Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Posted June 11, 2014 by Jessica in Fantasy, Jessica, Reviews, Science Fiction / 104 Comments

Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
The Queen of the Tearling by Ericka Johansen
Series: The Queen of the Tearling #1
Published by HarperCollins
Published on: July 8 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
One StarOne Star
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On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend…if she can survive.

The Queen of the Tearling introduces readers to a world as fully imagined and terrifying as that of The Hunger Games, with characters as vivid and intriguing as those of The Game of Thrones, and a wholly original heroine. Combining thrilling action and twisting plot turns, it is a magnificent debut from the talented Erika Johansen.


First and foremost, you need to know that The Queen of the Tearling is NOT a YA Fantasy.  As far as I can tell, HarperCollins is not marketing the book that way, but when I read this, “Young Adult” was listed as the second shelf on the Goodreads’ genre list (which of course means that Goodreads users are labeling it that way), but it absolutely isn’t—Kelsea, the MC, is 19 y.o. and an adult, there is language that at times borders the obscene, and there are circumstances and (hideous) war stories that have no place in YA literature.

I’m kind of at a loss with what to do with this book.

On the one hand . . . I really (REALLY) liked it. On the other hand . . . there are problems that absolutely cannot be ignored.

I think it’s time for another list.

What I liked about The Queen of the Tearling:

1. It held my attention despite the numerous problems. It more than held my attention; I couldn’t put it down. I read ALL OF IT in less than 12 hours (and this was not a short book). Maybe in less than 10 hours. Should’ve timed it . . .

2. Kelsea is not perfect. She’s a typical 19 y.o. girl with all of the inherit insecurities and inexperience. She’s not exceptionally beautiful or talented, she’s just a girl who loves history and books who happenes to be born royal.

3. Lots of important social and political messages.

4. New and mind-blowing world-building premise:

So check this out—something (we don’t know what) happened (we don’t know when) and the Americans and the British left (for parts unknown) on ships to rebuild civilization. And life has reverted back to the Medieval period. But with MAGIC, so it’s like a real world fantasy. Pretty cool, I think.

What I didn’t like about The Queen of the Tearling:

1. We don’t know what, we don’t know when, we don’t know where.

2. And this is the real problem . . . There are so many similarities between this book and other books I’ve read that I’m not entirely convinced that the new and mind-blowing world-building premise is really new and mind-blowing, and not just from some other book I have yet to read.

Sound harsh?

Well, there are unignorable similarities between this book and no less than THREE other book series/movies that I have read/seen, and a strong argument can be put forth for a . . . fourth. (<——can things like that happen in any other language besides English?)

  • The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan—a “Tearling” is a person from Tear, which is also the name of one of the world powers in WoT, Almont Plain is a mere one letter away from being the Almoth Plain, which lies between the WoT’s Arad Doman and Tarabon, and Kelsea is a young and somewhat sheltered royal with a fascination, but not much understanding, for the curses that men much more readily use (in her world), very much like a certain royal in the WoT (Elayne Trakand, the Daughter-Heir of Andor).
  • The Fire and Thorns Trilogy by Rae Carson—if I were to try to enumerate everything that The Queen of the Tearling has in common with this trilogy, there would be room for nothing else. Kelsea is in possession of interlocking blue stones that give her prophetic dreams, guide her both physically and mentally, and instill her with magical power of some kind. There is a huge emphasis on religion (this time as a manipulative political machine). The adult charged with protecting Kelsea underestimates and undermines her, and is thus nearly sent away from her (male instead of female). Kelsea is overweight and unattractive, rather than the typical and beautiful princess-type, etc. Like I said, I could go for days.
  • V for Vendetta—The IMDB synopsis for this movie is, “In a future British tyranny, a shadowy freedom fighter plots to overthrow it with the help of a young woman.”  The Fetch is a shadowy (harlequin mask-wearing) freedom fighter who plots to overthrow TWO governments with the help of a young QUEEN whom he manipulatively tests to ascertain her true feelings/intentions. Just. Like. V.

So no matter how entertained I was by this book—and how could I not be? It’s seemingly based on two of my favorite book series and one of my favorite movies—I can’t in good conscience rate it highly.

But will I continue with the series? I honestly don’t know. There was an interesting development in the last 10(ish)% of the book that I’m curious to see where the author is going with, and I have this morbid curiosity (almost schadenfreude) to see if the pattern continues . . . but does the curiosity outweigh the incredulity at these blatant similarities? I guess we’ll see . . .

