Themes Explored: dystopia, post-apocalyptic, epic fantasy, magic, science fantasy, science fantasy, high fantasy, death, loss, new beginnings, battered women, rape, contraception, marriage, familial relationships, war, self-identity, kingship, diplomacy, time travel, religion, interpersonal relationships, mortality, sibling rivalry, police state, women’s rights, power, love, romance, brutality, out-of-body experience, fortune telling
Synopsis: 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. (From Goodreads)
Review: Erika Johansen burst onto the fantasy scene with her debut novel, The Queen of the Tearling. As I mentioned in my review of that novel, it was one of the better written young adult fantasies published in recent years. The story was original and gripping. I eagerly awaited the sequel. In The Invasion of the Tearling, Johansen ties up some of the strings left dangling in the last book. She combines modern dystopia with medieval fantasy, a rather unique combination. Invasion deals primarily with the back history of the Tearling with some of Kelsea’s storyline woven in for effect. This second installment is more ambitions, darker, and slighter harder to read than The Queen of the Tearling. However, it is still an engrossing story and I am ready for the third book.
The Invasion of the Tearling alternates between two different narratives: one set in the dystopian word that predated The Crossing, which is approximately 40 years from now, and Kelsea’s time three to four centuries in the future. The Pre-Crossing world resembles a world similar to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale. Women have no rights and are little more than property. America is totalitarian and citizens sacrificed freedom for “security”. Everything is tightly controlled and Security arrests all dissenters. The wealthy citizens live in heavily guarded walled cities and everyone else slums it outside the wall. And everyone now has a security chip embedded in their flesh. All in all, a rather bleak place to live. Enter William Tear, a mysterious man with a plan to rescue a select handful of people and escape the decaying world.
A majority of the Pre-Crossing narrative is told from the viewpoint of Lily, a wealthy woman with an abusive husband who is trying to escape her constraining existence. While Kelsea’s storyline deals with her preparing her country to wage war with the Red Queen. All of the Pre-Crossing narrative was cleverly told via visions that Kelsea experienced while in a trance-like state. Lily’s world is a miserable place where the President has absolute power over America due to brutally enforced marshal law. There is no escaping Big Brother. I did enjoy the mashups between genres, Johansen excels at melding dystopia with medieval fantasy. Lily lives in a terrifying world filled with surveillance cameras and technology tracking every move. Whereas Kelsea lives in world full of magic, keeps, castles, swords, and no technology. The underlying philosophy being that technology leads to oppression and an over-reaching security state. True freedom can only be found in simpler times.
One of the problems with The Queen of the Tearling was the lack of back story world building. How did the Tearling come about? And what kind of world was everyone trying to escape? A majority of these questions are answered through Lily’s narrative. However, other questions still remain. Such as, where did William Tear get those magical sapphires? Who is the Fetch? And how did magic originate in the Pre-Crossing world? I like the idea of magic always existing in the world and people just do not recognize it as such. But I would appreciate some more backstory on William Tear and his mysterious sapphires. The Red Queen’s history is slightly expanded, though not quite enough. There is still a lot of mystery surrounding her magical abilities and brutality. She is depicted as being nearly pure evil and thinks nothing of choking someone to death. But there are a few scenes that humanize her, but she still stays shrouded in shadows. Hopefully book three will expand on her a little more.
While I enjoyed Kelsea’s narrative, there was not enough room to do it justice. Her storyline felt more like filler than an actual plot. About three-fourths of the book is dedicated to Lily. Everything else is split between Kelsea and the Red Queen. Now that the “tribute” shipments to the Red Queen have stopped, chaos has erupted amongst the Tear and Mort. Now the Red Queen’s army is coming with the intent to conquer and kill the Tear. Johansen does a great job showing Kelsea struggle to save her country in the face of a dire situation. There is no magical remedy, she has to wrestle victory from the grasping hands of the Red Queen. And all of this changes Kelsea both emotionally and physically. In the first book, Kelsea was awkward and plain. This changes in this book, her plainness morphs into an elegantly striking beauty. However, a bloodthirsty and all-consuming darkness bubbles beneath the surface and threatens to completely consume her. Kelsea progresses from a hesitant girl to a confidant woman in this book. But I struggled to relate to the character as her motivations are barely explored. This storyline is fascinating but frustratingly brief. While Lily’s story was needed to fill in some gaping holes, Kelsea was horribly shortchanged. There was not enough space to flesh out the “modern” Tearling storyline.
Johansen is a great writer, but she seemed to struggle with the split narrative format. There was not enough balance between the two narratives. She definitely focused more on Lily than Kelsea. Even though I think Kelsea’s storyline was more compelling than Lily’s. I wish Lily’s story had been either cut down a little or published as a separate novel. The title is misleading, hardly any invading occurs. A lot of characters I was expecting to see never appeared. Kelsea’s protectors, the Queen’s Guard, float around on the periphery of the narrative. And Father Tyler plays a larger role in the main narrative arc, he is a great character and I appreciate how Johansen’s chose to develop his personality. Only Lily and Kelsea have any kind of character development, everyone else is held steady. I expected The Fetch to show up more than he did, hopefully he will be more prominent in the next installment.
Pacing wise, the book felt slightly clunky. The narrative did not flow as smoothly as the one in The Queen of the Tearling. Part of the blames lies in the jumping between time frames. Though Johansen does weave the two plots together quite well, it is still a little disconcerting to go from swords to machine guns. It took a while for the narrative to draw me in, I had to read about half of the book before I became excited about anything. Most of the first half of the book merely exists so the second half makes sense. There is little action and mainly serves as background development. Some of the paragraphs came across as filler. But the second half moves quickly and is exciting to read.
Overall, The Invasion of the Tearling is a darker book than The Queen of the Tearling and delves into the darkness lurking in everyone’s psyche. The main narrative arc could have been tighter and more polished. However, it is an excellent sequel to The Queen of the Tearling and I highly recommend reading it. I am already counting the days to book three. I need to know what happens!
The Invasion of the Tearling, Harper, 2015, ISBN 9780062290397