|The Fate of the Tearling|
Title: The Fate of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Publication Date: 11/29/16
Date Completed: 12/20/16
Summary: Having relinquished herself and her powerful sapphires to the Red Queen, Kelsea must now figure out how to save the Tearling - and maybe the world - from inside her prison cell. Her visions of pre-Crossing Lily have been replaced with visions of a young girl, Katie, born shortly after Crossing who also seems to have a big role to play in the fate of the new world.
What I Thought: I have really enjoyed this series. Throughout, Johansen has impressed me with her bold approach and unique voice. She has written characters who are strong and broken and powerful and flawed. That takes skill. For me, the characters are easily her master stroke in this series. Here in the final book, the plot fell down for me a bit - not terribly, but noticeably. The characters, however, continued to keep me in awe and suspense to the very last page.
Let's start with the stuff I did not love about this last book. I want to get past that so I can rave more about the things I did like. I've always been a delayed gratification/bad news first kind of girl (with the notable seasonal exception of Christmas presents, which I mercilessly searched the house for hoping to ruin any surprises. Sorry, Mom.). So, here we go:
It has been clear from the first book that this is a fantasy series. From the very beginning, Kelsea is wearing magic sapphires around her neck and there are clearly deeper elements of fantasy woven throughout the story. Maybe it's just personal preference, but I like a certain level of fantasy. Book two, The Invasion of the Tearling, delved deeper into that world as Kelsea started having this time-traveling visions and we got a bigger sense of just what the Crossing was. Ultimately, though, I still felt the fantasy reins were in hand. This last book plunged ahead full throttle. Things hinted at in the first two novels came to full fruition. Monster children, time travel (physical, not mental), and psychic abilities. It was a bridge too far for me in many ways. I like fantasy, but I guess I prefer some more concrete limits on it. I like when things still feel...I don't know...possible? Does that make any sense? It seemed to me that Johansen added one or two too many layers into the narrative and it made things hard to keep up with. I don't like being confused and I was confused at times here.
Now, I don't mind narrative secrecy or holding back information deliberately. Johansen never fully answers some of the big lingering questions about Tear, the Crossing, the whole world of these characters. That, I am just fine with. I like that she leaves some of it to our imaginations. Where I get particular about this stuff is when it makes the plot difficult to follow, and that happened for me a few times in this book while it did not really in the first two.
That, really, is my only complaint. Things got too crazy, too complicated. Beyond that, the book is great.
As I mentioned up top, Johansen's characters are masterful. I have read few books that do such a great job of disregarding gender stereotypes. Everything feels organic and not intentionally crafted (though I'm sure it was), so you don't get the sense that Johansen is preaching about gender roles. However, her characters consistently break the norms for both fictional characters and real life roles. I loved this. Her women are strong and powerful and passionate and their emotional complexity is not seen as weakness. Her men are passionate and purposeful, able to use brawn, brains, and empathy in tandem. As with any good characters, they are all inherently broken, tied down by their own weaknesses and faults. But even those faults somehow avoid being stereotypical. They are surprising and real and feel so genuine. You love them and hate them and fear them and pity them. They make the more exhausting moments on the roller coaster ride of plot well worth it.
As with Lily's flashbacks in The Invasion of the Tearling, I really enjoyed the look into Katie's life in this book. It was a nice way to give us more information about the past of this world and how it got to this point. Now, when all three women were weirdly working together to save everyone in the end - well, I've already expressed my thoughts on things getting too weird for me. Still, I so appreciated having these secondary heroines on the journey as well.
I did struggle with understanding exactly what Johansen's "message" was in the end. As Row and Jonathan battled for Katie's allegiance, it was not totally clear to me which one we were meant to see as having the better message. Certainly, Row was acting out of evil and malice, so you want to presume his message is the wrong one. But, then *spoiler alert!*, Katie kills Jonathan and seems to disavow Tear's message as well. In the end, it's Tear's idea of the world but not his practical execution of it that is portrayed as success. Johansen certainly was espousing socialistic ideals, but also seemed aware of their downfalls - at least until the end when everyone seems to have lived in socialistic paradise for centuries. So, I was not totally sure where I was supposed to land on a broader moral landscape, other than to recognize that people working together for mutual benefit is best. That is a message with which I can certainly get on board, despite my doubts in its sustainability.
All in all, I really enjoyed this series. It was rich and complex and a thrilling adventure. Since I have all the books thanks to TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins, I'm definitely going to have Kevin read them and I think I will read them again at some point, too. If you're looking for some excitement and good character development to kick off the new year, this series is a great place to look.
Will I Re-Read: Yes.
A Reduced Review: A fitting, if fantastical, end to a rich, complex series with some of the best-written characters I have ever encountered.