There’s a tear in the Tearling, and Tears are falling.
Seriously. As Johansen (The Queen of the Tearling, 2014) opens the latest installment in her sword-and-sorcery series, Tear troops stationed on the borders of the kingdom find themselves battling an invasion by the Mort—you know, the bad guys across the line in the Mortmesne. It’s a good thing Col. Hall is on the job, a fellow fate has put in just the right place at the right time: “Fortune had taken Hall away from Idyllwild,” Johansen intones, “not good fortune, but the backhanded sort that gave with one hand while it stabbed with the other.” Many stabbings, catapult launches, and other gruesome maneuvers later, the Mort are repelled. (It helps that, in a Tolkienian move, the hawks, real hawks, are on the side of the doves, metaphorical ones.) But the Mort'll be back, and an ugly picture will get even uglier. Meanwhile, the queen, our ever resourceful Kelsea, is getting prettier. At least after a fashion: “She wasn’t beautiful, Kelsea thought, not by any stretch. But she was no longer plain either. She looked like a woman someone might actually remember.” Whether Meryl Streep or Merlin, Kelsea rises to the occasion, despite all the obstacles that the Morts—and Johansen, for that matter—throw in her path. But is she the True Queen? Ah, that’s for events to decide, nicely unfolded in this long—but not too long—yarn. Johansen is a skillful maker of fantasy worlds, weaving medieval and modern themes together with the comprehensiveness of a George R.R. Martin, though without his penchant for overly long episodes of violence that would make Sam Peckinpah blush. She does both battle scenes and quiet conversations equally well, though, with all the requisite plotting, regal self-doubt, and good-vs.-evil grappling required of the genre.
A satisfying, well-crafted sequel that will leave readers looking forward to what might happen next to “that fantastic vision inside Tear’s jewel” and those who treasure it.