The Invasion of the Tearling: A clash between past and future

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen fantasy book reviewsThe Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Warning: May contain mild spoilers for the previous book.

At first glance, a mash-up between epic fantasy and futuristic dystopia just shouldn’t work. It’s as though someone has cherry-picked a bunch of best-selling ingredients and bunged them all together in a weird genre-bending cake. Even more disconcerting is a comparison made to Panem, Hogwarts and Westeros on the cover. But Erika Johansen manages to weave genres together successfully. In this second instalment of the QUEEN OF THE TEARLING trilogy, Kelsea Glynn (a name that will soon be as familiar as Katniss Everdeen, with a major film franchise in the pipeline) faces the invasion of her newly acquired kingdom, the Tearling.

With the Mort army (quite literally) sitting on her doorstep, thousands of displaced civilians, and an evil (but devastatingly handsome) apparition popping out of her fireplace, Kelsea Glynn has got her work cut out for her. Though Kelsea managed to win the battle at the end of the previous novel, The Queen of the Tearling, she has, as they say, not won the war. The Red Queen of Mort is now determined to wreak vengeance on the Tearling after Kelsea refused to continue sending the Red Queen shipments of tributes selected by lottery.

Similarities to The Hunger Games aside, Erika Johansen actually manages to do something very original in these novels. Whilst at first glance readers are apparently emerged in a fantasy world of sword fights, horse riding and farming villages, it is revealed that this is actually a futuristic world.

A Dystopian America in which women are lower class citizens and the rich live in walled communities, separated from the poor, existed before the Tearling. It’s an awesome concept. The technologically-advanced future came before the swords-and-sorcerers world. Now Kelsea, with the magical assistance of her sapphire necklaces, has the ability to see what happened before the Tearling.

Cue Lily. Lily comes from pre-Crossing America — that’s before the founders of the Tearling sailed across the Atlantic to land on what is presumably Europe. Lily lives under the scrutiny of her overbearing husband who monitors her every move. Kelsea sees the world through Lily’s eyes, a world in which every citizen is chipped, in which women are not allowed to work. Lily is repeatedly raped and abused by her husband, but when an opportunity arises for her to help Blue Horizon (a renegade faction who are fighting against the government), she takes it.

Lily is reminiscent of Daenerys of Game of Thrones fame (and you can begin to see why so many comparisons are being drawn between Johansen’s work and all of the other blockbuster franchises out there). There is something infinitely satisfying about watching the underdog stick it to the man though, and Lily’s character proves to be one of the highlights of the entire novel.

The TEARLING series is going from strength to strength. In this second instalment, Johansen adds new characters and fleshes out the Tearling’s history, which adds new depth and dimension to Johansen’s fantasy world. The cleverness of the concept this entire series rests on will have you trailblazing to the end.

~Rachael McKenzie


fantasy and science fiction book reviewsErika Johansen’s The Invasion of the Tearling is the second book in a planned trilogy, the sequel to The Queen of the Tearling. Often, the second book in a trilogy reads like a bridge between the set-up and the thrilling climax. The Invasion of the Tearling is no bridge book. Johansen adds characters and drama while filling in some important back-story, most particularly the origin of the three kingdoms we see in this adventure. This book also has its own dramatic arc, even though it ends on a cliffhanger.

Kelsea Raleigh was an insecure young woman in Book One, filled with self-doubt and constantly worrying that she wasn’t pretty. She managed to assume the throne of the Tear and win the loyalty of her subjects. She ended the horrific tribute of slaves that her nation paid to the powerful neighboring kingdom, Mortmesne, ruled by a frightening witchy figure called the Red Queen. Kelsea had her own magic, in the form of two sapphires that come to the ruler of the Tear, and she was learning how to use them as Book One ended.

Ending the tribute gave the Mort queen an excuse to invade, and in this book her army is already massed on Tear’s eastern border. Kelsea has an inadequate army and plenty of enemies within, including her obnoxious nobles and the newly elected Holy Father of the church, who hates her. Kelsea also feels abandoned by the sapphires, whose magic has taken a subtler turn that Kelsea doesn’t understand. While Kelsea tries to figure out how to deal with the Mort army, which is larger and more technically advanced than hers, she is assailed by episodes that seem like trances or sleepwalking, in which she visits the life of a woman in a completely different place and time, the “pre-Crossing” world that Kelsea’s ancestors came from.

This woman, Lily Freeman Mayhew, lives in mid-twenty-first century America. Her world is a weird amalgam of The Handmaid’s Tale and Atlas Shrugged, with William Tear, the architect of the Crossing and a figure of legend in Kelsea’s time, as the John Galt character. People in his underground network even have a catch-phrase. (Don’t worry, it’s not “Who is William Tear?”) Lily lives a caged life of luxury in a walled enclave. She has been microchipped so her husband can always find her; her only purpose is to provide her husband with children, since the plutocrats are increasingly outnumbered by the desperate poor. Lily has already begun her own personal rebellion when events pitch her into the middle of Tear’s larger conspiracy, called Blue Horizon. Revelations back in Kelsea’s world show us that Lily’s fate is important to the fate of both Mortmesne and the Tear.

There were several things I liked here. We find out a bit more about the background of Lazarus the Mace, the Queen’s Guard turned father-figure for Kelsea. We also see more of the Red Queen of Mortmesne, and I liked that. In the first book Johansen hinted at the similarities between the Glynn Queen (Kelsea) and the Red Queen; in this book those are revealed.

This book opens with a splendid bit of asymmetric warfare, and I could have done with more of that. Johansen introduces some more appealing secondary characters, like Ewan, who guards Kelsea’s prisoners.

