#SFF Genre Talk: The Queen of the Tearling and Low-Tech Futuristic Worlds

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen is the first book in a fantasy trilogy featuring Kelsea Raleigh, a nineteen year-old newly crowned queen. One of my favorite parts of the story was its world, which is a low-tech futuristic one.

fantasy, futuristic, medieval, magic, Erika Johansen, The Queen of the Tearling

The story takes place in a fictional country called Tear, which exists at some point in the future (Wikipedia says it takes place in the 24th century, although I couldn’t find where that was mentioned in the book) in a New World (which, I assume is somewhere in the Old World, i.e. Europe??). This vague backstory might be frustrating to some, but I was interested as both writer and reader in how Johansen built her world.

In the distant past, the new queen’s ancestor sailed himself and a bunch of followers from America to wherever they are now. But utopianism didn’t work out as well as everyone wanted and, at the story’s open, the country has been subjugated by the neighboring country, Mortmesne, which is ruled by a queen as evil as her country’s name suggests.

The world of the Tear and Morts might seem odd or inconsistent to a reader unwilling to imagine a low-tech future without a causative apocalyptic event. There are geneticists, but no cars. There are ruling monarchs and magic, but no guns. There are cities, but very few books. There was a Crossing, not a Catastrophe. But I think low-tech futuristic worlds are ripe with potential. (Yes, I’m admittedly biased; my Noon Onyx series takes place in a low-tech futuristic world. As a writer, I love the possibilities of this as yet unlabeled sub-genre… which I’m not necessarily suggesting we label. Are we any closer to understanding what “dark fantasy” is or what type of stories are truly “new adult”? Worth noting, though, that others have already taken a stab at naming it. Best Fantasy Books uses the term “Futuristic Fantasy” and its list of books shows how long the sub-genre has been around.)

Regardless of what we call them, low-tech futuristics seem to offer the best of two other sf/f sub-genres: historical fantasy and post-apocalyptic fantasy. Readers get to immerse themselves in a medieval-ish, make-believe otherworld, but one with recognizable references (e.g. the Brothers Grimm and Leonardo da Vinci). Instead of centering on how the characters will survive the immediate aftermath of some sort of grand catastrophe, a low-tech futuristic story has more room to breathe in terms of plot. It can be epic instead of laser-focused. Its pacing can be slower and less breakneck. Most importantly, however, it provides flexibility for a writer to pick and choose which real world elements work for them and their story. This expansive, though eclectic, approach can lead to a world that feels familiar, but different – to a world that has broken its historical constraints while at the same time remaining accessible and identifiable to readers.

The bottom line is that low-tech futuristic stories allow writers to play with the past, instead of being limited by it.

So what about the rest of the story?

The Queen of the Tearling is part of a trilogy (the third book, The Fate of the Tearling, comes out tomorrow) and this first book feels a lot like Act I of a bigger story, which is fine. There are lots of unanswered questions for future books to address, such as:

Who is Kelsea’s father?

What’s up with Andalie, her lady-in-waiting?

And the Robin Hood-like Fetch? (whose name brings out my sophomoric sense of humor because I could NOT stop thinking of Gretchen from Mean Girls every time his name was mentioned in the book)

Here are a few other brief, disjointed thoughts about the book:

I loved all the fictional epigraphs at the beginning of the chapters. Yes, they seem to give much of the plot away, but somehow story tension remains (see unanswered questions above).

The book has been shelved multiple times on Goodreads under Young Adult, but it’s not YA.

Emma Watson is starring in, and producing, the movie adaptation.

What do you think of low-tech futuristics? What do you call them?

Have you read The Queen of the Tearling? What did you think? Have any other, similar books to recommend?

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Published by

Jill Archer

Jill Archer is the author of the Noon Onyx series, genre-bending fantasy novels including DARK LIGHT OF DAY, FIERY EDGE OF STEEL, WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE, and POCKET FULL OF TINDER.

