Available from: http://www.dubraybooks.ie/The-Invasion-of-the-Tearling_9780593073124 for €17.99
Having read and reviewed The Queen of The Tearling, the debut novel by Erika Johansen, for my very first post, it’s fair to say that I had high expectations when picking up its follow-up, The Invasion of The Tearling. In her debut, Johansen managed to create a vibrant world set in the near future, with rich characters that were well drawn, as well as a well paced narrative that builds to a dramatic conclusion that left the reader wanting to know more about the impending war, led by the evil Red Queen of Mortmesne. But sadly, while this book is far from a disaster, it is still a definite drop in quality compared with its predecessor, and ultimately falls flat. It feels as if Johansen fell into the “second book syndrome” trap, that has slowed the pace of many a trilogy in the past, by using the book to both tell story from the past and to prepare for the future, while neglecting the present.
We pick up the story shortly after the closing events of QOTT. Having thwarted the plans of Arlen Thorne to continue the slave shipments to the Red Queen, Kelsea Rayleigh Glynn has brought doom on her kingdom and must prepare for invasion by the Mortmesne army, led by the Red Queens disreputable military tactician Ducarte, an expert torturer and suspected pedophile. Not only is the Tearling army vastly outnumbered, but Kelsea is at odds with General Bermond, the leader of her army, on how best to fight this war. On top of that, she must find a way to house thousands of refugees travelling to the Keep, displaced by war and fearing the might of the Mortmesne force, as well as appeal to neighboring nations for help, all of whom are reluctant to cross the Red Queen, and drive heavy bargains for their help.
Overwhelmed by her predicament, the queen begins to have startling visions to a time before the Crossing that she must try to make sense of, concerning the life of a young woman named Lily, an upper class socialite living in a dystopian 21st century America. Lily ,on the surface, appears to have an idyllic live for someone living in her world. She has money, a nice house, a seemingly loving husband with a good job and a wardrobe any woman would kill for. However, behind this facade, we see that her life is anything but enviable, as she is trapped in a loveless marriage with the controlling Greg, more monster than man, who regularly beats and rapes her. A chance meeting with a young girl on the run introduces Lily to The Blue Horizon, a separatist group lead by William Tear, intent on fleeing a disastrous civilization for the better world.
As I said at the beginning, having loved the first book, I had big expectations for this. Some positives must be observed, such as Johansens ability to create interesting, dynamic characters. We see different layers to Kelsea. While the first novel painted her as a headstrong young woman, capable of making tough decisions for the greater good , the second shows a more vulnerable side to her personality. We see that she is tormented by self doubt, and the idea that she could be making similar mistakes to her mother before her, a woman she swore never to emulate during her reign. This is coupled with a realization of a growing darkness within her, that at times could threaten to consume her if she is not careful, and hints at something in common with the Red Queen more than she’d care to admit. We also get some interesting backstory to Kelseas faithful servant Andalie, who shares a dangerous connection with the Red Queen, that could spell disaster for her and her youngest daughter Glee, who appears to have inherited her mothers gift of the Sight. Lazarus, Kelseas captain of guard, is similarly fleshed out a bit more, and we get an insight into his heartbreaking early life in a place known as The Creche, and a resolution to a question that eagle eyed readers would have had after reading QOTT.
Of the new characters introduced, it is impossible not to feel desperately sorry for Lily, a woman trapped in a marriage with a man she no longer loves and who is merciless in his abuse, who finds solace in the belief that a new life and the better world are within reach. Figures such as William Tear and Ducarte are briefly seen, but leave enough of an impression for the reader to want to learn more about them in the closing novel. The same can be said for series regulars, The Red Queen and The Fetch, who both have a little more of their backstory explored just enough to keep us interested.
The big negative of this novel is the way in which it is structured. We jump constantly back and forth between past and present, which only really serves to drag the pace down each time it happens. While it is interesting to get some knowledge from a time before The Crossing to give context, it’s at times excessive and really takes from what should be the focus of this book, the titular Invasion, which ultimately doesn’t bare the fruits you would expect. Rather than leaving us with a thirst for more at the close, we are left feeling a little short changed.
Like I said at the beginning, this book is far from a disaster and is worth a read, but in comparison to its predecessor, its structure lets it down and hinders its pace to the point that we are not satisfied by the ending. This is not uncommon. Many novel series have been known to dip in the middle, bogged down with trying to advance the plot while giving context and back story as well. The final novel, The Fate of The Tearling, is set to be released on November 29th of this year, and I have faith that Johansen can return to the top quality displayed in Queen of The Tearling, to deliver an exciting and satisfying conclusion.