The Invasion of the Tearling: Review

The Invasion of the Tearling: ReviewThe Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Series: The Queen of the Tearling #2
Published by Harper Collins on June 9, 2015
Genres: dystopian, fantasy
Pages: 480 pages
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • Goodreads


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.

The Invasion of the Tearling is not the book The Queen of the Tearling was for me. (This is to say that I was not excitedly texting everyone I knew at 4 a.m. telling them to GO READ THIS BOOK.) In part, this is because The Invasion of the Tearling is a much more ambitious, a much darker, and a much harder book to read than its predecessor.

One of the criticisms I remember seeing quite a bit around the interwebz for The Queen of the Tearling was the lack of clarity around The Tearling’s backstory. “What is this crazy dystopian medieval fantasy land and why are we given very little information about how it came into being?” For those of you who had those feels, let me tell you that a good 50% of this book is dedicated to answering precisely those questions.

The Invasion of the Tearling alternates between two main narratives. There’s Kelsea, whom we know and love, who is trying to figure out how to repel the Mort forces from the Tearling and save as many Tear lives as possible in the process. On the other side of things (and by “things” I mean SPACE AND TIME), there’s Lily, an upper-class pre-Crossing woman living in super dystopian 21st century America. Kelsea keeps getting pulled – seemingly against her will – into Lily’s mind, and in so doing, witnesses the beginnings of the world that she herself lives in many centuries later. Kelsea is dealing with quite a lot (including but not limited to an invasion, the strange powers of her sapphires, dark magic, executions, and puberty) and consequently tries to search for answers to her current problems in Lily’s timeline.

This, spoiler alert, is the part of the story that didn’t make as much sense to me. While it was useful and interesting to know more about the pre-Crossing world – because I had approximately 101 questions about it – I wasn’t quite sure what bearing Lily’s story had on Kelsea’s in the text, i.e, what Kelsea was supposed to take away from this experience. We keep hearing from Kelsea about how much studying the past matters and how understanding the past gives you a roadmap for the future – a sentiment I am 100% on-board with, btw, and while knowing that the past matters does help her deal with the Red Queen, I wasn’t sure what knowing more about pre-Crossing America actually did for Kelsea. View Spoiler » A super interesting thing that does happen is that Kelsea kind of becomes a figure from the past – both from her own civilization, as she starts to embody Lily even more – and the Red Queen, who’s focused her own longing for emotional support on an image of Lily. « Hide Spoiler What does the past teach her? Does it … teach her that it’s impossible to not compromise her ideals? that no one, even awesome utopian communities, can keep their hands clean? (Other folks who have read this, feel free to help me out.)

That said, I always love reading dystopian backstories, so I was glad that this one was included, although I did have some problems with it. Lily’s narrative is really interesting and really well-developed, although my God it is horrifying. (There’s pretty awful social stratification and oh hey, women are also property, and View Spoiler » oh hey, part of William Tear’s plan to escape to a better world means enabling crazy rabid psychopaths to take over this one as a means of distraction. « Hide Spoiler) And while it explains a lot about the origins of the Tearling, there’s a lot it leaves unanswered as well. Partially for narrative reasons, I’m sure, but still … I had a lot of questions. View Spoiler » Magic future-foretelling sapphires existed *before* The Crossing? « Hide Spoiler And the pre-Crossing America narrative also becomes a combination of dystopia/fantasy that didn’t wholly work for me? It’s so grim, I almost can’t believe in some of the fantasy elements that are in play. What I’m saying is, it’s not an easy story to read. And the same is true for Kelsea in this book as well.

Kelsea’s got quite a lot going on in The Invasion of the Tearling, as I mentioned above. In some ways, I felt like Lily’s narrative robbed me of a better focus on Kelsea’s story (and also interrupted the pacing of that story). I wanted more room in the text for Kelsea, especially because she’s dealing with the Mort Queen’s invasion, her sapphires (which keep yanking her back into the past), creepy dudes showing up in her fireplace, and her own feelings and darker temptations. In this book, Kelsea really explores her dark side – this is the part of the fantasy book where the heroine is tempted by their own capacity for seemingly limitless power! i.e., instead of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen! Not dark, but beautiful and terrible as the dawn! And figuring out what she can and cannot control is one of Kelsea’s biggest struggles in this book.

There’s also this interesting tension between Kelsea’s relationship to the past and future. (While I’m not sure what she *learns* from the pre-Crossing backstory, the past as a symbol is still really important in the text.) We’ve seen a little bit about Kelsea’s troubled relationship to the past through her rejection of (/downright horror for) everything her mother stands for; she doesn’t want to repeat her mother’s mistakes, but in this book, she gains more understanding of her mother’s situation (and has to seriously think about to what extent she can let her resentment of her mother guide her actions). In addition to her mother, Kelsea’s linked to another woman  – the Mort Queen – and another question Kelsea has to answer is whether she’ll repeat the Mort Queen’s mistakes as well and let her future follow the course of the Mort Queen’s past.

While I loved Kelsea’s story, I did have some problems with it. As I mentioned earlier, there isn’t quite enough space in the book to do it all justice. I felt like I didn’t understand why Kelsea was choosing some of her choices, if you will. View Spoiler » So, for example, Kelsea starts to self-injure in this book. It’s a hard subject and for me, I felt like I didn’t get enough to help me understand what was happening – and in particular, why she stops. At some point in conversation with the Mort Queen, she realizes that she doesn’t want to do it anymore, but we’re not privy to her thought processes around this? « Hide Spoiler At another moment in the text, she does things that other folks have *explicitly warned her against* and bah, I felt confusion in my heart and soul. Finally, one of the things I loved about Kelsea in the last book was that she was not stunningly beautiful, and this undergoes some changes in this book (for reasons that make sense in the text – View Spoiler » her sapphires keep linking her to Lily, and she starts to physically resemble her « Hide Spoiler but nonetheless, I was bummed. To be fair, though, Kelsea doesn’t seem to be comfortable with the changes, even if it’s implied that she wants them on some level.)

So. If you read and liked The Queen of the Tearling, you should absolutely read this. If you haven’t read The Queen of the Tearling, you should read that first, because that book is the bomb.

While I didn’t love this book as much as the first, I did still really enjoy learning more about the world and it’s made me even more eager for the next in the series. Also, there are SNAKES IN PARACHUTES. Have you read this one yet? If so, what’d you think?

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