Title And Author: Beneath The Keep: a Novel of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Publisher: Bantam Press & Penguin Audio
Physical, eBook or Audiobook: eBook & Audiobook
Bought, Borrowed or Gifted: eProof gifted by UK publisher in exchange for honest review/reaction while Audiobook’s bought.
Length: 448 Pages or 14 Hours 49 Minutes
Set around 20-25 years prior to the events of Queen of the Tearling, we follow several characters who have roles to play in the Tearling’s current climate of the rich protecting the rich and the poor suffer. The Tearling is on the edge of a rebellion with the rebellion group, Blue Horizon, whispering of a prophecy. A prophecy of the True Queen, rising up and saving them all.
We have Christian, a young boxer in the Creche, the kingdom’s sinister underworld, Princess Elyssa, whose mother is doing nothing to help her people who are dying due to the ongoing drought, Niya, Elyssa’s handmaiden who is not who she says she is, and Aislinn, a young farmer’s daughter who starts a rebellion.
As each of the character’s four stories head towards a collision course, we see answers to questions hinted at in the original trilogy, and we discover the events that happened that lead to a Queen’s Guard, the Mace, coming for the Tearling’s new Queen, Kelsea, and taking her out of hiding at the start of Queen of the Tearling…
The Queen of the Tearling trilogy is a marmite trilogy. You either really like it/love it, or you really don’t. There is not much middle-ground. Plus, when a prequel is written at the series is done, it’s tricky as you need to make it be a standalone and yet, make it fit in the series and the world as a whole. We’ve all read prequels that either hit that balance really well (for example: Book of Dust by Philip Pullman or Clariel by Garth Nix) or misses the mark really badly (The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, for example). It’s a hard act to balance and I have read many reviews on Beneath the Keep where readers can’t agree if this book succeed or failed in that balance.
Now, before I go further into this, I must point out that this book is dark. While the original trilogy had strong crossover appeal, this is very adult. I can’t decide whether to class this as a grimdark fantasy or not as the contents in this book are dark. Triggers include drug abuse, swearing, violence and murder, actual and attempted sexual abuse and exploitation on men, women and children, overdose, possession/brainwashing, genocide, and a ton more, so when I warn you that this is dark, much darker than the original trilogy (which, let’s be real here, dear readers, was dark in itself), I mean it. Hence why I am wondering if this is a grimdark political fantasy.
But I really liked it. I got sucked into this world with its characters, the political and emotional climate, the truths I that I from Queen of the Tearling and the questions from he original trilogy being answered, adding layers to things we knew and didn’t know in the original reading of the trilogy. And Erika’s writing - she has grown as a writer.
Small note about the audiobook. Not a big thing, but there were one or two occasions when the narrator, Mandy Williams, stop loudly or shouted, her voice echoed. Now, I know this was probably recorded during tight Covid-19 restrictions and in a soundproof room, so I will forgive this, but other audiobook readers might not…
But as someone who really enjoyed this series, I adore this prequel and I hope we have more stories set in this world and, maybe, maybe, this will get my rear in gear and reread Queen of the Tearling like I hope. But, like I have said, this series is dark and this prequel is very dark and, because of that, readers will enjoy really enjoy/love this world of the Tearling or downright hate it.