I have been in something of a book rut, which has turned into a writing rut. We could maybe even call it an overall life rut. I mean honestly, when the reading mojo is no good, the life mojo follows (am I right or am I right?). All kidding aside, it’s been a long, inconsistent time here at Meandering Ramblings but it appears this girl is ready to get back at organizing her thoughts in a semi-coherent manner for you strangers to enjoy. So there you go. The long and short of let’s get this blog back in gear. Because I have missed it so.
My choice in books has been a bit lacking as of late and it has been a (looooong) while since I read a book that I could truly say I was really excited about. The kind that had my heart pumping, mind racing and stayed with me long after I closed that final page. You know, the book that reminds you why reading is fun and amazing. I spent a big part of the summer slogging through Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. A book I was promised by multiple people that I would love- it being full of adventure, romance, and Scotland in the 1700s. I mean what could possibly be wrong with sexy men walking around in kilts for some light summer reading? Plus, it had recently been made into a TV show on Starz. Seemed like a no brainer and I was excited to get started. I knew this would be the book to get me back on the reading rocks bandwagon.
I was wrong.
I’m so sorry Outlander fans, but that hype backfired in a big way. I made it to the end, but I honestly can say I don’t understand what the big deal is about Claire and Jamie. The book was nearly 900 pages, and if not for my inability to set aside a book left unfinished, I would have been fine leaving this one on shelf. It was slow, directionless and oddly infuriating. I have a problem with a romance story where the couple is forced into a marriage because the woman is in unable to navigate this man’s man world. Yes, I get that’s how it was, but it still doesn’t make it any less trope-y or predictable. They barely know each other, forced into a marriage, which consummates and leads to sexy times, which is somehow supposed to be taken to mean ‘epic romance.’
So short version: my attachment to Jamie and Claire? Yeah, no thank you. I also had a major problem with Claire not being more concerned about the whole, “oh yeah, I heard a rock scream and now I’m suddenly 200 years in the past.” Instead it’s, “Cool, guess I should get married.” Girl, I see where your priorities are.
I honestly don’t know how this series has 8 books of equal or longer length. And honestly I want to know: Outlanders out there, do they get better? Am I being unfair? Is it me or is it the book? I’m not afraid to say it’s me.
But I digress.
That’s not what I’m here to talk about
Reading as a chore
While discussing with a friend about my current book faith crisis, she recommended Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. It’s a story of a young girl who has recently become Queen, and all the dangers and escapades that go along with that. It’s a realistic fantasy where magic is present, but grounded in scope. Full disclosure, I was a bit apprehensive about this book. My previous recommendation had been Outlander and we all know how that turned out. I was weary, but took the book when she insisted I borrow it and began to read.
And I was slogging through this one. My exasperation was quickly turning to fear as I began contemplating that it wasn’t the books, it was me. That for whatever reason my love of reading was leaving me or my expectation for what I was reading was becoming too picky. Or maybe both.
But, then something wonderful happened. I reached a part of Tearling where I couldn’t put. it. down. You read that right, this girl stayed up into the wee hours of the night because she had to get to the end of one chapter, then the next (despite having to get her butt to work early the next morning). It was magical, and the funny thing is that I did not necessarily love the book. I was intrigued.
Reading as a hobby
One of the first things we learn about Kelsea, our heroine, is that she is an avid reader. One of the later things we learn is that books and literacy aren’t really a thing throughout the kingdom. But, Kelsea hopes to change all of that. She is the daughter of Queen Elyssa, but she was raised hidden away by Carlin and Barty for reasons unknown. Kelsea is the rightful ruler to the Tearling, a fictional realm that’s somehow rooted in reality. Despite being medieval-ish in terms of weapons, transportation and medicine, this story is set in the future due to something only noted as the Crossing. All we glean from this event is that a large group of people left America for a life in the Utopian Tearling country, and now it is generations later. The future comes into play through the books Kelseas mention- J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien, for example, both get shoutouts. If you’re starting to think this is sounding like a weird, confusing premise I would say I agree. But, you kind of just learn to roll with it and move on.
