Book Review: The Fate of the Tearling
I'm not sure whether it's good or bad that I still have mixed feelings about this series.
The Fate of the Tearling picks up in the aftermath of The Invasion of the Tearling. Kelsea Glynn has been taken prisoner by the Red Queen, now revealed to be an errant member of the Raleigh family. Rowland Finn and his army of evil children are free and moving south, hot on the trail of both the Red Queen and Kelsea. In the Tearing, Mace hatches a plan to rescue Kelsea with the help of the Fetch, abandoning New London to the depredations of the ambitious Holy Father. Meanwhile, Kelsea is still having flashbacks in prison, but this time they're of a post-Crossing girl named Katie and center on the events that brought about the death of Jonathan Tear.
Let me start with a few of the things that bugged me. Firstly, the characters have suddenly developed schizophrenia. Many of the characters, but Kelsea and the Red Queen in particular, now find themselves "hearing" other characters speak in their POV chapters. I get that the device is used to indicate that they know what others would say, but it is way overused and done in an awkward manner that detracts from the story. I'm pretty sure in one of the last chapters, Kelsea hears about seven different voices in her head. Done once or twice, it would have been fine, but it's too repetitive throughout the novel.
Secondly, apparently Kelsea's persona from The Invasion of the Tearling has a name now: the queen of spades. Maybe I just don't remember Johansen using that term at the end of book two, but it caught me really off-guard here in its first and subsequent usages. It felt a bit like trying too hard for me.
And then there's the ending. But we'll get to that.
The flashback chapters are some of the best parts of the book, as they were in Invasion. They fill in the backstory of the Fetch and Rowland Finn to some degree, and they give us Lily's ending and some color on the start of the Tearling. The resolution of the Red Queen was tragic and one of the few moments that actually elicited some emotion from me. There's also the surprise appearance of a character thought dead, which I felt was well handled and a moment that I truly was not expecting.
Okay, I can't keep writing this without addressing the ending, because it is the elephant in the room. I normally avoid spoilers, but this must be addressed. DO NOT CONTINUE READING IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS.
At the climax of the novel, Kelsea has a weird conversation with William Tear inside the sapphire and then somehow travels back to the moment where Rowland killed Jonathan and uses Katie's body to attack and terrorize Rowland. Jonathan still dies, but the changes made by Kelsea cause a huge butterfly effect. When Kelsea returns to the future, it is entirely different. There is no queen. New London is more of a pleasant village than a grimy city, and Mortmense doesn't exist. Everything is rewritten. Many of the characters are still around, some under different names, but they don't know Kelsea.
I have to admire the courage it took to write this ending, because there's no way you could write it and not know that it would piss off at least 50% of your fans. It's bold and definitely makes a statement.
I have two main problems with it: the utter lack of resolution for certain plotlines and characters, and the inconsistencies/incoherence of it.
See, one of my favorite parts of this book was the conflict between the throne and the faith. That builds throughout this book, and in many places Johansen gets very in-your-face with her criticism of religion. That's fine - but then you need to resolve that. One of the most unsatisfying things is that there's no comeuppance for the arrogant Holy Father. Along with many of the supporting cast, he simply vanishes when Kelsea rewrites history.
There are other places where this lack of resolution bugs me too - for instance, how did Rowland Finn and the Fetch become cursed? What did Katie do? How did Katie's offspring somehow become the royal family after she was on the run? These were questions I wanted answers to, and Johansen erases them all with the stroke of a pen.
Then there's the incoherence of it all. Johansen is sketchy on how the sapphires work throughout the entire series, handwaving it with "magic!" constantly (as she does with other magic users like Rowland Finn and the Red Queen). So how precisely the sapphires manage to transport Kelsea through time is never really dealt with. It comes entirely out of left field and left me very confused. It also creates a number of inconsistencies - for instance, who the hell wrote all those epigraphs about the Glynn Queen if the Glynn Queen didn't exist? It's the little details like this that can be infuriating.
Johansen papers over the ending with a "well, it's a much better world now so everything was worth it!" but it left a bad taste in my mouth. Characters need resolution, and though she makes an attempt at resolving Mace, Pen and Father Tyler, without their memories of everything bad that happened to them, the resolution feels hollow.
END SPOILERS, YOU CAN COME BACK NOW.
When it's all said and done, I'm really not sure what to think about this book. As I said, I admire Johansen's courage in writing the ending she wrote, but it doesn't sit well with me since it lacks proper resolution for so many of the characters I liked. This book was a string of excellent moments, interspersed by not-so-excellent ones and a bizarre ending. I'm honestly not sure I could in good conscience recommend the series.