I have to say that reading Erika Johansen’s writing is a pleasure. I love how she uses semicolons and how she structures her sentences. Yes, I loved the story in “The Invasion of the the Tearling” and the development of the characters, but it’s her actual writing that had me savouring this book.
This second book is a bout Kelsea, a young woman who becomes queen of the kingdom The Tearling. Her next door neighbour is an evil, magic queen. As Kelsea learns more about the history of her family and her place in the kingdom, she starts to gain magical abilities as well. Throughout the novel, she struggles with her choices and how to combat evil while retaining her own soul. She grapples with the harsh realities of life and the stark truth that her kingdom is at the mercy of a stronger, more disciplined, more terrified, magic kingdom. Her guards, a rogue priest, and her bookie accountant help to rule with justice and fairness, yet they don’t always approve of her choices.
At the end of the book, Johansen created two things that had me worked up:
- She created a suddenly realistic setting and plot twist that I did not see coming at all. This twist requires major suspension of disbelief, yet I bought in. But the book ended before the twist was fully developed, so I sat up in bed and realized I had to get the third book, right away! (In fact, as I was in the library yesterday picking up another book, I saw book three sitting on the display shelf. The library knew!!)
- She had Kelsea, the main character, make a sacrificial decision to confront the evil red queen on her own, without her guards. And while in that meeting, she gives up her magic. What?! Why?? What will happened to her and her kingdom. How did she think it would end for her?
I think one of the reasons I love this series, besides the writing and the lovable characters, is that Johansen includes such a deep sense of social justice and doing the compassionate thing, even when it could mean harmful personal consequences. As Kelsea has her ‘fuges,’ visions, she sees into the life of Lily, a woman who lives in a post-apocalyptic New York, USA. Lily is trapped in an abusive marriage and is monitored all of the time. When an injured stranger falls into Lily’s backyard, she does everything she can to protect this stranger. Through that act, she became part of the underground moment for The Better World. Johansen’s descriptions of the the people living poor and in terrible situations stirred my compassion and that part of me that feels fiery passion for equality and justice. It comes out in the book that Lily had a younger sister, Maddy, who worked with the resistance as a teen and out of fear Lily reported her sister, who then disappeared. So as Lily deals with her guilt for her sister and the plight of the people she drives by in the slums, she inserts herself into the rebellion and as the reader, I can’t help but get swept up in her righteous anger.
I loved this section of the book where Lily remembers Maddy and her passion for others:
There was the crucial difference between the two of them . . .: Maddy cared deeply about things.
“If we could be better people, she would say, “if we could care about each other as much as we do about ourselves, think about it, Lily! Think what the world would be!”
Lily would nod, for this sounded good in theory, but Lily had no such deep drives; anything she cared about was discarded as uninteresting two months later. Maddy’s passions were exhausting. They demanded not only interest but commitment and effort. Sometimes Lily had wished that Maddy would just think about boys and clothes and music, as all of Lily’s friends did, as Lily did herself.
It’s exhausting. I love this insight. Yes, compassion is exhausting. It’s not easy. So it’s interesting that in the book Kelsea, the queen, has almost too much compassion and those around her can’t understand, just as Lily wasn’t able to understand her sister’s passion for justice.
So, I can’t wait to read book three. I have it and I’m so curious how this series will end. What about the twist? Will I still play along? What about the characters? Will they still be lovable? Time to find out!