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My name is Jessica and I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I’m trying my hand at writing, but mostly I read. My favorite genres are Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, and the YA versions of those genres, but if there is a book of a different color getting lots of buzz, I’ll read it too, just to be informed. If I’m not reading or writing, I’m probably on Goodreads or Pinterest or baking blueberry pies because I love them.


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104 responses to “Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

  1. I think this is the first time I am hearing about how similar this book is to other series and wow… I am very surprised by how similar it is to the Fire and Thrones trilogy. Like WOW.

    I was all set to avoid this book in all honesty because of some of the early reviews that weren’t very positive but you have me curious in spite of the fact that I usually have problems with books that are so similar to others.

    Especially since you didn’t have as much of a problem with the book as you did with the blatant similarities it had to other works.

    Lovely review as always, Jess!!! 🙂

    • Yeah, I think I’m the black sheep in not actually objecting to the story itself. I wasn’t bored at all. The world-building was a bit frustrating, but honestly, it didn’t bother me too much that I didn’t know how we ended up where we were.

      What bothered me was the blatant theft of ideas. But even then there was enough new stuff warped and twisted around it that I might have to keep reading the series anyway. And I wasn’t angry until after I read it. I recognized the similarities as I was reading, but it wasn’t until I sat down and tried to review it that I got mad. Mostly, now, I’m sad for Rae Carson. I feel like her books are better, and they didn’t get near the attention that this one is getting.

  2. Wow, I hate it when I love reading something and then different similarities like this start popping into my head and the whole experience is pretty much ruined for me 🙁
    I wouldn’t know how to rate that either, but at least it was entertaining, right?

  3. Welp, outside of a single WoT book I have not read any of those. I think I am safe.

    Love the cover though, Hunger Games AND Game of Thrones are mentioned, that should reel them all in!

  4. I will probably skip this one. I don’t read a lot of fantasy but WOT is one that I have read (and loved) most of. I just feel like I would be annoyed.

  5. Well, it sounds like it did capture your attention, but too bad it seemed to familiar. I’m not sure about this one, hmmm, I love a good fantasy, and this sounds promising despite the familiarity – I may have to keep my eyes on this one 🙂

    • I don’t think you’ll be able to help it, LOL. Apparently the movie rights have already been bought by WB and Emma Watson is set to play the lead. This book is going to be EVERYWHERE.

  6. I disliked this book too , and my review is coming up too. There was so much happening with this book, and so many unanswered questions…library . I liked Fetch , but like you I had those same issues.

    • I don’t think I was quite as bothered by the lack of answers in regards to the world-building as a lot of other people have been, but even not being terribly upset about it, it was surprising. I mean, there were no answers. NONE. And yeah, Fetch is likable. That’s why V was so popular. And there’s the issue 😉

  7. Huh, I totally expected this to be a YA! I’m part of the book tour in July, and I’m quite looking forward to reading it. I haven’t read any of the books you think it’s very similar to, so maybe for me it’ll feel a bit less like it’s done before.

    • Hey, this would’ve been a solid 4 stars for me if it hadn’t been for the sameness, so you’re probably fine. But no, it really is NOT YA. Won’t be getting this for my 14 y.o. sister 😉

  8. Jessica I love how you broke this down and I am so glad you let us know this isn’t YA, sometimes it can be so hard to tell even with the labels on Goodreads (and now on Amazon). I wish they (the publishers) labeled the books themselves in the description. It would certainly help us parents and bloggers (and readers!) out.

    • It certainly would help. I spent a good 15-20 min. on internet searches trying to determine if it was a GR or a publisher thing with the YA label, and finally gave up and choose to write it off as a GR thing, b/c I really can’t believe that the publisher would market this book as YA. It’s not. There’s sex, torture, explicit language . . . So yeah, trying to keep the kiddies away from this one.

