The Red Queen is off her head—and heads, it seems, will roll in this closing installment of Johansen’s Tearling trilogy.
The first volume of the Tearling triad, Queen of the Tearling (2014), struggled under the weight of its establishing requirements: Johansen had to build and populate a world, then wind her heroine up and get her going. The second, The Invasion of the Tearling (2015), propelled Kelsea to a place of power—and deservedly, since she had plenty of chops to lead her people against a constellation of bad guys from Mortmesne. This last volume finds Kelsea in a position of queen sacrifice, to borrow a chess metaphor: she’s turned herself over to the foe and is now in the Red Queen’s slammer, where a jailer patiently instructs her, “Women shouldn’t curse,” to which her reply is, “Get fucked.” That’s noblesse oblige, indeed. But, the world of the Tear being a place where all kinds of magick gets tossed about with abandon, things have a habit of going topsy-turvy all of a sudden; Kelsea finds herself sprung, sapphires back in hand, the Red Queen tugging at her “in an iron grip of terror”—a good time, one might say, to get some negotiating in. Will peace prevail? Who knows? Though Johansen leaves herself a little wiggle room to turn her trilogy into an ongoing franchise, Silmarillion-like, the end gets all liony, witchy, and wardroby—and, the most overworked plot trick of all, would seem to turn on a dream, or perhaps even a dream within a dream, requiring more than a little disbelief-suspension. Still, the writing is smart and tinged with a kind of rueful, bookish philosophizing throughout (“Religion always rode on the back of turmoil, like a jockey”), a touch above a lot of sword-and-sorcery stuff—but still very much bound up in the conventions of that genre.
Overall, a satisfying close to a long but worthy yarn.