02 July 2015

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Erika Johansen’s THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING was a breath of fresh air in the high fantasy genre: a world that felt rich and full and unique, yet so similar to our own; a heroine who was determined but inept, who was fiercely independent and yet yearned for the approval of others; who was nowhere near the “classical” ideal of beauty but had the force of personality to inspire loyalty in others.

QUEEN ended on a high note, with Kelsea performing a literal miracle. I could not wait for the sequel.

THE INVASION OF THE TEARLING was even better than its predecessor. While a lot of trilogies suffer from a slump in the middle, INVASION ratcheted up the tension, the characterization, and the stakes. It gave us more points-of-view than we’d ever seen before, including a dim-witted but competent jail guard, and, most importantly, Lily Mayhew, a woman who lived Pre-Crossing—before the journey that took Kelsea’s people’s ancestors from the United States and Britain to the new world of The Tearling.

Somehow, Kelsea is seeing visions, sharing Lily’s life. And what she learns about the Pre-Crossing world is horrifying.

Sexual violence against women has come up a lot lately: depictions of rape in Game of Thrones, the oppression hinted at in Mad Max: Fury Road, and others. And, rather ironically, it came up quite a bit in THE INVASION OF THE TEARLING. Lily Mayhew lives in a world where women have become second-class citizens. Lily is beaten and even raped by her husband, Greg, on several occasions, in scenes that were some of the most difficult I’ve read in a long time. And even the heroes in Lily’s world have to pretend to hurt her, just to save face with their allies.

Despite the difficulty of the scenes, I don’t know that we would have seen how bad Lily’s world was, otherwise. I have tried to think of other ways it could have been depicted and am coming up short. So, maybe it was necessary? I don’t know. Maybe if this book had come out a few months before or a few months later, I would not be thinking about it so much.

Regardless, as Kelsea and Lily’s stories mingle in interesting ways, the Mort invasion of the Tear proceeds, and we see Kelsea finding the limits of her own abilities. She grew up a lot in INVASION—facing darker impulses than she’d ever faced before; dealing with her burgeoning young sexuality; and learning that sometimes, her actions had consequences beyond what she could anticipate or control.

For the most part, her choices were portrayed empathetically, though there were times when she was pushing against what I was willing to believe.

All in all, I loved THE INVASION OF THE TEARLING. I only really had one complaint: that Kelsea, who had spent all of THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING being a badass who wasn’t bothered (well, not that much) by her lack of conventional beauty, spends INVASION being slowly transformed by magic into a conventional beauty. It made me so sad, and angry, too, and I hope Kelsea finds her way back to her original, authentic self. I worry about the pernicious ideas about beauty that young women are exposed to and I desperately hope that the next book in the saga of the Tearling won’t give in to stereotypes.