4 thoughts on “#SFF Genre Talk: The Queen of the Tearling and Low-Tech Futuristic Worlds

  1. No. The inept attempt at future history is by far this series’ biggest weakness. The future setting is an unnecessary gimmick and is simply not very plausible. The author should decide if she is writing medieval fantasy, or post-apocalyptic science fiction, and then stick to it. What we have here is an ill-conceived, poorly considered, half-baked mess that has a strong whiff of falsehood about it. Things that would not be jarring in a fictional world become jarring, because we are asked to believe they could happen in our future.

    Frankly, setting medieval fantasy in the future was a bad idea when the likes of Terry Brooks did it 40 odd years ago, and it remains a bad idea now. The only difference is that nowadays, it is no longer even original.

    1. Hi Sam,

      I love to hear from readers who are passionate about their opinions! I disagree, however, that the author — or any author — should decide if she is writing medieval fantasy or post-apocalyptic science fiction and then stick to it. Instead, I’d advise writers to understand genres and, if they want to break the rules, simply know what the consequences might be (e.g. readers being disappointed that some genre conventions aren’t being adhered to — that’s a real risk).

      Genres aren’t as old as certain story tropes though and writers would do well to remember the basics. Really, all a successful story needs is three things: a beginning, an end, and to be well told. Even “the middle” can be skipped if that last element is there. The rub, of course, is that “well told” is subjective.

      I’m glad you gave THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING a try. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

      1. I have to admit, when I previously commented, I had read only a few chapters of the book. Having completed the entire thing, my opinion of it has deteriorated considerably. The worldbuilding is not just bad, it is simply nonsensical and illogical, and demonstrates the author’s naivety.

        I’m rather disappointed, as I bought this book after hearing good things, and it turned out to be the worst thing I’ve read in quite a few years, and I wouldn’t have finished it at all if I didn’t need a tally on my chart (I generally aim for at least 10 books a year, and I’ve only read 3 so far). Sometimes I don’t like a book because it isn’t my cup of tea, but this book is well within my area of interest, but is just objectively bad. The plot is full of nonsense, including the arch-crimes of withholding commonly known information for the sake of creating false drama by later revealing it, and solving problems with unexplained magic instead of character action. The characters themselves are all laughably incompetent, and many of them are one-dimensional caricatures. The ham-fisted soapboxing could also have been dispensed with.

        I am totally mystified how this amateurish mess persuaded a publisher to fork out a seven figure advance, and the movie adaptation I assume can at least partly be put down to the fact that Emma Watson is not a very discerning reader. Everything in the book has been done before, and done better. Even the epigraphs at the beginnings of chapters are poorly done; they only further highlight how little thought has gone into the worldbuilding and the author’s poor grasp of historiography.

        1. Hi Sam,

          So, a few other things, in no particular order:

          1. Why do you need a tally on a chart in order to feel satisfied about your reading? Unless you’re a student, read what you want, when you want. If you’re just trying to be more purposeful with your reading choices/goals, I get that. Me too. I’m trying to do the same thing this year… BUT…

          2. DNF at will. This is probably somewhat controversial advice, but life’s too short and books too plentiful to spend time reading what you don’t like. Embrace reading for pleasure. I try to give a book 100 pages (generous, frankly). If it doesn’t work for me by that point, nothing is going to save it.

          3. Authors can’t please everyone. It’s impossible. And readers are entitled to gripe and share their negative opinions. (I don’t, simply because it’s not my style. And I’m a writer and I know how much work goes into a novel, even one I don’t like).

          4. Fantasy, by its nature, can be pretty nonsensical and illogical. That’s why I love it. It’s not necessarily realistic. If I wanted reality, I’d read non-fiction. Instead, what I look for in fiction is verisimilitude. (But I’ll admit, even that standard is subjective.)

          5. I am often mystified by large publisher advances.

          6. I don’t know what kind of reader Emma Watson is, but she usually impresses me.

          What books have you enjoyed in the past and what did you like about them?

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