  9. Lists are always great for those books that you just don’t know where to even begin with the review. You did a fantastic job…as always! V for Vendetta is on of my favorite movies so I would imagine that this book would just make me angry if there is a strong similarity. I do not like that at all! No.No.No. I’m going to skip this one and go watch V for Vendetta again. 😉

    • Thanks, Ginny! Yeah, there is definitely a strong similarity between V and Fetch, but he was a relatively small part of the book (however, I do see a bigger role for him in future books). The biggest issue for me was the Fire and Thorns crossover. This book could almost take place in the same world. No bueno. But I always support watching V for Vendetta—SO good 😉

  10. Shoot Jessica!!!! I was so excited to give this on a try. I’m madly in love with the fantasy genre and have been recently devouring as much in that genre as I can find and had so hoped this one would blow me away. Aside from the similarities with a number of different books, you mentioned a large focus on religion and that on its own is enough to make me hesitate. I’m usually very uncomfortable with books that have strong religious undertones, so I think I’m going to pass. So bummed!

    • Yeah, in this book religion is one of the Big Bads. It’s alluded to as being to reason behind the destruction of the old world, but we’re given no specifics, and corrupt (of course) religion is on the rise again. So there’s no getting away from that, if it’s something you try to avoid. Sorry, Jenny 🙁 I feel your pain, b/c I’m madly in love with fantasy too.

    • Then I would at least wait for the second book b/c there are NO answers. Like NONE. That’s one of the biggest complaints I’ve seen so far. And if you’ve read/seen the books/movie I compared it to, you won’t be able to ignore the similarities. Especially where Fire and Thorns is concerned.

  11. OH boo. I hate when I read a book and it is pretty much a regurgitation of other books I’ve read. Where is the creativity. I can see why you’re torn about liking it or not though since it was interesting to read.

    • I’m mostly indignant, LOL. I kind of liked it despite myself, but yeah, it really burns me up that this book is getting all of the attention that I feel should have gone to Fire and Thorns. I mean the book’s not even released yet, and there’s already a film in the works. BOO.

  12. I totally understand how you feel, I would be conflicted too if I read something that is similar to my all-time favorites, I have not read the books that you mentioned (but I’ve seen the movie version of V) so I might give this a shot and thanks for letting readers know that this is not YA, some readers might think this going in and that would affect their reading experience. Awesome review Jessica!

    • Thanks, Amir! And yeah, I’m sure that LOTS of people who haven’t read/seen those books/movies will really like this one. And I was most concerned about the 12-15 year olds out there reading YA, and picking this up. NOT appropriate for the kiddies. Not at all.

  13. Shoot, I was hoping to see you loved this one. I love the cover and premise. I don’t think I really understood it very well until I read your review though. I don’t know… I might like it, I might not. And it’s sure a large book. So I guess at this point I’m just not sure whether I’ll pick it up or not.

  14. I liked the cover as soon as I saw it and the premise sounded a bit familiar – a girl and a gem. ^_^ I run across that sometimes and still enjoy the book. Sounds to me like you won’t be able to resist. You will need to read to on and get the answers to your questions. Now you have gone and made me very curious. LOL

    • Yeah, I’m like that most of the time too. I know that there’s no such thing as a “new” plot, but it’s the variations that make them stand out . . . or not stand out. And this one had so many very specific things in common with those other books that I couldn’t just chalk it up to “nothing new under the sun.” Still, you’re probably right about me reading the next one, LOL.

  15. Hm… how many things have I repeatedly seen/read/heard and still enjoyed? I still may read this one because even though the world didn’t wow you (which is very disappointing) your review still made me very curious. Yep… now I want to see those similarities in what you listed!

    • Well, if you’ve read/seen those books/movies, you won’t have to look very hard to see the similarities. They’re pretty obvious. But still, there was enough (maybe?) new stuff to make it interesting. And I know you won’t mind the darkness 😉

  16. Wow Jessica, sorry this was just a two star read for you. I haven’t read any of the series mentioned so I doubt I would of picked up on the similarities. This doesn’t really sound like my cup of tea, even though it does have that dark element I enjoy. I’ve found most books are being mis-labeled into the YA category nowadays, probably to generate more sales or attract more readers, I personally think it’s ridiculous, a 19 year old is not a YA heroine in my opinion. I hope you enjoy your next read more than this one!

    • Thanks, Lori. Much happier with what I’m reading now 😉 And I agree—for whatever reason YA does seem to be the money maker right now, and publicists are showing less and less scruples when it comes to marketing. One of the worst books I’ve read this years was described, IN THE BLURB, as being “reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez” and also as a retelling of a Cinderella, and it was neither of those things. *squints* It’s a trend that needs to stop.

