Chick lit meets swords and sorcery in the perfect commodity for a hot demographic.
But is it art? Debut novelist Johansen turns in a fantasy novel that’s derivative of Tolkien, as so many books in the genre are—it’s got its merry band of warriors, its struggle for a throne that has a long and tangled history, its battle for good and evil. That this novel just happens to have commanded a huge advance and a movie deal, with Emma Watson attached at this writing to play the heroine, Kelsea, is incidental to the tale, which, schematized, would be pretty by-the-numbers. As a worldbuilding exercise, it has many deficiencies: While the story is set in the not-too-distant future, its trappings are medieval and not, as in A Canticle for Leibowitz, because of an intervening apocalypse; it’s a churchy and mystical sort of place, but the heroine has a command of Mendelian genetics (“Red hair was a recessive gene, and in the three centuries since the Crossing, it had bred slowly and steadily out of the population”). But, continuity errors and improbabilities aside—when hiding from a deadly enemy, for instance, a troop of royal guards isn’t really likely to get drunk, sing loud songs and keep the orcs awake all night—Johansen adds value to the tale with well-crafted sentences that sometimes build into exuberant paragraphs: “The queenship she’d inherited, problematic enough in the abstract, now appeared insurmountable. But of course, she had already known the road would be difficult. Carlin had told her so obliquely, through years spent studying the troubled nations and kingdoms of the past.” On the plus side, too, is Johansen’s wise choice to make the heroine a plain-ish Jane who learns on the go, discovering her inner resources as she emerges from adolescence into adulthood. And applause, too, for some nicely gory closing moments.
A middling Middle Earth–ian yarn, then, that seems destined to be the next big thing among the Game of Thrones set.