Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter 11, Part Two

Having pondered her issues over Marguerite, Kelsea is finally holding her royal audience. First up is Andalie’s husband, who has come to claim her as it’s his Biblical right as a husband; Kelsea tells him off for having beaten his wife, and he slinks away.

Then a noblewoman, Lady Andrews, comes up to speak with Kelsea. It turns out that Kelsea stole this noblewoman’s tiara for her crowning. Unsurprisingly, this Lady Andrews is not in a very good mood. Also, Lady Andrews is old. Really old.

She was much older than she’d seemed in the dim light of the throne room, perhaps as old as forty, and her face appeared to have been pulled unnaturally taut. Cosmetic surgery? There were no plastic surgeons in the Tearling, but it was rumored that Mortmesne had revived the practice.

But… but they don’t have plastic. Or antibiotics. How do they have plastic surgery?

Anyway, Lady Andrews has a smoker’s voice, or a drinker’s voice, in case we can’t figure out that she’s an awful human being simply by her age alone. She uses her nasty voice to ask Kelsea what she intends to do about Mortmesne; it turns out that Lady Andrews lives near the border and therefore is very worried about an invasion.

Kelsea isn’t humoring her. Kelsea’s jewel informs her, through a vision, that Lady Andrews locked herself up inside her tower while the Mort came through her territory; she and her guards survived, but everyone else wasn’t as lucky.

Do you have children, Lady Andrews?”

No, Majesty.”

Of course not, Kelsea thought. Children coneived by this woman would only be cannibalized by her womb. She raised her voice. “Then you don’t risk much in the lottery, do you? You have no children, you don’t look strong enough for labor, and you’re really too old to appeal to anyone for sex.”

OOOH SICK BURN, THIS LADY IS OLD AND UGLY AND CHILDLESS AND THEREFORE HAS NO RIGHT TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT IMPENDING GENOCIDE

Lady Andrews is understandably a wee bit upset when Kelsea tells her never to come back to court.

Lady Andrews’s hands had clutched into claws. The nails were long hooks, manicured a bright purple. Deep pockets of red had emerged in the fleshless crescents beneath her eyes […] What does she see when she looks in the mirror? Kelsea wondered.

Ok, this is when I thought that Kelsea would come down hard on Lady Andrews for being a greedy, selfish biddy who spends her money on magical plastic surgery while letting her peasants die in a ditch.

How could a woman who looked so old still place so much importance on being attractive?

Well, that was a surprise. I guess the worst part about Lady Andrews isn’t that she let a bunch of her own people suffer horribly when (presumably) she could have helped them into safety. It’s that she thinks she’s still hot when she’s over the hill.

And for all the anguish that Kelsea’s own refletion had caused her lately, she saw now that there was something far worse than being ugly; being ugly and thinking you were beautiful.

I would have thought that the whole being-responsible-for-masses of people dying-thing would be worse than being ugly, but never mind that. The characters are female, so they don’t need to be judged on their actions, just on their appearances. So feminist.

Lady Andrews may be an old bitch, but she does have a good line in comebacks. I suppose with age, she’s had more time to think about these things.

And what have you to lose, Majesty? You spent your childhood in hiding. Has your name ever gone into the lot? […] In fact, Majesty, you risk less than any of us, don’t you? If she invades again, you merely barricade yourself in your own tower, just as I did. Only your tower is even taller.”

Kelsea has absolutely no answer for this, which is sad, as it’s a legitimate question. Not everyone is going to have access to the safety of a tower or a keep, and those who do are going to have to decide how to share that access without imperiling everyone involved. Johansen attempts to get round the problem it by making the nobles uniformly corrupt, awful people who positively relish murdering peasants, but that’s a con; Kelsea has created a situation that poses a dilemma for even the ideal noble. A lord or lady is sworn to obey their ruler, and the lottery system is inhumane and humiliating. But a lord or lady is also supposed to protect his or her people and property. If obeying the ruler means the total sacrifice of the people and land—and, based on the description of the last Mort invasion and the quality of the Tearling defense, it’s going to be an absolute slaughter—then how should a noble act? Is it right to disobey Kelsea’s orders? If not, how do they decide which people to protect and which people to leave to their fates?

