Hey, I’m back. It’s been a while, but that’s what happens with Swamps of Despair. Queen of the Tearling feels endless, like it stretches out forever, even though it’s only a measly 434 pages or so. Let’s cheer up with some Limahl before we start!
Kelsea is hanging out with the Douche and his band, having dinner, which is perfectly lovely as somehow the bandits have the resources to bake bread and keep hens, despite their presumably persecuted existence. They even have mead, which Kelsea starts drinking despite her total inexperience with alcohol. You might think that getting wasted in a camp full of possibly hostile armed strangers would be a bad idea, but Kelsea is too busy worrying about whether the Douche–the guy who just threatened to kill her–thinks she’s fat.
She ate little. For the first time in a very long while, she was conscious of her weight… But now she pecked at her meal, not wanting them to think she was a glutton. Not wanting him to think so.
Yes, really. Really!
The black man, Lear (this is how he’s referred to in the text, really. Really!) tells the company the story of the White Ship. When it sunk, it took American medical expertise with it and…
What. Hold up? American medical expertise?
Oh, no. Every single part of this story so far has hinted that it’s your standard fantasy novel set in a cod-medieval kingdom. And now it’s a dystopia? Please, book, don’t get any worse on me.
Too late. It turns out that all that American medical expertise (rock, flag, and eeeeeagle) was lost because the idiot in charge of the ships on “the Crossing” put all the doctors on one ship. Well, that’s one way to do it. Maybe this is more of a idiot-topia than a dystopia. By the way, the one medical technology left is birth control, presumably so Kelsea can bang the Douche later without having to worry about kids. Reliable birth control has absolutely no influence on the status of women whatsoever except for excluding pesky brats from plots!
Douche and the Gang knock back some more mead and play some poker. The Douche asks Kelsea how she intends to reign. She answers that she intends to be just, educate her citizens, redistribute taxes, and reduce the influence of Mortmesne. It sounds like something a U.S. candidate for president might rattle off, so maybe that’s the American influence right there?
However, Kelsea doesn’t know the backstory of her kingdom, so the Douche makes Lear tell the readers, I mean Kelsea, the history of the Tearling. Back in the mists of time, 300 years ago, some Brits and Americans founded the Tearling after the Crossing, which still isn’t really explained. They wanted to live in peace and harmony in their new utopia, but unfortunately the land was poor as fuck. Somewhere to the east, some other people landed and started “New Europe.” New Europe was rich, because it had iron and “centuries of European knowledge.” How New Europe’s people were supposed to recreate all the technologies of the past with iron ore escapes me completely, but let’s just pretend that iron is also silicone, plastic, copper, gold, silver, and a bunch of other things besides. There’s no such thing as chemistry in an idiot-topia!
At some point, the infinitely horny-slash-evil Red Queen from the last chapter showed up, killed everyone decent in New Europe, and turned it into Mortmesne. She invaded all the other kingdoms, which immediately capitulated, except for the Tearling. Kelsea’s grandmother, Queen Arla, told the Red Queen to stuff it, and the Red Queen retaliated by invading the Tearling. It didn’t go well for the Tearling, mostly because they were fighting with caveman clubs while the Mort troops had gotten all the way to the Iron Age.
By the time Arla died, the Mort army had reached the walls of her castle. Her daughter, Elyssa, signed the Mort Treaty and got the Mort troops to leave, so it’s a sort-of happy ending, although nobody is doing a particular amount of rejoicing over this treaty. Could something be suspicious here?
Kelsea asks what this story has to do with her. Uh, she is about to become queen, so she should probably know some of this very basic information about her own kingdom, but this obvious answer is sidestepped so the Douche can tell Kelsea that she’s brave, and smart, and generally an awesome person and he won’t kill her. But she needs to live up to her awesomeness! Or he’ll kill her! Even though he just said he wouldn’t! Oh, and by the way, he’s attacked the Regent a lot of times, but now that Kelsea’s of age, he can finally kill him. This dude is a peach, I’m telling you.
And the chapter ends. But I’m not done. I have a few questions here. I’ve read some reviews of Queen of the Tearling, and many people have noticed the book’s pseudo-feminism, but so far I haven’t seen anyone notice that there’s a gigantic vortex of racial weirdness at the heart of this story. And that needs to be fucking pointed out.
Let’s take a look at that history of the Tearling again. 300 years after this apocalypse, we’ve conveniently returned to the same ethnic makeup and rivalries that existed in Europe 300 years before the apocalypse, during the Napoleonic wars; the Anglo-Saxon Tearling are pitted against the vaguely French Mortmesne. Almost everyone fits into two racial categories: white and pasty, and white and swarthy. A darker-skinned person is rare enough to merit notice, a black person (and like I said, “black” is how he’s described in the text) is an amazing rarity.*
So. What the fuck happened to all the brown people? Considering the racial makeup of the present-day United States and United Kingdom, how the hell did a socialist utopian group of Americans and British folk not have a mixture of people colors?
The only logical conclusion is that the Tearling and its surrounding kingdoms were founded by socialist utopian white supremacists, an amalgamation of Stormfront and the Klan. Presumably this one black guy’s ancestors were segregated out from the pure stock. No miscegenation in the Tearling! Or maybe Sun Ra’s planet exists in the Tearling universe, and all the black people went there except this one guy.
Space is the place (for everyone except white fantasy characters)
OK, I don’t really think that Queen of the Tearling was intentionally written as a white supremacist screed. I have a hunch that the story was originally set in a European-based fantasy kingdom, but somebody up the chain said “Hey, dystopia is selling with the kids, look at those Hungry Games!” Johansen changed the setting to make it Our World, without ever thinking about the effect that the change would have on the book’s internal logic. Her characters just were always white by default, and white they stayed, despite the now extremely unfortunate implications, which perhaps she never even realized existed.
So I’ll be nice here. Erasing all non-white people from a postapocalyptic landscape based on the motherfucking Earth isn’t actively malicious. It’s just incredibly lazy and colossally ignorant!**
* Kelsea’s shock at the sight of a darker person could be read as a sign of her ignorance, but the rest of the story doesn’t support that interpretation; even when Kelsea moves into the wider world, the inhabitants are all white.
** Not to mention a tactic borne out of the basest sort of story-twisting greed. More white people means more dollars! Fantasy readers can’t handle non-white characters!