Finally, it’s happened! I’ve finally found a book that I want to share with everybody, chapter by chapter. Because I want you to suffer like I suffered, er, I mean I love you all so much. That’s right. Come, Internet friends and strangers, let’s read The Queen of the Tearling.
To set the stage: The Queen of the Tearling is a fantasy novel. It has all the elements of your traditional, YA-ish fantasy novel—a young heroine, a kingdom, a concrete enemy, etc. The Queen of the Tearling is also kind of a big deal. Of course, Queen of the Tearling is the first book of a trilogy, but in addition the movie rights have already been sold and Famous Harry Potter Actress Emma Watson will portray the titular queen. (The movie deal plays heavily into the marketing of the book.) The author, Erika Johansen, earned a seven-figure advance for the series despite publishing being in the worst of its seemingly eternal monetary death throes. Johansen has given many interviews about how her book is unique because of its plain heroine and lack of romance—this sort-of feminist angle, like the movie, is a conspicuous part of the book’s publicity. Johansen is also a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, so she should know the basics, like how to construct a plot and how to construct a sentence.
I didn’t know most of this information when I picked up Queen of the Tearling. I was facing a long flight and wanted something engaging to pass the time. The parts of the book jacket that aren’t devoted to the movie deal promise “thrilling adventure and action, dark magic, mystery and romance.” So I expected certain elements: intrigue, swordplay, daring women, mysterious men, perhaps some spiffy magic and everything tied up with a kiss or maybe a really awesome fight. Or both at the same time! Something along the lines of The Privilege of the Sword or the fantasy version of a Vorkosigan novel. Even if it wasn’t up to those books’ standard—and not much is, frankly—I expected it to be at least competently told and not stupidly offensive.
You failed, Queen of the Tearling, oh, how you failed.
Normally I’m a very lazy person and will dedicate slivers of my time to whatever catches my fancy at the moment. But there’s so much hype around this book, and it’s so dreadful, and it’s so dreadful in particular ways that reveal a lot about the current realities of speculative fiction, that I’ve decided to look at it more closely. Many books are just bad, but it’s rare that you get a book that fails at almost every objective it sets for itself. It’s a completely self-unaware text. In an odd way, I feel like I need to celebrate The Queen of the Tearling, because it’s not that often that stories like this come along.
The Queen of the Tearling might be so very dreadful that it rips apart space and time, people. All right, maybe it’s not quite that powerful, but it might be so dreadful that it kills off the current fantasy fad itself. And perhaps that’s a good thing.
So, without further ado, let’s read!