Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Bitch is Back

Hey, kids, I'm back. I know it's been more than two years since I last updated this. My original plan was to use this as a log of what I'd been reading. Of everything I'd been reading. But, let's face it, I read too damned much for that to ever be realistic. But, I got to where I was missing pontificating about books to anonymous strangers, so I'm back. Things will be a bit different this time around, though. I'm only going to post maybe once a week and only when there's a book about which I feel I have something that I need to say. And, yes, I have such a book in mind. The book is The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen and it's a book I wanted to love. Hell, it's a book I should have loved. But, it had problems that left me feeling disappointed that it never lived up to its full potential.

Here's why this book should have been right up my alley: It's a fantasy novel with a female protagonist and set in a land where sovereignty is handed down matrilineally. The crown princess has been in hiding her entire life and the book opens on her nineteenth birthday when members of the Queen's Guard come to fetch her back to the castle so that she can take the throne.Road trip? Hidden princess? Women in power?Yes, please. Count me right on in.

But, sadly, things started to go wrong for me quite early on.Well, from the beginning, really, with the princess's name: Kelsey. Yes, just like Kelsey Grammer (and you're more than welcome for that mental image). Kelsey is not the name of a princess, unless she's in one of those books where you can have your child's name inserted as the main character. Kelsey is the love interest in a contemporary YA romance or the plot moppet in a breezy chick-lit. She is not the hidden princess in a fantasy novel set in a pseudo-medieval post-apocalyptic (I think, but that's another issue and we'll get to it soon enough) world. Her mother was named Elyssa, which works for the type of world that Johansen is trying to create, but Kelsey was just too jarringly contemporary and casual.

And, about the world-building: I don't get it. There was a mention of Christmas quite early on, but it was before Johansen had in any other way intimated that her world was populated by humans descended from, well, us. Instead of reading as a clue to the origins of the society, it read as lazy storytelling. It wasn't until much later that the use of "Christmas" rather than Yule or Solstice or Longest Night or whatever made sense. But, by that point, not much else of the world-building really did. I know that the world is populated by descendants of Earth, but I'm not clear on whether they're still on Earth, or whether they're somewhere or some time else, or maybe both. There was a lot of talk of ships, but, contextually, it doesn't make sense for them to have been ocean-going vessels. I assumed they were space ships and that the seafaring terminology was used metaphorically, but I'm not sure. There seems to have been some disaster that forced people to flee, but if one goes strictly by what is explicit in the text, it would seem that the survivors just fled across the sea to some unpopulated land, which, what? Is there still a place on Earth that is sparsely populated enough to support a large influx of refugees? So, I had to assume that they had fled to another planet or an alternate Earth or back in time or some such, because it was the only way I could make it make sense.

And, there was magic, but the magic system wasn't really explained in any way, so it was more the magic of fairy tales than that of good fantasy fiction. And the Red Queen, who is the villain of the piece, was some slapdash mishmash of every Evil Queen ever, built on a foundation of A Song of Ice & Fire's Melisandre. The central conflict of the plot was almost too over-the-top evil and the book ended in a way that felt weird to me: Kelsey took an action which should have spurred the Red Queen to march to war on Kelsey and her "kingdom" (which is not what you should call a land historically ruled by Queens, but whatever, even though it bugged the ever-living jeebus out of me), but the book ended with Kelsey's coronation and seemingly no immediate consequences of her actions. This is the first of a proposed trilogy, so I'm sure there will be consequences to follow in the subsequent books, but I'd have liked more of an inkling of them here--maybe an epilogue which showed the Red Queen's spy in the crowd at the coronation or her troops approaching the castle gates or burning a village or something. Instead, the implication was that all would be puppies and rainbows now that Kelsey was Queen.

And, yes, I'm totally pounding on this book, but for one reason and one reason only: It could have been awesome and I'm taking my disappointment out on it. The potential is there for a truly amazing fantasy epic that would appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. But, the finished product feels like it got very little editorial attention or that it was edited by someone unfamiliar with fantasy fiction.I wanted nothing more than to take a red pen and "fix" what I saw as its major shortcomings. There was nothing wrong with this book that a strong and honest editorial hand couldn't have fixed.But, in the end, all I was left with was disappointment at what might have been.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the "non-recommendation". Glad I did not try this one!