The Fate of the Tearling is the last of the Tearling trilogy by Erika Johansen. It resolves the seemingly impossible tangle that Kelsea and the people of the Tear found themselves at the end of The Invasion of the Tearling, though whether that resolution will be satisfactory to readers depends on what people expect from their heroes and from their writers.
We begin with Kelsea a captive of the Red Queen. She has turned the Tearling Sapphires and herself over to the Red Queen in exchange for a three year reprieve for her people, a bargain she reached at the end of the second book. She has left Mace in charge of her kingdom, though he is a better Queen’s Guard than a Regent and focuses on her rescue.
We get to know the Red Queen in this book, gaining insight into what made her into the grasping and cruel despot she is. It is the usual story of parental neglect, emotional abuse, and betrayal. Kelsea find empathy for the Red Queen and it is clear that a different path was possible for her, if she had only had a better life.
This is the what-if story. The Red Queen is not the only person warped by parental disregard. We learn that Row Finn was ruined by his father’s lack of acknowledgement, obsessed with jealousy and spite. He is, now, the ultimate evil, that threatens not just the Tear but all the lands, even the Red Queen.
The action takes place in the present and three hundreds year back during the early years of the Tear when the second generation of Tearlings rejected the utopian vision of William Tear, leading to the very dystopian Tear and Demesne.
I loved The Queen of the Tearling. It was one of the best fantasy novels I have read in a long time. I have eagerly followed Kelsea’s struggle to save herself and her people against insurmountable odds, but as is sometimes the case, neither the The Invasion of the Tearling nor The Fate of the Tearling has lived up to the promise of the first book in the series. Count me among those who are dissatisfied with the resolution. Jacobsen wrote Kelsea and the Tearlings into a fine mess. I wanted her to write them out of it. It’s not Bobby Ewing walking out of a shower, but for a story that rejects deux there is far too much deux ex machina.
I think Erika Jacobsen and I share a similar worldview, that social democracy is better than unfettered capitalism, that religious bureaucracy and bigotry are dangerous, and that the world would be a better place if it were more egalitarian. I also think fiction is a way to present your worldview in a way that can be very persuasive. I think Johansen fails on that point because she is too dogmatic, too harsh in her critique, and far too blatant. Subtlety framing the argument, showing, not telling, is the way to persuade.
I loved the characters in the Tearling Trilogy. The heroes were imperfect and the villains were not all absolute, not one-dimensional. There is a mature understanding of human imperfection that makes us care, even, in the end, about the Red Queen, of all people.
The fantasy genre is full of multi-book series. Trilogies are common because, after all, when you invest so much time creating an entire world, new landscapes, cultures and histories, it makes sense to use them more than once. I would happily read more stories about the Tearling and Kelsea, though I have no idea how Johansen could make that happen.
The Fate of the Tearling will be released November 29th. I received an electronic advance copy from Harper Collins through Edelweiss.