Book review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Queen of the Tearling cover imageThe Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, Random House, Available now.

The Queen of the Tearling arrived on my doorstep in some simple but elegant little packaging, with warm grey tissue paper wrapping tied in a red bow, a little card attached with the title and author. The accompanying marketing blurb was nicely printed on a creamy laid paper with a satisfying weight¹. What book blogger could resist such presentation? (Not this one, I’m a sucker for the pretty).

Now, this is all very well and good, and reminds me how lucky I am to blog about books (well, reminds me why I put the time in to blog about books) but like the accompanying hype about this new title (It’s going to be made into a movie! Emma Watson loves it! And the Harry Potter films producer is producing it so lightning will strike twice!) it’s just pleasant frippery around the edges. The proof is in the reading.

The Queen of the Tearling delivers to a large extent on that, being a story with some of the best sort of characters and a gradually revealed backstory and universe that promises big things. Kelsea Glynn is heir to the throne of Tearling and has been in hiding since she was a baby. The book opens with the Queen’s Guard arriving at her modest foster parent’s home to escort her back to her castle to take her rightful place as Queen, as her mother has died. Along the way she learns many horrific and hard-to-hear truths about the state of play in Tearling, and the relationship with neighbouring Mortmesne and its ruler, The Red Queen (definite shades of the Red Woman from Game of Thrones), and The Queen of the Tearling is mostly taken up with this “beginning to be a queen” tale. Yes, it’s the first in a series.

I enjoyed many things about this part of the tale. The characters are fantastic; the likeable, worthy and intelligent Kelsea, her head guard The Mace, a solid and virtuous warrior, and the crazed Red Queen. These are just a few of the universe of characters that Johansen is beginning to create and clearly this is her strength. She also gives us plenty of hints and slow reveals about just where the Tearling universe is, an Earth-but-not-Earth, with talk of Europe and the Continent and the New World. I’m very keen to learn more about that.

There are also some things about the book that don’t work, with two main gripes from me. The tone is a little weird at times and this sense of dissonance meant there where times I struggled to stay engaged by it. Moments where the characters and writing screamed “young adult” were suddenly broken when the characters and writing screamed “you might wanna read this yourself before you give it to your young adult” and that made it hard to get a handle on who exactly the book is aimed at. This might not be a major issue for the average reader but tone is so important, and one of the reasons why editors are similarly important.

There were also some things that frustrated me about Kelsea as a character, she’s strong and intelligent, and I fervently hope that Johansen isn’t going to turn her personal story into “ugly duckling becomes a swan”. Some of the comments about her appearance and, yes, the news that Emma Watson is signed to play her in the movie, do worry me that rather than concentrating on the aspect of her journey into being a leader, we’ll be subjected to a standard “girl leader must be beautiful” story. The book doesn’t need it, so I do hope not.

So does this live up to the aforementioned edge-frippery hype? Not entirely but it’s still a very good read, one which will gain plenty of fans, including me. I’m definitely looking forward to finding out more and staying a part of the intriguing Tearling world.

¹ Yes, all right, I’m a paper geek.

An update from me

It seems a good time to update everyone on my journey along the non-profit road! The beginning to this project is detailed here, and the response was so amazing and overwhelming that I have to keep you all updated.

So far I have met with an advisor from the fantastic organisation Community Waikato. For those who haven’t heard of them, they provide support services (and distribute some funding) to non-profits and charities within the Waikato region. This was a great discussion, very insightful and useful. I talked about the whole background to my idea, as well as my own personal background and thoughts on where I want this (and me) to go.

One of the best things an advisor can give you is knowledge and history of the charity space, especially if like me you have the idea but not the experience. I got some realistic assessments of my perceptions. As you all know my focus was on the space of support services for queer youth, and I’m mindful of not wanting to either a) compete with existing services, or b) replicate existing services. This is where the advisor’s knowledge was invaluable. She saw a way that I could combine wanting to help with my personal skillset.

It means a slight change in direction, or at least refocussing my ideas, not away from the end user, but away from my initial thoughts of what my organisation might look like – in essence we may have come up with a business idea for a social enterprise that supports charitable and non-profit organisations. This doesn’t worry me – I am nothing if not adaptable and my ultimate aim has always been “how do we make it easier and better for queer youth to access the support they need”. Now I may just be able to do that for more people.

This is exactly why the support I received for my Givealittle campaign was so important and I’m so grateful for it. Research is key, identifying gaps and opportunities, making sure I know what’s happening, who’s what and what’s where. Next up is my trip to Auckland, which will happen in late August. I’m excited and I hope everyone who supported me is still happy they did!

