Kelsea is practicing swordplay with her fencing master. It isn’t going very well, mostly because she’s too fat. No, really.
This scene reminds me of Arya’s early swordplay scenes in the Game of Thrones novels, only without the sense of fun. A lot of scenes in Queen of the Tearling remind me of scenes from other novels, actually, only not done as well—if you’re ancient like me and went to school before computers, they remind me of the mimeographed worksheets with the smudgy purple ink. Something readable was there at one point, but with copying it’s just a gross blur. Johansen borrows a lot from Game of Thrones, of course, but also Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon. I’m sure I could find more similarities if I had read Wheel of Time or that one series about the dude with the Objectivist sword, but I’m not about to torture myself.
Kelsea and the Mace chat a bit about her guards, and then Kelsea goes off to take a bath and mull over her excess weight. She’s a bit unhappy because she grew up in the woods and now she can’t go outside as much as she likes.
This is how women are trained to stay indoors, she thought, the idea echoing in her mind like a gravesong. This is how women are trained not to act.
Nice sentiment, but as far as I can tell Kelsea can’t run off to the woods because she’s busy running a country and assassins are after her, not because of any constrictive code of contact. If I were Kelsea, I’d worry more about the cabal of men who refuse to tell me anything, but knowing necessary information isn’t as necessary to a woman’s soul as horseback riding in the woods, I suppose.
Kelsea has learned a bit more about her kingdom; there are too many children, and none of them are properly educated because mandatory schooling has been abolished. I wonder how children even went to school in the first place, as the kingdom is agricultural and there aren’t any books—did they just sit around and stare at the wall while the crops rotted? It seems like Johansen is incapable of worldbuilding outside a very narrow, 21st-century Western concept.
Fortunately, an assassin arrives to liven things up. He puts a knife to Kelsea’s throat—of course, she’s stark naked, because we can’t have a woman killed with her clothes on—and her guards arrive too late. However, Kelsea’s magic jewel saves the day, pulsing out a magic light that kills the assassin.
The normal reaction to this would be “Holy shit, I just killed someone with a fucking piece of jewelry, how the hell did that happen? I’m some sort of motherfucking elf lord!” There also might be some screaming and maybe some “Bow, motherfuckers!” But this is Queen of the Tearling, so Kelsea’s mostly upset that people have seen her naked. The Mace sticks the body of the assassin (who turns out to be a noble) on a pike, vows to find the traitor who let the assassin in to attack Kelsea, and sets off to get him.
The Queen’s guards have retrieved Kelsea’s library, so there’s a short interlude where Kelsea earns her fantasy nerd cred by telling a young girl that you have to read The Hobbit before the Lord of the Rings. Really? You’re a lame, pedantic nerd, Kelsea. Also, out of all the books that Western civilization has to offer, somebody saved all three volumes of Lord of the Motherfucking Rings? Don’t get me wrong, I like Lord of the Rings, but if I had to take just a few books to a new civilization I would—OH WAIT THEY SAVED HARRY POTTER. Fuck this world, bring on the Planet of the Apes.
Kelsea has a vision of Mortmesne. It’s predictably dark and evil, with blood-red flags and heads stuck on pikes (this is the bad sort of sticking body parts on pikes, as opposed to the Mace’s habit of sticking body parts on pikes). Kelsea also sees cannons in her vision. Gunpowder is a new level of weaponry for this world, it turns out. Kelsea discusses this with her generals, who are understandably rather upset about the prospect of invasion by the Mort, gunpowder or no. Kelsea decides to evacuate the border and start guerrilla actions against the invading Mort armies, as there’s no real way to keep the Mort army out altogether.
I suppose this plan would work as a matter of national pride—rather live on one’s feet than die on one’s knees—but these people don’t seem to have anything more than clubs. Also, how are they going to feed all those people who pour in from the border? The Mace asks this question and gets a genius answer:
“So we feed and house them.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out, Lazarus.”
Well, then. This is going to end up like Culloden, isn’t it?