If the name Kelsea Glynn isn’t on par with Katniss Everdeen in your mind, you clearly haven’t read The Queen of the Tearling, the mesmerizing first novel in Erika Johansen’s Tearling series. Please close this magazine and don’t reopen it until you’ve secured and finished a copy.
For the first 19 years of her life, sharp-witted but plain-featured Kelsea lived with foster parents in a secluded cottage, preparing for the day she’d ascend to the Tear throne. When she finally arrives in her kingdom, things aren’t as they should be. For years, the Tearling has sent human cargo to neighboring Mortmesne as insurance against an invasion. With a clear mind, a firm hand, and a bit of uncontrollable magic from a pair of sapphires, Queen Kelsea stops the shipments—but her problems are just beginning.
Kelsea’s world is set centuries in the future, but the Tear might as well be Victorian England: During a mysterious, world-changing event called the Crossing, a chunk of America’s population sailed away from the continent for good, plunging the country into a sort of Dark Ages. Technology is nonexistent; travel is strictly by horseback. Pre-Crossing literature like Dickens and Shakespeare is so rare it’s nearly consigned to myth.
The Invasion of the Tearling glides over the sophomore slump, carrying the series upward with it. As Kelsea struggles to thwart the ageless Red Queen of Mortmesne’s invasion, she learns more about the pre-Crossing world through the strange, lucid visions of a wealthy 21st-century American named Lily. The new Tearling characters are fascinating, and Johansen introduces them so smoothly, we care for them almost the instant we learn their names. But this book’s greatest strength lies in what it finally illuminates—the shadowy time before the Crossing, which Queen of the Tearling only alluded to in vague wisps. Existing somewhere between The Handmaid’s Tale and an episode of Black Mirror, pre-Crossing America is a chilling security state on the brink of revolt, a world you want to explore as much as escape, and it brings this fantasy series much closer to home. A
MEMORABLE LINE “As they passed over the crumbling remains of Rockefeller Center, Lily saw that someone had lasered blue words onto the pavement where the old fountain used to be….”