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Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the "The Queen of the Tearling" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

On her 19th birthday, Kelsea is forced to leave her hidden foster home with nine armed soldiers — the Queen’s Guards — men sworn to protect the heir of the Tearling throne. Kelsea is Tearling’s next queen. Although she has spent her life being tutored in government, history and self-defense, she feels desperately unprepared to wear the crown.

Kelsea has been raised in secret to avoid being killed by her Uncle Thomas — Tearling’s regent — or by the Red Queen — the ruler of Mortmesne, the land adjacent to Tearling. The Red Queen has subjected Tearling to her tyranny since invading it 19 years ago. The people fear her because she is thought to be a witch, able to cast spells and conjure demons.

Kelsea and her guards make their way to New London, the city where her castle and throne await her. Although not considered pretty, Kelsea begins to win her soldiers’ hearts through her perseverance and humor. One man called Lazarus, nicknamed the Mace, becomes her guardian when their band is attacked by a group of soldiers.

Kelsea and Mace become the prisoners of the Fetch, an infamous assassin and thief of Tearling. The Fetch takes the sapphire necklace Kelsea has hidden in her cloak, but he promises to give it back if she proves herself worthy of it. He tells her he cannot take the sapphire necklace she wears around her neck, but Kelsea does not understand why. He does, however, let Kelsea and Mace go free once they near New London. The two try to blend in with the crowds on the road, hoping to keep hidden from those who would kill her.

As Kelsea and Mace approach the castle, called The Keep, Kelsea witnesses the atrocity that has kept Tearling from warring with Mortmesne for 20 years. Hundreds of people are being herded into cages for transport to the Red Queen as tribute. As Kelsea sees children being wrenched from their mothers, her anger stirs within her. The sapphire on her neck begins to glow, and she discovers a power she never knew she had. She orders the guards to free the prisoners and wins the hearts of the people.

Thorne, however, the noble who has overseen the slave trade for years, is not impressed. He vows to work with the Regent to kill the new queen. Kelsea is knifed at her coronation, but not before a makeshift crown can be put on her head and she is declared Queen by Father Tyler, an old priest with a love of books over church politics. Ignoring the wound, her first order of business is to tell the Regent, her Uncle Thomas, to leave the castle within 30 days or face death. She also frees the beautiful woman he has kept tied to him as his sexual slave. Mace and other Queens’ Guards carry Kelsea to her private quarters where she falls unconscious because of the wound.

When Kelsea wakes, she begins the task of reorganizing her kingdom and preparing for the war that will inevitably come when the Red Queen’s shipment of slaves does not arrive. Father Tyler is sent by his superiors to act as the new queen’s spiritual teacher but also to spy on her for the church. Kelsea accepts him into the court but only if he does not try to convert her from her agnostic beliefs. The two find mutual respect for each other in their love of books.

Meanwhile, Thorne bribes a gate guard named Javal to let an assassin into the Keep to kill the queen. The killer sneaks through hidden passages into Kelsea’s private quarters, while she is taking a bath. He insists she remove her necklace, but she refuses. When he attempts to tear it from her neck, the sapphire pulses energy and kills him. Although Mace tells the truth about the assassin’s death, rumors spread that he actually killed the man.

Kelsea dreams of a young mother and her children being taken prisoner and locked in the same wagon cages she had ordered destroyed. Mace tries to convince her it was only a nightmare, but Kelsea knows it was a vision. She collects a small army to stop the treasonous slave trade. They come upon Thorne and his guards along the border between Tearling and Mortmesne. Thorne has had cages secretly built and has raided small villages so he can supply the Red Queen with her tribute.

Kelsea and her army follow them and devise a plan to stop them. They are joined, unexpectedly, by the Fetch and his men. The Fetch is impressed by Kelsea’s determination to stop the slave trade, even if it means war and her own death. He returns the jewel he stole from her. Kelsea places it around her neck before she and her men invade Thorne’s camp.

Thorne sets one of the wagons on fire so his soldiers can see to fight. Javal, the gate guard who had once betrayed Kelsea, now turns his back on Thorne. He valiantly tries to free the women from the wagon before they are burned alive. As the soldiers battle, Kelsea is desperate to save the women from a horrible death. Suddenly filled with energy from the two jewels she wears around her neck, she calls forth a torrent of rain. As the water drenches the fire and fills the ravine, she passes out from exhaustion.

