Well then, I do have some answers after reading The Invasion of the Tearling. This post is going to be full of them, so this is your one and only warning. THE REST OF THIS POST IS SPOILER-IFFIC. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
So we’ve got two concurrent storylines. Similar to Holes in jumping between the present and the past, but the present is aware of viewing the past. And, given time, the past also becomes aware of the present. The past is the US, America some seventy years into our future after a series of paranoid, chauvinistic, right-wing bastards for Presidents. Ugh, a glimpse of what might happen should Trump win. Let’s just say it’s unpleasant to contemplate, and not just because the viewpoint character is a battered woman.
And despite that, yes, magic is still real. The abilities of the rulers are still very poorly defined, especially in how they actually work. The Queens can magically heal themselves! Oh, they can heal others too! Oh, they can read minds! Oh, they can kill without touching the victim(s)! And let’s not forget the visions. Like I said, there’s not really enough detail for me to understand what is and isn’t possible, so this magic is full of plot convenience and deus ex machina.
There’s symbology in this book. I’m going to try to overlook the Christian stuff because I’m still annoyed by these two books and OSC. The most obvious symbols are the Red Queen and the Black Queen. The Red Queen, the evil queen of Mortmesne (translated by the books as Dead Hand), has always been called that. Her birth name was not revealed until midway through the second book, after a rather obvious hint was dropped. Also in the first book, when the Regent is being invited to leave the Keep, he notices a playing card that had been hidden for years in the depths of his rooms, a jack of diamonds. Jack, meaning that he was a player of lesser importance. Diamonds, being a red suit, showing his alliance to the Red Queen. In the early part of Invasion, our heroine is told twice about the queen of spades. Between this, and the black dresses she always wears (we can assume it’s mourning, but she might just be a secret Goth at this point, who cares), we see her gradually assume this role, opposing the Red Queen. If I remember correctly though, both armies wear black.
Black is usually associated with darkness, shadows, and evil. Red can be good or bad, but on the side of the latter it evokes anger and bloodshed. I don’t argue with the Red Queen as opposition, but I question the choice of black for the heroine.
Speaking of our not-quite Mary Sue, her physical appearance changes in this book, and where she was previously described as “plain”, she becomes pretty and attractive, even losing weight. Surprisingly, this change does serve a purpose and ties her more strongly to the past and a presumed ancestress. But it’s also wish-fulfillment in the YA world. Become a Queen! Discover that you’re a bold, strong-willed woman! Magically become prettier! Have sex with your personal bodyguard! All your self-inflicted wounds heal within 24 hours!
Oh yes, that’s something else about our heroine. She’s a cutter. She has an unhealthy habit of slicing herself, biting herself, and generally causing herself pain. In public, her thought process is that she uses the pain to stop herself from giving into anger and doing something stupid and reckless. I’m not certain what the logic is to cutting herself with her knife in her own bed – punishment? I don’t even know, but it’s not a healthy behavioral pattern and I don’t think it’s dealt with in a way that I’d want to see young, impressionable people read.
So if The Queen of the Tearling is the origin story, The Invasion of the Tearling is the second volume that progresses the main story while delving into the history that we’ve been wondering about from the start. If this is a trilogy, the next book will tie both storylines together and wrap them up, but nowhere is it indicated that this is meant to form such a concrete set. Both books are advertised as “a novel” which, combined with my feeling that there’s too much going on to be smoothly wrapped up in a single additional book, makes me think this is meant to be a slightly longer series. Or maybe Erika Johansen doesn’t want to look as silly as Christopher Paolini, whose Inheritance Trilogy ended up as a quartet. She sure doesn’t have the chutzpah of Douglas Adams to continue calling it a trilogy even when there’s five books.
Will I continue reading the series? Entirely likely, if I spot further books on shelf at the library. As previously mentioned, I see no reason to spend any money on these. They’re just not that good. I’ll admit, there are some good concepts throughout, and some intriguing characters, but I’m just not impressed and openly scornful of what I’ve read. I can tolerate a lot of bad fantasy, but I am not a fan of the patriarchal shit nor of the heavy Christian methodology.
Admittedly, these books aren’t shelved with the young adult books, but they really do read that way to me. There’s just something about them that screams young adult fantasy. A number of disparate elements add up together: teenaged main character, heroine, heroine putting on armor and learning to fight, out of place swear words, touching on mature elements of nudity, cutting, sex, and drugs while not actually doing much with them, members of a feudal society understanding what electricity and computers were without resorting to mysitcal explanations, imprecise and poorly explained magic system…I think that’s all the major points.
Those items also tell me these are likely the author’s first books and while I can be forgiving of inexperience, right now I just find it annoying. There’s the potential for a truly interesting and epic tale, but the story of the Tearling will almost certainly remain hindered and never end up as good as it might otherwise be.
Let’s hope my next book is much less disappointing.