  17. Christy  

    Damn that cover is pretty. Sometimes I don’t understand how people label stuff. I’ve come across books labeled YA that are so NOT YA Weird. Oh man, and I know what you mean about liking because of the similarities. but not. I can’t remember what book it was, but it was just way to similar to movies I had watched. Well, I probably won’t read it, but I hope it gets better for you if you decide to read the next book.

    • That cover should be pretty. Warner Brothers already bought the movie rights, and Emma Watson is set to play the lead. But it isn’t YA, and I hope it gets better (and more original) in the following installments. *crosses fingers*

  18. bookwormbrandee  

    Hmm, how in the world can a book be published by a Big Six with that many similarities, Jessica? I mean, I know there are common tropes in books, common worlds and creatures…but it seems as though this author pieced together a story using others’ work rather than creating something wholly new. I’m glad you got some pleasure from reading it – especially at that length! – but I admire your rating.

    • Oh, it’s even better than that—the book that this one blatantly borrows from the most, Rae Carson’s Fire and Thorns trilogy, is published by Greenwillow, which is an imprint of HarperCollins. Oh yeah. And that’s exactly what she did. I know that there’s no such thing as a “new” story anymore, but this was too specific and too frequent to be accidental. I almost feel morally outraged. Didn’t you major in English too? You don’t steal other people’s ideas, and you don’t plagiarize. You just don’t.

  19. I had trouble labeling it too! It’s an adult book to me too, even though it is tame under that category. Those gory stories and horrible violence do not make it appropriate for kids, though. I hope that it jumps in a little more with some adult themes to spice it up a little.

    • Yeah, I don’t know that I’d qualify a soldier watching his wife be gang-raped to death by enemy soldiers as tame, or the rape and torture of prisoners by the harridan queen either, sacrifice of children to demons . . . Tame or not though—definitely not YA. And I agree, it’s needs something else. Right now it kind of reads like YA except for the random bits that are horrific.

  20. I really did enjoy this book but, yeah, there were a lot of similarities to other series (I didn’t realize how many until you started listing them. Willful blindness, I guess.). And it’s definitely not YA. Not sure why they wanted to market it that way (hot? hard to market as adult fantasy?) but it’s not YA.

    • I really enjoyed it too, and if it hadn’t been for the similarities, I would’ve given it a solid 4 stars. I think I actually started out giving it 3.5, and then when I was actually writing my review, it kept getting lower, and lower . . . And I can’t help but pick out that kind of thing. I’m ridiculously detail-oriented. I drive myself (and others) crazy with it. Sometimes I wish I could be willfully blind 😉

  21. NO! Not problems that can’t be ignored. That’s the worst.

    I’ll probably skip this one. Sounds like I’d be better off reading Carson’s trilogy. (Which, yeah, haven’t read. I KNOW.)

  22. With all the fabulous books out there, I can’t say that I will be reading this one. I know it’s hard to be original at times but it seems like perhaps the author didn’t really think of the story-line on their own and that’s disappointing. I mean I’m glad you were still able to enjoy it and that’s a plus! 😉 And without fail, you wrote another stunning review my friend! 😉

  23. I haven’t been reading fantasy as long as most, so sometimes the “sameness” isn’t a problem for me. But then, do I read this, or one that people rate higher that it happens to like? I dunno. 🙂 Will wait and see how the mood strikes me.

    • That’s all we can do, LOL. And not that I would even under the more usual circumstances of a low-rated book, but particularly in this case, I can’t say anything, b/c I’ll probably end up reading the next book despite my moral outrage. Something about cats and curiosity . . . 😉

  24. So far I’ve seen reviews for this book at both ends of the scale. I am curious as to how I’d like it but right now I have a pile of books waiting for me. . Thanks for posting all the comparisons.

  25. Michele

    First of all, thank you for the heads-up about the YA rating — it definitely sounds like this was labeled incorrectly. I don’t want my kiddo reading a book that contains that kind of language! I went back and forth trying to decide if I want to read this; and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I do, but I won’t be moving things around to get to it. Thank you for the great and informative review, Jessica!

  26. It does sound good, though I got tied about half way through that long-ass blurb. lol. But I hate reading a book that totally feels like other books I have read. I know originality is hard these days but we must try.

  27. What a shame 🙁 I love that cover, and is probably something I’d have picked out because of it. I also don’t like having deja vus when I’m reading a book.
    Thanks for the honest review.

