Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter 12, Part Two

The Evil Red Queen is standing in her turret of wickedness, gazing upon the lands below and fretting that she hasn’t found Kelsea yet. She can see all the borders of her land, from the Tear border to the west to the borders with other generic fantasy lands to the north and south. Wait a second, how high is this turret? Iron is a hot commodity in this world, so I’m assuming that there aren’t giant steel-and-glass skyscrapers dotting the landscape and this is your standard-issue medieval tower. Is Mortmesne really tiny? Does the Red Queen have magic sight? So many questions!

Apparently the Mort economy is so dependent on human shipments that the lapse of one shipment has caused internal unrest. Some young radicals are protesting, as are the Queen’s commanders. Oh, here come more questions. Why does the Mort economy need so many slaves, anyway? Do they run plantations? Are there just not a lot of Mort? Do they not have a permanent slave class, with children born into slavery? I’m surprised that Mortmesne has to kidnap all these people, frankly—you’d think that folks would voluntarily leave the shitty, starving Tearling to work in more technologically advanced, prosperous Mortmesne.

Anyway, the Evil Queen decides that she needs the aid of “the dark thing” to find Kelsea. She instructs her guard to drug a child and bring the child to her rooms. Oh, they probably need all these slaves for child sacrifice, right. Because slavery isn’t terrible in and of itself.

There’s a hint of backstory for the Evil Queen, something about her emerging from a prison stronger than before and some vague plan, so I suppose she is using evil spirits to prolong her life and overcome her past, yadda yadda. I wonder if Kelsea will be offered the same choice through her sapphires? Hmmmmm.

For some reason, the queen notes that one of her male guards is eying a female guard’s shapely posterior. I’m not sure why this matters, except that OH NO IT’S TIME FOR SEXUALLY DUBIOUS MAGIC.

She didn’t particularly like children; they made too much noise and demanded too much energy. She’d never wanted a child herself, not even when she was young.

Oh, my god, a woman who doesn’t want children! It’s a slippery slope from this perversion to associating with pedophiles and committing child sacrifice!

No, really.

There were several pedophiles in high positions in her military. The Queen felt a strange, sickly contempt for these men, unable to understand what was wrong with them […] But she needed them, needed them badly. When they weren’t being what they were, they were incredibly useful.

Why on earth are pedophiles so useful to our Evil Queen? The ready response is that she can blackmail them in case of emergency, but actually, it seems as if they’ve forgotten all about that and have started planning to overthrow her. The other reason that comes to mind is that 99.9 percent of the people who read this book define pedophilia as the most disgusting sexual perversion possible, so it’s being thrown in as a sort of local color. You know, in case you didn’t think some evil shit was going on already, let’s include pedophilia as well! The weird extension of this line of thinking is that what Mortmesne is doing is evil because of the private lives of its citizens; if the generals who previously invaded the Tearling and raped and slaughtered its population had respected the age of consent at home, I guess everything would have been cool.

Whatever. It’s time to stop asking questions and… get naked? Yes! The Evil Queen slashes her child sacrifice and sops some of the blood up with a towel. She then takes off her clothes to start her incantation.

The stone of the floor was hard and sharp, digging into her knees, but the dark thing liked that, just as it liked to have her naked […] If she kept her panties on, or put down a pillow to soften the floor, it would notice.

In my last post, I conceded the point that, while Johansen was including a lot of gratuitous evil violence against women in this chapter, at least it wasn’t gratuitous evil sexualized violence. Aw, damn, can we at least get through one chapter without some ludicrous fuckspell?

She leaned forward, as far as she dared, and threw the bloody towel into the fire. Despite the heat, her nipples, had hardened to tiny points, as though she were cold, or excited. Crackling sounds filled the room as the flames consumed the towel.

Innocent blood,” the dark thing remarked. “It is good to taste.”

Oh, well, I guess not. Also, this dark thing is cheesy as hell.

Dark thing and Evil Queen bicker a bit, and he hits her with a bolt of fire, so that her hip “squalled in agony.” What the fuck does that even mean? Anyway, this evil spirit not only makes words lose their meaning, he’s a looker, too.

When she looked up, the black mass in the air was gone. Instead, a man towered above her, handsome beyond words. His pure black hair swept back from a perfect patrician face, gaunt cheekbones offset by a thick, full-lipped mouth. A beautiful man, but the Queen wasn’t fooled by that beauty anymore. Red eyes glittered coldly down at her.*

Oh, he’s sexy evil, do you get it, everything to have to do with sex is vile and abusive and evil, we’re going to make sure this isn’t mistaken as YA by replacing the soppy romance with absolute sex negativity. Is this really what writing a “grown-up” book is about? This land needs some sexual healing, like the arrival of a magical fuck wizard. Like Annie Sprinkle, only wearing one of those princess cone hats.

The Evil Queen asks dark thing to help her, but the dark thing is like, eh, no, you can’t harm Kelsea. Why not? Who knows, but that does mean that the entire child murder ritual scene was for nothing. Well, it did kill the plot, because now we don’t even have a proper adversary for Kelsea. We know that the Evil Queen will fail if she attempts to kill Kelsea, and we don’t know dark thing’s plans well enough to see it as a proper threat.

We do get a loving description of what the spirit does to the child sacrifice, though. I’ll spare you the details—basically some vampire shit goes down and dark thing sasses Evil Queen a bit about how she’s not to touch a hair on Kelsea’s head. Again, why?

Who needs to know why, when you can enjoy this sort of deathless prose:

Harm the Tear heir, and you will feel my wrath, darker than your darkest dream. Do you wish that?”

