I will admit, I am stealing that comparison from Entertainment Weekly, which has already made the connection between Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games (2008) and Kelsea Glynn of The Queen of the Tearling (2014). But while these two trilogies are not that similar—one is dystopian fiction and the other is a fantasy/science fiction blend—it is true that readers hunger for strong female protagonists in genre fiction and the kindest thing you can do is point it out when you see a corollary between one kick-ass female character and another, right? As much ire as these comparisons bring, they do get attention and Erika Johansen’s brilliantly constructed Tearling books deserve the attention.
Johansen’s debut came out last year and Hollywood took note instantly, casting Emma Watson in the title role of the forthcoming film. The book is a solid fantasy with echoes of classics like Joan D. Vinge’s The Snow Queen, but the first book provides glimpses of another world that only reveals itself fully in the sequel. Kelsea has been raised in the woods far from the throne, but when her mother, the Queen, dies, she is returned to the kingdom to rule at the age of 19. Idealistic and altruistic, Kelsea has the audacity to stand up to the Red Queen in the kingdom of Mortmense, who demands homage in the form of shipments of men, women, and children to serve as her slaves and playthings. In putting an end to the shipments, Kelsea essentially starts a war between the kingdoms. The Queen of the Tearling ends with Queen Kelsea at a precipice in which her choices allow no way back.
The Invasion of the Tearling, which just came out last month, delves back into Queen Kelsea’s rule once again, but also interleaves the story of a young woman set in a dystopian America hundreds of years before the crossing. Kelsea’s character is more complex in this book, and as her motives and actions become twisted, Johansen explores the corrupting effects of power and desire. But Kelsea’s flaws just make her all the more believable and I finished this second book in a projected trilogy wishing I had taken more time to read it.
If your book group likes genre-bending fantasy with a strong, complex female heroine, then try Erika Johansen’s The Queen of the Tearling.