The Invasion of the Tearling carries on the adventure and provides mostly interesting characters, but for some reason I can’t warm up to this series. In this book, I had the most problem with Lily’s story. It’s almost a cliché now to talk about a character lacking agency, but boy, does Lily lack it. Here is a putatively “strong” woman character whose strength is that she endures being brutally raped by her husband and tortured by the government, but who does nothing to drive the plot. At the end, it isn’t completely clear whether William Tear risked his entire operation to rescue her for magical reasons, or if, as he implies, he always planned to rescue her but let her be tortured as a “test” to see if she could handle it. If so, Lily has traded one hands-on abuser for another abuser who uses agents to do his abusing for him.

Except for William and the Red Queen, all the villains are evil in the same way: smug, hypocritical and cruel. The nobles are selfish and cruel. The Holy Father is hypocritical and vicious; Lily’s husband is smug, hypocritical and brutal. In her religious battle, I’d like to see Kelsea go up against a true believer rather than a braying, bullying hypocrite who is the same stripe of evil as everyone else.

I firmly believe that Johansen is fully aware that the pre-Crossing characters do not look like good guys, and that part of her point is that they brought with them the seeds of the conflicts in Kelsea’s time. Believing that is not quite enough to make me fully embrace these books. The story is interesting but I am not experiencing unalloyed enjoyment as I read.

In spite of my problems, I am giving The Invasion of the Tearling three stars, for the inventiveness and the momentum of the story. Maybe Johansen will live up to my expectations for the final book. I really hope so.

~Marion Deeds


The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen fantasy book reviewsThe Invasion of the Tearling, the second in Erika Johansen’s QUEEN OF THE TEARLING trilogy, is definitely better than a typical placeholder between the first book of a trilogy (which sets up exciting action and dastardly villains) and the third book (which resolves everything after valuable lessons are learned about friendship or loyalty or eating one’s veggies). Johansen uses these pages well, deepening Queen Kelsea Glynn’s character and her struggle to rule in the face of a foreign invasion and corruption at home while revealing the circumstances that led William Tear and his followers, the group known only as Blue Horizon, to break all bonds with the late 21st-century world and strike out for their own utopia.

A utopia is only as good as the people who found it, though, and Blue Horizon, though their intentions may be pure, is full of flawed individuals with their own problems and desires. William Tear himself is charismatic, powerful, and too willing to let his followers undergo hideous torture in the name of his idealized greater good. Followers like Lily Mayhew, who lives in a plausibly authoritarian plutocratic America, is kept prisoner in her own home by her abusive husband, and dreams of a better world. Lily’s life is extremely reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, as Marion mentioned, with some shades of V for Vendetta near the end, when she is interrogated by Security forces and the clock ticks down to the moment when Tear initiates the Crossing.

Lily’s life is relived in painstaking detail by Queen Kelsea, who enters a fugue state and wanders her castle for hours, unable to hear or see her physical surroundings while she visits the past. Meanwhile, the Red Queen’s Mort army marches closer to the Keep, destroying fields and killing any farmers who aren’t quick enough to flee. While I appreciated the insight into pre-Crossing life and what inspired people to make that incredible journey, it’s not immediately clear why Lily’s story is crucial enough to make up a sizeable portion of The Invasion of the Tearling, especially when there are so many other significant plot threads to follow: the Church’s appointment of a new Holy Father, a man obsessed with vice; Father Tyler’s crisis of faith even as he must maintain the appearance of spying on Queen Kelsea while serving as her spiritual advisor; the Mort Queen’s fixation on the Tearling sapphires and her own personal history; Kelsea’s increasing difficulties in governing her subjects and herself, and the ramifications of her inability to do either. In addition, there are several smaller subplots involving the Mace, the Fetch, a demon-like creature who lives in flame and makes dangerous promises, and the children of Kelsea’s maidservant Andalie, each of whom could have used a little more space to breathe and grow.

Johansen’s prose throughout the novel is compelling, and her protagonists are well-written and sympathetic. Her antagonists still need more subtlety — one would think that they don’t all need to be rapists, torturers, or sexual predators — but the two worlds she’s building are interesting, and I’m very much looking forward to The Fate of the Tearling, since Kelsea’s actions at the end of The Invasion of the Tearling seem to be setting up a very grand finale. There’s potential for Kelsea to be a fair and just queen once she gets past the immaturity and insecurity of youth. I’m not counting on a happy ending, necessarily, but I have a lot of questions which I hope to see answered.

~Jana Nyman

Published June 9, 2015. In this riveting sequel to the national bestseller The Queen of the Tearling, the evil kingdom of Mortmesne invades the Tearling, with dire consequences for Kelsea and her realm. With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion. But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out. In this dazzling sequel, Erika Johansen brings back favorite characters, including the Mace and the Red Queen, and introduces unforgettable new players, adding exciting layers to her multidimensional tale of magic, mystery, and a fierce young heroine.

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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11 comments

  1. Rachael, you have to stop reading books that sound so appealing to me. I only have so many hours in the day!! :)

  2. Do you have any idea how to pronounce Tearling? Is it “tear,” like the water that falls out of one’s eyes, or “tear,” like a rip in one’s clothing?

    I’m glad you and Rachael are both reviewing this trilogy because I’m getting a more complete vision of its strengths and weaknesses. Thanks! :)

  3. Terry Connelly /

    While I enjoyed the story, I felt it moved too slowly. The pace was drug down by Kelsea’s many spells in which she lived life alongside Lily. The Mort army is on her doorstep, yet she can’t stay focused long enough to make the decisions a queen should make.

    After many pages of dealing with the past, the Mort finally attacks and Kelsea has to stay present.

    Your review is well written and thoughtful. Because of yours perspective, I will most likely read the last book in the trilogy.

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