The Fate of the Tearling
Picking up this long-anticipated conclusion to the Tearling trilogy was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying for me. I’m no stranger to trilogies, you see, and I have long held the opinion that they are the hardest type of story to write. As the author builds the momentum of the storylines in the first two books, the end result in the third is often that the story has a life its own that can’t be contained enough to land the ending. I’m happy to say that, in this, Erika Johansen sets herself apart from the pack: THE FATE OF THE TEARLING is a full, rich book that doesn’t take shortcuts on its pathway to a brilliant ending.
I read THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING, with the sequel, THE INVASION OF THE TEARLING, following quickly on its heels. But it’s been a while, and I’ll confess that I had to go back and re-read the last 175 pages of the second volume to brush up on the crucial ending before returning to THE FATE OF THE TEARLING. While most stories wouldn’t require this level of investment, Johansen’s trilogy does, and it's one of the things I love most about her storytelling. She expects the reader to keep up and doesn’t sacrifice time or story in an effort to micromanage the book’s consumption.
"...a full, rich book that doesn’t take shortcuts on its pathway to a brilliant ending.... By the time I finished reading this concluding volume, I felt as though I had read more than one book and lived more than one life. THE FATE OF THE TEARLING is a triumph."
The world of the Tearling is a vast one, spanning not only space and a large cast of characters but also dual timelines seen through Queen Kelsea’s visions of the past through the Tear sapphire. As the plot rolls along, the story fragments a bit to keep the reader up to date on Kelsea’s journey (now a prisoner of the Red Queen in Mortmesne), the Mace’s strategies (presiding over the Tearling as regent) and Katie’s life (the historical thread racing to inform current time). While at times I felt as though the story spent too long in any one place, the variety in viewpoints and settings kept the purposeful forward motion of the novel on a rapid pace towards its cohesive conclusion.
More commendable still, the story didn’t leave behind periphery characters in its wake. We learn more about the Mace’s troubled past; Javel’s search for his wife, Allie; and the Fetch and Row Finn’s history is laid bare. The Red Queen, who has starred in the villain role for the first two installments, is suddenly a more empathetic character, leaving way for new forces of evil to terrorize our heroes.
If I had any major complaints, it would be these:
- The heavy-handed reminders that this book belongs on the adult fiction shelf: The crassness of language built to a place where I no longer felt it was organic to the story itself but was instead included to make a point about appropriate audience. In my opinion, there are better and more effective ways to graduate a story beyond the young adult (YA) realm.
- The overall arch of storytelling lacked romance, instead relying on lust and seduction that gave the underlying feeling of the book a darkness that I could have lived without.
- The level of violence was, at times, pretty gruesome. If it had been a movie, I would have been watching through my fingers during those parts. (A preference, to be sure, but sensitive readers be warned.)
However, certain themes of these novels rang eerily true in our modern-day culture: That one person’s version of a better world isn’t enough --- it has to extend beyond the reach of any individual and be brought into balance with multiple viewpoints. That power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely --- a chilling warning of what can happen when power is wielded in the hands of someone absent an internal moral compass. And that the consequences of one seemingly small choice can make all the difference in the long run.
By the time I finished reading this concluding volume, I felt as though I had read more than one book and lived more than one life. THE FATE OF THE TEARLING is a triumph.
Reviewed by Amy Haddock on November 28, 2016