Thanks again, all. :)

Vote for the Peoples Choice Award 2014

The People’s Choice award is the public’s opportunity to vote for their favourite NZ published, NZ authored title published within the eligible date span for the 2014 awards (1 June 2013 – 31 May 2014). I’ll let you in on a secret and tell you I voted for Wake by Elizabeth Knox.

Vote using the link below or the widget to the right and remember – you don’t HAVE to vote for the covers they show, you can enter your own choice in the form!

Vote in the 2014 People's Choice Award

Book Watch, New Zealand Herald on Sunday – 13 July 2014

The Martian

By Andy Weir, Random House

This science-fiction adventure thriller is up there with the best in edge-of-your-seat reads, combining imagination, science and a healthy dose of humour. Mark Watney is a botanist and astronaut stranded on Mars, left alone to survive on the Red Planet because of a mixture of bad luck and catastrophe. Will he make it back to Earth? It’s no surprise that a movie adaptation is already in the works.

Sand

By Hugh Howey, Random House

A new world and a new story from Howey, the best-selling writer of the Wool trilogy. The author’s strength is his prodigious imagination and he makes use of it again with Sand, combining apocalyptic vision with a story of family and survival. Like Wool this is a highly enjoyable read; I became so immersed I could practically feel the grit and wind.

Purgatory

By Rosetta Allen, Penguin

A fantastic new book from a talented New Zealand author, Purgatory is based on the 1865 Otahuhu murders. Exploring ideas of spirituality, colonial dispossession and the dehumanising effects of poverty and alcohol, the story moves between Ireland and New Zealand, and between bereavement and redemption. Allen’s expressive story-telling will appeal to readers looking for the best home-grown narratives.

At War with Satan

By Steff Metal,  Grymm & Epic Publishing

Another homegrown author but with a completely different focus, At War with Satan is a fantasy tale in the best tradition of Terry Pratchett and Robert Rankin, with a lot of heavy metal thrown in. Plenty of puns and gentle jokes at the expense of various musical genres keep this a fast and furious read. The author’s love of the subject matter is infectious, making the war between heaven and hell anything but grim.

My Book Watch column for 13 July 2014, courtesy of the New Zealand Herald on Sunday.

scan of printed Book Watch column

A big thank you from BookieMonster

Wow, I can’t believe I started my Givealittle Fundraiser five days ago and I’ve already had 24 donations and have more than doubled my goal. I am so humbled by the support I’ve had and thank you so much to people who have donated, shared the link, sent me messages, shared their stories and just generally been awesome.

So awesome, that I have pretty much been like this all week.

Cas from Supernatural thank you gif

My fundraiser is still open so please keep sharing with your networks and with anyone you think might be interested, would like to support or would be interested in talking to me! Exceeding my goal means I can spend more time with the right people, I can afford to set up domains and webhosting right away, and I can visit more places.

And it means you lovely people rock. Hard. :D

BookieMonster wants your help


I’m on a mission. Not a mission from god but a mission from me* to do something that changes the world, even just a little.

And the best bit is you can help me. Please click on the Givealittle widget to the right to donate, or see below!

This year I’ve had reason to be involved with a social/support group for queer youth, here in the Waikato. I’ve been amazed at the work they do and realised I want to do something to help groups like that, and help out young people (and their families/supporters) who feel alone, scared, bullied or just want to meet friends who understand. I’m particularly interested in helping kids outside urban areas to access the services or groups that are already available. I’ve seen the difference it can make to their lives and I don’t want to just leave it up to chance that other kids out there can also experience that difference.

I can’t do everything but what I can do is make connections, communicate with people, persuade and influence – and what I can’t do, I can find those others who can, and who also want to make a difference. So within the next year I want to start a non-profit organisation dedicated to working with, and fundraising for, projects for vulnerable youth of diverse sexualities and genders.

Where do you come in? Right now I need to meet people with the knowledge to make sure that what I set up is robust, well-planned, meets the right need and makes the difference I want it to. That takes money, mainly for petrol. I will be spending a few days in Auckland, meeting with contacts who are already working in this space, and I also need to work with community advisors who can help make sure I set up my non-profit organisation correctly.

I’ve set myself up a Givealittle page to raise a bit of money to do the above. The fantastic thing about Givealittle is you can give as little as $1 – and that $1 would be awesome!

The other thing which would be fantastic would be sharing this with people you think would be keen to support me, whether by making a donation, talking to me, donating webhosting space, donating any kind of service I may be able to use, or just by saying “good on you”. :) If they do then they can Contact Me.

So please donate to help me move towards my goal of helping others!

My next job is coming up with a great name for my cause. The youth have recommended Sparkly Rainbow Unicorns… I’m open to other suggestions. :D

*Unless you think I’m God, like my kitty does.