of treaty where they must send people and children to another kingdom, Mort, or face a war that they couldn’t win because Mort is really powerful and influential with other the kingdoms. This apparently has been happening for year yet this completely ordinary submission to a greater power means hysterical women crying for their children. But not the fathers; the fathers don’t care.
“Many women behave so when their young children ship. It’s those who let them go without a murmur that I distrust.”
Really? A woman is untrustworthy if she isn’t screaming like a banshee because her child is being taken away based on a treaty that is years old, therefore an occurrence that she would have grown up with and taken the risk to have children knowing the consequences. Mrs. Everdeen knew the deal in The Hunger Games.
“Children conceived by this woman would only be cannibalized by her womb.”
This quote and attempt to demonise a character because we all know if a woman can’t have a child she isn’t a woman at all. Infertile, old and impossible to sexualise is the recipe for an antagonist in this book. Why can’t we accept that some women just aren’t maternal? Some women don’t want to have children whether the can conceive or not. Yet in the Tearling if you aren’t maternal you’re untrustworthy and ripe for public humiliation by the teenage queen which the world simply can’t live without.
Because of all these conservative gender roles it makes the entire plot unravel because why are they waiting for a queen if this is how women are treated in this world.
“He’ll also loathe discussing military strategy with any woman, even a Queen.”
“For you to wield a sword, it’s…not queenly.”
It would make more sense if Kelsea was fighting for the throne against her uncle, the Regent, and she actually struggled because people underestimated her because of her sex, but that would be too logical. Instead she literally gets crowned queen (with the hussy’s tiara) a few days after arriving in the capital. With the amount of blatant sexism, it should be harder for Kelsea to gain the people’s support. But then it would be realistic.
- Politics, what politics
Much like the characterisation, world building and plot the politics in this world just don’t make an ounce of sense. There is this wonderful paragraph on page 116 of the edition I read that talks about slavery in our history and is quickly followed by a scene where Kelsea frees the people and children who would be sent to Mort to fill the quota, gaining instant support from everyone because go Kelsea. But assigning some critical thinking would undo this heroic and adoring act pretty quickly. They have been sending hundreds of people for years to Mort and Kelsea just snaps her fingers and says no more? Aren’t there delicate social boundaries that need to be carefully dissembled to reduce the chances of a war? What about the families and friends of all of the people sent before? Wouldn’t they want their loved ones back? Wouldn’t they appeal to this almighty, not too pretty, queen to somehow bring their families back?
The Regent ruled for eighteen years. Wouldn’t he have some support? Wouldn’t he have allies who would protect him? Apparently not because as soon as the long lost Queen arrives with her Queens Guard everyone just decided to abandon their previous allegiance and support her.
The amount of time spent building a political sphere, and let’s be honest the rest of the setting, feels so lazy and completely reliant on the hopes that the reader has read enough fantasy to use their reconstructive memories to force it make sense. Because we really need every single sentence when Kelsea rant about her deceased mother, of whom she didn’t even know, and talk about how she wishes she was pretty at the same time as developing negative thought processes about women who have confidence in their appearance. We really needed every single word.
The extent to which any political conflict is present to justify the difference between Mort and Tear only bring to light some very questionable views on immigration and comes off quite xenophobic.
“The Tearling took in Mort emigrants out of necessity for the skills the Tear lacked, particularly ironwork, medicine, and masonry. The Mort commanded a high price for their services, and there were a fair number of Mort salted around Tear villages, particularly in the more tolerant south. But even Carlin, who prided herself on her open mind, didn’t really trust the Mort. According to Carlin, even the lowest Mort carried the stain of arrogance, a conqueror’s mentality that had been drilled into them over time.”
But isn’t everyone in the Tearling poor? Isn’t that why they all love Kelsea the queen of the poor and destitute. How can anyone afford the services of Mort doctors? And if Mort was the superior power, why are the people of the Tearling tolerating them? Wouldn’t it be the other way around? Wouldn’t people be emigrating to Mort the thriving kingdom and leave the Tearling the poor farming county behind in hopes of a better life?
All this book really did was make me question Emma Watson as a feminist. I really hope she changes her mind and doesn’t make this movie because there is nothing about this book that would advance the move towards equality. But maybe the sticker with “Soon to be a major film starring Emma Watson” was just a big marketing scam and I along with many others just fell for it.