On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.
Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend…if she can survive.
The synopsis of this book is deceiving. At first glance it would seem that this book is a high-caliber fantasy; Magic, swords, castles, evil queens and the like. The book certainly contains all of these things, but it conceals on of the biggest settings of the book, which is: This is earth.
When I say earth, I mean our earth. This book is set in our world, at an unknown date far, far into the future, following a supposedly catastrophic event vaguely called 'The Crossing'. Normally I might say that this is an interesting plot twist, provided that I understand how our world evolved to this point and how magic is suddenly able to exist in our currently magic less world. The problem with this book is that that does not happen.
Throughout the sweeping world of the Tearling there are casual mentions of J.K. Rowling, The Hobbit, the American presidency, cigarettes, heroine, plastic surgery, and many other things that will be familiar to the reader. However, rather than supporting the narrative and letting the story find it's own wings, these elements drag the story down. They force the reader to constantly attempt to make connections between our world and the world of the story--connections that frankly, don't exist.
I was quite taken with the story of Kelsea and her fight for her kingdom. Johansen is a good writer and story-teller. I found the alternating point of views she chose to be well timed and appropriate to the situation. However, because of the confusing world, I spent most of the book frustrated, wishing that this was just a completely different world I could let myself be absorbed into instead of struggling to reconcile.
All in all, while I enjoyed the story and characters, the book left me wanting more. I was left with more questions than answers regarding the state of the world, the characters on the eve of impending doom, and a mysterious magical force that is only hinted at. I hope the remaining books in the trilogy bring more answers than questions.