But for Johansen, none of these matters are of any significance, and she signals that by putting the questions in the mouth of an old, ugly woman. Because the value of a woman’s speech is directly linked to her youth and appearance, of course.

Unfortunately for Kelsea, not all of the other nobles attending the audience seem to get that basic fact, and she appears to be losing their support. Why can’t they just forget all their problems and concentrate on how much of a dog this Andrews woman is! Fortunately for Kelsea, one of her guards, Mhurn, was one of Lady Andrews’s villagers, and he calls her out on some of the actual shitty things that she did, like locking out the poor people who attempted to find sanctuary in her household.

I’ve known the Queen barely a month, but I promise you, when the Mort come, she will try to cram the entire Tearling into this Keep, and she won’t care how recently they’ve bathed or how poor they are. She’ll make room for all.”

I hope that Kelsea has enough food for all, because otherwise that’s going to go south pretty quickly. Anyway, Lady Andrews demands the guard be whipped for his insolence, and Kelsea tells her to get the hell out once again. This time, she complies.

In the space of seconds, a thousand tiny lines sprung up in the taut skin of her face.

Yo, I hope you didn’t forget that this lady is old! And therefore bad!

I’m still not done with this chapter, which is really something of a gold mine. There’s some freaky stuff coming up involving child abuse and psychic friends that deserves its own post. Mercedes Lackey would blush, that’s all I can say.

Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter 11, Part One

Why has it been so long since I updated this readalong? Well, I’ll admit it: I lost the damn book in my book hoard. What, you don’t have a giant pile of half-read books that can completely conceal a large hardback? It’s just me? Anyway, it’s all good, I guess, because we’re coming up to a real disaster of a chapter here. Gave myself a breather and all. And now I’m back to tackle Chapter 11. Continue reading →

Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter 10

I’ve put it off for as long as I can, but let’s get back to the Tearling.

Javel, the gate guard who was hanging out with evil Arlen Thorne earlier, is now doing some more evil conspiracy shit. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy with Kelsea’s plan to stop the slave shipments—nobles who run toll roads and made regular money from slave convoys, people who are scared of war with the vastly more powerful Mort. This would be an interesting look at the opposition to Kelsea’s reforms if the people involved weren’t described in sub-David Eddings terms, so everyone is ugly, fat, drunk, and weaselly. I mean, the gang includes an evil priest and a rapist gate guard. Can’t thin, ordinary-looking people be morally wrong? Without being grimdark wrong? Continue reading →

Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter Nine

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.”

“Where?”

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out, Lazarus.”

Well, then. This is going to end up like Culloden, isn’t it?

Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter Eight

Kelsea wakes up in her bed. She’s mending from the assassination attempt at her coronation. The first thing she notices is that the frou-frou pillows have been removed from her bed. I suppose this is important, whether there are pillows on this bed or not, more important than almost being killed and killing a man, but everyone focuses on odd things sometimes, right?

The Mace arrives and apologizes for not having Kelsea’s back. He also hasn’t caught whoever it was who threw the knife into Kelsea’s back. Kelsea isn’t worried, though, and tells him to move on.

Continue reading →

Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter Seven

Ah, the baddie chapter.

Evil Uncle Thomas is sad because his assassination attempt failed. We learn that he’s fat (again), not too bright, and drinks and eats a lot. He also has a bunch of mistresses. Some palace staff come in and start taking his things away, and it turns out the mistresses have mostly left on their own. One has stayed behind to tell him off. Continue reading →

Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter Six

It’s a two-fer today! We’re almost halfway through.

Kelsea has finally entered the Keep. She wakes up in her mother’s bedroom, which is quite frou-frou and described at length. How long ago did her mother die, anyway? How are the sheets still fresh? Gross.

Kelsea remembers an incident from her childhood, when she stole one of Carlin’s dresses and pretended to be a queen. Carlin freaked out, tore the dress off, slapped her, and didn’t speak to her for a week. Kelsea looks back on this incident and misses Carlin, whom she realizes slapped her because of nasty old girly Elyssa. Continue reading →