Lady Lauren's Panacea
PRESCRIPTION: Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen
SYMPTOMS: medieval fantasy, young adult, realistic heroine, warfare, roguish
DOSAGE: (out of five)
I'm thrilled to see more medieval fantasy, which has been severely lacking on
Young Adult shelves for the past decade or so, and Queen of the Tearling
promises to be the first in a series that will appeal to slightly older readers of
Tamora Pierce. Along with Girl of Fire and Thorns and Finnikin of the Rock, it
helps to bridge the gap between middle grade and adult medieval fantasy with
magic, warfare, politics, and a cast of varying ages and backgrounds.
The world seems to be strictly medieval at first, but is actually set in the distant
future of our world, after the collapse of modern society. The people came to their
current lands in an event called The Crossing, bringing few modern luxuries like
medicine, books (including Harry Potter), and a very few machines. The two
resulting kingdoms -- the northern kingdom of the Red Queen, where all the
doctors and machinery are and Tear, the kingdom ruled by Kelsea's family -- are
in the midst of a brittle peace, bought by Kelsea's mother with a tithe of slaves
sent yearly to the Red Queen . . . that is, until Kelsea ends it.
I often find the point of view characters less interesting than the side characters,
but not so with Kelsea. From the start, her determination to do right by her
kingdom gained my respect, while her naïveté and love of reading resonated with
my teenage self. Another interesting factor is that she is described as plain, and
does not turn out to be secretly beautiful by the end of the book. She is slightly
heavy, which has real consequences during her attempts to learn defense and in
fitting into armor, and her love interest immediately describes her as "too plain for
(his) taste." In the narrative, the Red Queen, who sees Kelsea in a precognitive
dream, remarks that her very plainness makes her more real. I have to agree.
The two other characters of note are Lazarus, her abrasive but stalwart guide and
head of the Queen's Guard, a group of Knights sworn to protect her with their
lives, and the Fetch, Kelsea's masked thief lord benefactor and age-ambiguous
crush. Both are strong warriors, and both are men from whom Kelsea seeks to gain
respect. Lazarus is gruff and harsh, but truthful with Kelsea. His dedication to the
queen transcends his abrasive demeanor, and little details like illiteracy concealed
by a derision for books make him stand out from the archetypal gruff protector.
The Fetch, on the other hand, is every roguish character I have ever loved, from
Lymond to Robin Hood to George Cooper. After saving her from her enemy
uncle's faction of noble assassins, he challenges her to do better by her country
than her mother.
Kelsea's complicated relationship with her mother's memory is one of the more
interesting themes in the book. Spirited away and raised in seclusion from
childhood, Kelsea's dreams of a beautiful and noble woman she never knew
slowly crumble as she learns of her mother's costly vanity and willingness to
resign her own people to slavery. That memory provides a measure of Kelsea's
growing maturity as she begins to let go of her old, dreaming self and use her
anger to create positive action for her kingdom.
The only part of the story that seemed a little underdeveloped to me was the
magic. Kelsea has a pendant that confers powers on her, but she doesn't really
know how to activate it, or what the scope of those powers are beyond the ability
to see across distances and glow when she becomes passionate about protecting
her kingdom. Hopefully, the rest of the series will create some depth in that area,
but if it doesn't, the characters and plot are still enough to make up for it.
PRESCRIPTION: The Raven Boys, (Series) by Maggie Stiefvater
SYMPTOMS: contemporary fantasy, welsh legend, psychics, awesome magic
systems, character-driven stories
DOSAGE: (out of five)
Maggie Steifvater -- how do I love thee, let me count your books. I didn't think I
could enjoy a Stiefvater book as much as Scorpio Races, but the Raven Boys series
has proven me more and more wrong with each installment, beginning with Raven
Boys and ending with the recent release, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, which is the third in
the series of four books.
Raven Boys is set in a poor town in the mountains of Virginia, on the middle of an
ancient and powerful ley line known only to a few rare seekers. Also in the town is
St. Aglionby's school for very rich and very smart boys, who the resentful
townsfolk nickname the raven boys for the crest worn on their school blazers. The
main female character, Blue, is one of those resentful townsfolk, and in a plot
element that reminds me a bit of the anime "Boys over Flowers," she ends up with
a foursome of Raven Boys.
The Magic of Raven Boys is a combination of tarot-reading mysticism, Welsh
legends, dream sorcery of the coolest variety, and straight up witchery. From the
quest to find the tomb of a Welsh King, to the spirits of the soon-to-be-dead, the
prophecy surrounding Blue herself, and the ability of certain folks to pull objects
from their dreams, this series is electrified and buzzing with magic. Stiefvater
combines myth and mysticism with her own unique ideas to create a magic
tapestry both compelling and unique.
Blue is tiny and temperamental, possessing of a carefully eclectic style and an
unavoidably eclectic family. Unlike the rest of her family, who are all women and
all possess psychic abilities, Blue has no ability to see the future. Instead, she acts
as an amplifier to whatever power is around her, whether that is sharpening her
mother's tarot predictions or strengthening the power of the local ley line. From
the very start, she is saddled with the knowledge that she will kill her true love by
kissing him, and this alone makes her relationship with her new friends difficult.
Gansey is the history and car-loving ringleader of the foursome, and the spearhead
of the search for the Welsh king. He's passionate, brooding, smart, polite, and on a
rowing team, but can flip a switch to a more dangerous side of himself when given
reason. If I ever meet the author, I'm going to tell her, "Get out of my head,
Stiefvater -- you're ruining me for all boys non-fictional." In the very beginning,
Blue sees him in spirit form, the ghost of someone she is going to kill that year. He
remains unaware throughout the series so far, and Blue resists the idea because she
doesn't want Gansey to be her true love. She prefers the quieter, low-born
scholarship student, Adam, who is the only one of the foursome who grew up
Finally, there's Ronan, my serrated-edged darling. Ronan is one of the most
complicated characters I have encountered in YA fiction. His rebellious anger,
vicious loyalty, and brutal relationship with almost anyone who isn't Gansey
conceal a fear that's been with him since before his father's unsolved murder. He
is a curious combination of rude and kind, and in a way that makes him less a
redeemable bad-boy type and more of a brutal weapon intended for good. I
particularly enjoy his attachment to his baby pet raven, Chainsaw, and the subplot
surrounding the magic ability he shares with his father: pulling objects and people
out of his dreams.
The books follow Blue's attempt to change the outcome of the prophecy and
Gansey's quest to find the tomb of the Welsh king, but include illuminating
perspectives from antagonists and family members, all with something to gain and
something to lose. Stiefvater excels at utilizing these other perspectives to move
the story forward in meaningful ways.
I'll admit to reading all three books back-to-back, sometimes at work, and finding
myself in a post-series slump because I didn't want to read anything else: I wanted
to read more Raven Boys.
Read more by Lauren Harris