The Queen shook her head frantically. Her nipples were rock-hard now, almost aching, and she moaned as the thing slithered off her, licking the last of the blood off its lips.

Well, at least we know exactly how hard this lady’s nipples got. And really, who needs a functioning plot when we have rock-hard nipples?

Dark thing goes back to its dark place.

Evil Queen looks at the remains of the child. It’s gross.

The Queen turned and ran for the bathroom, one hand clamped across her throat, her eyes wide and hunted.

She nearly made it.

Aaaaaaand end of chapter. Finally!

Isn’t that the most bathetic last line ever, though? I admit, the first time I read Queen of the Tearling, I was skimming by the end, and I thought that this last line meant that the Evil Queen had been caught by the spirit and destroyed—he was lurking somewhere and caught her when she was off guard. Big plot point, right? But on a re-reading, I think that it just means that the Evil Queen puked on the floor. I’m personally disgusted by vomit, but even I think this is an anticlimax. I mean, Johansen just thoroughly described sexual humiliation (including blood play!), Satanic worship, and the horrific murder of a child—but the real horror is that somebody was sick and missed the toilet. Won’t somebody think of the precious carpet fibers?

(A similar, slightly less ridiculous example of this sort of writing occurs in Chapter 10, which also involves Evil Sex—did Evil Uncle Thomas have sex with his sister and breed Kelsea? Is this a plot point, or confusion over the object of a verb? Ooof.)

* Digression: wouldn’t red eyes be incredibly unattractive? He’d look like a man-rabbit.

Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter 12, Part One

Another chapter split on my part… I swear we’re almost done here. It’s just that again, there’s so much in this one chapter alone.

Kelsea has set off with her guards to chase the slave shipment. Her jewel is guiding her—if she goes in the wrong direction, she feels sick. Her guards, of course, aren’t at all curious about this GPS jewel. I mean, it’s a fucking magic jewel that glows and can knock people over, which you would think would be enough to inspire a little bit of interest, but they’re entirely dismissive. Instead, the guards think that Kelsea is mad. However, they’re too lazy to restrain her and prefer to just belittle her instead.

It had been more than a month, and many of them had come to know her, but nothing had really changed. She was still the girl they’d brought like a piece of baggage from Barty and Carlin’s cottage, the girl who couldn’t ride, who could barely be trusted to put up her own tent. It was Mace they listened to, whose word counted, and in the final judgement even Mace had treated her like a wayward child.

Yup. I also wonder why these guards expect the queen to put up her own tent. She’s a hereditary monarch, not a Girl Scout leader.

Anyway, Kelsea and her guards track down the secret slave shipment and attack yonder evildoers. Kelsea hangs back from the fighting as she’s not experienced enough with weapons yet, and lo and behold, guess who shows up? It’s the Fetch! He’s been tracking the slaves as well, and takes the opportunity to give Kelsea back her necklace that he took from her chapters and chapters ago.

I’ve waited a long time for you, Tear Queen. Longer than you can imagine.”

He also insults her haircut, but whatever.

With the second necklace, Kelsea suddenly gets super magic powers and can see glimpses of other worlds. Back in the real world, she notices that a slave cage has been set and fire and darts towards it with super speed.

The narrative changes to the point of view of Javel, the gate guard, who was in on that whole conspiracy that involved evil and slutty albino ladies, chapters and chapters back. He feels rather bad about this whole thing and kills one of his fellow guards, who has been being a total rapist lately because what’s a fantasy novel without lots and lots of rape? Oh, and dead women and children.

The second woman was nothing but a blazing torch, a dark, writhing shape with arms that waved madly from inside the fire. While Javel watched, in a span of time that seemed endless, her arms sank to her sides and her body simply collapsed. She had no face anymore, ony a blackened thing that burned madly, spreading flame along the cage floor… Jeffrey and William’s mother was burning now, her hair and face on fire. Her dress had gone up first and Javel knew, in the part of the mind that remained cold and suspended in such situations, that the baby inside her was already dead.

How on earth does he know? Does he have a special grimdark sixth sense? Anyway, if miscarriage doesn’t quite sate your need for the horrific deaths of children, there are more dead kids later on in the chapter. No, really. Anyway, Javel has a last-second change of heart and attempts to open the cages.

I don’t think that Johansen means these particular scenes of violence to be titillating—they’re presented as genuinely horrific, not as pornography for people who can’t admit their tastes to themselves. Nobody’s getting whipped to death by a convenient sect of nude, pert-breasted ninja assassins. However, every live woman in this book, excepting Kelsea and her elderly mother figure, Carlin, is either a heinous, murderous, oversexualized bitch or the victim of severe physical and/or sexual abuse. The closest we get to a woman who escapes those categories is Andalie, and she’s a literal witch.

What’s even more annoying is that these women’s suffering is used as character development for the men—the Regent abuses Marguerite to confirm that he’s an awful person, the suffering women in the cages spur Javel’s moral redemption, one of Kelsea’s guards has absolutely no characteristics at all except a beef with Evil Arlen Thorne over a woman, and so on. None of this abuse is central to the story—we know that the Regent is corrupt, and that slavery is bad, and that Evil Arlen Thorne is, well, Evil with a capital E, what with the whole slavemongering thing.

Anyway, Kelsea is able to use the power of her jewels to bring water down from the sky in a great storm, extinguishing the fire, then passes out from the effort. This is pretty cool, and it opens up a lot of new directions for the narrative—how can Kelsea use these powers? Where do they come from? etc. I have to give Johansen points for not including a wise old mentor who, despite supposedly being wise, solely dispenses information after the fact.