  28. Oh now I saw a wonderful review about this one so I was really curious. Well because of the cover as well because I love it but now I’m not so sure. Even if you read it quite fast the similarities would have bothered me too… Mainly as I know the stories.

    • Yeah, if you’re familiar with those books/movies, I would be worried, b/c the similarities are BLATANT. I picked up on them while I was reading, but it wasn’t until I finished that they cumulatively hit me, and I was . . . so mad. So, so mad. *shrugs* Sorry, Melliane 🙁

  29. Ugh, how disappointing. Sadly though, this is not the first negative review I’ve read for this book. Harper YA has been striking out a lot lately, at least for me, I don’t know if you’ve noticed a trend.

  30. So part of me is very interested in reading this, especially since I haven’t read any of the books you saw similarities with (I know! Bad!) and I have only seen V for Vendetta once, so I probably wouldn’t have caught the similarities. It makes me think I probably would like it… except for the uncertain about when, where, etc. On the other hand, I do want to read The Wheel of Time and The Fire and Thorns Trilogy, and I wonder if this series might make me like those less…
    Berls recently posted…Life of a Blogger | Collections

    • In my experience, no matter how unfair it is, my first impression of something is always the one that sticks with me. If I read this before F&T or WoT, and LOVED it, when I got around to reading those other books, it wouldn’t matter in my head that I KNEW they preceded this one, I’d still feel loyalty to this book. But that could just be me.

  31. Yeah this is definitely not YA. You make the arguments so well that I can’t help but be curious. I do want to read the book so that me and the girls can do ‘Bad Movie Night’ which we’ve decided to call the night we get together and watch the books based on movies which hey most of them happen to be YA books/movies the bulk of which happen to look really bad.

    I have only read one of those books/series you’re saying this is similar with so I probably wouldn’t be bothered by it. But its not high on my priority list now.
    Tabitha (Not Yet Read) recently posted…Review: Tides by Betsy Cornwell

    • Bad Movie Night sounds AWESOME, Tabitha. And no, I don’t think you’d have near the trouble with it that I did. The WoT similarities are the most blatant, but not the most prolific, so I think you’d be fine.

    • That cover is pretty amazing, huh? I HATE it when I get sucked into a reading a book b/c cover love (I also really love fantasy too), only for the book to NOT live up to expectations. You’d think I’d learn, but so far . . . NOPE.

  32. Oh nooooooo! I can’t read your review yet because I’ve yet to write mine, but your rating makes me sad. I’m definitely in the minority on this one though, so…I suppose I’ll just have to come back and duke it out with you later. Sorry you were disappointed, though. pheh, I can’t believe our reactions were so far off.
    Wendy Darling recently posted…The Girl with All the Gifts: review

    • Unlike, most of the reviewers who gave this book a low rating, I actually liked it. It’s the blatant similarities to other books that put me off. I look forward to your review, so we can discuss too 😉

    • I understand completely. That’s exactly how I feel too, and yes, the similarities between this and F&T is rather obvious. That’s the part I’m most bothered by—there’s really no way it could be coincidence . . .

  33. Aww I’m so sorry you didn’t get to enjoy Tearling, Jessica. 🙁 I have an ARC copy but never got to read it yet because the ratings of this book in GR is incredibly low. I thought it would receive wonderful high remarks because most of my blogger friends wanted to borrow my copy. I’m so disappointed now…I am quite a fan for fantasy fiction. 🙁 Lovely review!
    Chyna recently posted…ARC Review: Hexed by Michele Krys

    • Thank you! And I have seen a few high ratings for this book, Wendy Darling over at The Midnight Garden really liked it, for one. And my issues were strictly a result of the similarities. I you haven’t read Girl of Fire and Thorns or The Wheel of Time, you could very well love it.

    • Thanks, dollface! And I was going to agree with you that it was weird, but then I thought about it and realized that that’s pretty much how I feel too, so YAY for effective communication, LOL.

  34. I’m not sure if someone said this already because I didn’t read all the comments, but for future reference the definitive way to tell whether a book is young adult or adult is by the PRICE. Any book with a list price around $24 to $26 is adult. YA books are almost always around the $17 mark. (Before Amazon or Barnes &Noble discounts them). I always check Amazon online when I want this question answered. And this book IS adult, based on the price.
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