Kelsea has turned 19, which makes her old enough to assume the throne, so she is forced to leave her humble home with Carlin and Barty to enter the big scary world of adulthood and politics. Particularly, the Mort Treaty signed by Kelsea’s mother which brought peace to the realm for a heave price. And by heavy price, I mean Tearling people being sacrificed in a slave trade lottery (oh hi there, Hunger Games). Queen of the Tearling follows Kelsea as she not only meets the challenges of being a queen, but rises above them. She faces dangers, of course, but also learns about loyalty and compassion, while balancing the politics of being a queen and teenager. Tough stuff.
Reading as a love
Kelsea isn’t perfect at what she does and that’s refreshing to see. She’s figuring out this ‘being Queen’ thing as she goes, which means we as the reader don’t always have to like where she ends up. One of my favorite aspects to the books was the supporting cast of characters and Kelsea’s interactions with them. There’s Lazarus, Pen, Elston, Father Tyler , Andalie, the Fetch, Javel and more. They’re an engaging, curious cast of characters that leave enough of a mystery to draw you in and miraculously stand out enough to hold their own in such a large ensemble.
I also enjoyed that while this was Kelsea’s story, the author included various chapters from other characters’ points of views. And not just any characters, but characters that you were surprised to hear from because they seemed somewhat minor or peripheral in the overall scope of the book.
Where this book really excels is in its overall mythology and the questions Kelsea has to answer. She, despite being Queen, is not all knowing and knows she has been specifically left in the dark to certain moments of the realm’s history, but also her own family history. She has no idea, for example, who her father is. Her fellow comrades also have certain auras of mystery that is both intriguing and exciting. It is a fine line to leave readers dangling while inviting them along bit by bit as scraps of information get thrown their way, and Ms. Johansen walks it like a pro.
Magic, in particular, is a pertinent force that everyone knows nothing about except perhaps the Red Queen (Kelsea’s archnemeis over in Mortmesne). Kelsea wields two jewels, that prove her queenship, but as we find out, also hold an enormous power. In the climax, Kelsea shows that off in a big way, but we don’t know why. And I need to know.
So where does the book fall flat? In a certain awkwardness that is felt throughout. This book sounds like it would be of prime YA genre fare, right? And the answer is ehhhh….sorta. It is in plot and characters. It is not in its use of language, sex and violence. Which is jarring to say the least because the language, sex and violence is not a persistent presence but tossed in from time to time. Ms. Johansen never fully commits one way or another so we’re left with this awkward hybrid of YA story that should probably not be read by kids.
I also got frustrated with Kelsea’s physical description. She is a plain, slightly overweight girl who is also Queen of an entire realm. Which should be a refreshing twist. Instead, it’s a topic that becomes tired fast, and weird later. Kelsea has a crush on the Fetch, who she meets early on in the story and shows up periodically throughout. And when I say crush, I mean crush on the weirdest level. She just met the guy, but goes completely nuts for him in a way that feels completely forced and unorganic. Her looks get brought up particularly here, in that she’s not pretty enough to be seen by the Fetch in that way. Which I don’t know, just became overkill after some time. I mean we get it. She’s unassuming and plain. Not queenly at all. Got it. (Quick note: I’ll be mad if this turns into an ugly duckling scenario.)
It’s not the greatest book I ever read, but I’m looking forward to reading the sequel because I need to know who Kelsea’s father is, how her magic sapphire jewels work and see more conversations between her and Lazarus. So the author did something right here. If you’re looking for a fantasy/drama/adventure story with a heroine facing no romantic entanglements, but a strong independence- I would say go for it. The fact remains, this book allowed me to get pulled out of my book rut and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Animal Farm by George Orwell – Nope, never read it. Yes, it’s a gap in my education. Although I should get some credit, I have read 1984 and took a whole course on World War II in college.