When Kelsea awakens almost two days later, she must immediately make decisions regarding her kingdom. She condemns one of her guards to death for betraying her, but allows Javal to live because of his compassion for the women engulfed in fire. As the book closes, she and Mace discuss what plans they can make against the coming Mortmesne invasion.

Christian Beliefs

Although the novel takes place in the future, the society it depicts is more of a feudalistic one. Christianity, or a form of it, appears to be the dominant religion and holds political power over the government. The church is based on a Catholic structure of priests, bishops, cardinals and a Holy Father. Kelsea is told by her foster parents to not trust God’s church or the priests.

At her coronation, Father Tyler asks if Kelsea will rule the kingdom under the laws of God’s church. She says only that she will act under the law. The Fetch says that God plays hazard with them, placing so much hope on a young girl. Father Tyler is a priest who believes he is doing God’s work. His faith is grounded in knowledge of the Bible but he has little practice in the world, preferring his library to people. He seems to be led to do what he thinks God wants him to do, rather than what his superiors in the church desire. A priest prays for forgiveness for helping Thorne send slaves to Mortmesne.

Other Belief Systems

The world of Tearling is one of deep faith as well as superstition and magic. Legend says that the sapphire Kelsea wears will protect her from death. This is later proved to be true. The Red Queen is believed to be a witch, one that has used black magic to live for over 100 years and still appear youthful. She is seen conjuring a demon by giving it the blood of a young boy. The demon drinks the child’s blood as the queen listens to his screams. The queen asks the demon repeatedly about whether she should invade the Tear; she is warned by it not to do so. The demon says he knows well the price of betrayal, and she will suffer worse if she tries to kill the Tear heir. Kelsea’s sapphires give her supernatural powers to kill people and to affect the atmosphere.

Kelsea only accepts Father Tyler into her court after he promises not to try and convert her from her agnostic beliefs. Although Kelsea has read the Bible, she does not believe it to be the inspired word of God, merely an interesting collection of stories. Her foster mother warns her to study it to know how her enemies think.

Authority Roles

Kelsea grew up with foster parents, who gave up their own lives to teach her and keep her safe. Carlin, her foster mother, was a strict woman, focused on educating Kelsea and not much more. Barty, her foster father, gave her the affection she craved as well as physical combat training. The church and government authorities are seen as corrupt.


God’s name is taken in vain and is used with the words thank, great, help us, *bless and knew. Christ is also used in vain and with thank. The f-word is used in several tenses and with the preface mother. A--, h---, b--ch, b--tard, c--t and d--n are used. S--- is used alone and with bull. Other objectionable words are cocks, balls, p--- and t-ts.

Stories are told about the Mortmesne invasion. One’s man wife died while being raped for the 10th time. A Mort general strapped a dead baby onto his shield. The Red Queen orders the tongue, uvula and vocal chords cut from a slave to stop him from snoring. The stick of an Overseer of workers is stained with blood. Many attempts are made on Kelsea’s life. A hawk attempts to kill her but only manages to cut her neck, leaving behind a deep wound. Mace kills the bird with his mace.

Kelsea is stabbed with a knife and receives a critical wound. She and her guards are attacked several times with various clubs and swords. Kelsea’s necklace gives off energy that kills an assassin. Kelsea slices a traitor’s throat. The Red Queen took power by killing anyone who got in her way, including their wives and children, even babies. Javal remembers a friend who beat his wife, and then cut her chest with a razor while he was in a drunken stupor. He thinks about attacking Thorne and cutting off his hand.

The final quarter of the book is filled with violence as Thorne kidnaps women and children to give to the Red Queen as slaves. His soldiers and Kelsea’s battle in a ravine. Men are stabbed through with swords, sliced with knives and shot with arrows. The violence is described in detail. A wagon filled with women is set on fire. Several women are burned alive. The Red Queen cuts a boy’s forearm, then leaves him on her bed for a demon to drain his blood. The demon burns her hip for being disrespectful.


Throughout the story, much is made of the fact that Kelsea is heavier than most women and not considered beautiful. When she wakes up from a wound to discover The Fetch has bathed her while she was unconscious, he assures her not to worry, she is not the kind of woman that attracts him. An assassin comes for her while she bathes, and again, it is intimated that her nakedness does nothing to distract him from his task because she is not what this society deems beautiful.

A street of prostitutes is described in detail. Tear passed anti-sodomy laws. The Red Queen uses slaves for sex, and when she bores of them, she gives them to other nobles as gifts. She ponders the desires of some of her nobles to have sex with children.

The Regent of Tear has a collection of women that he keeps for his sexual pleasure. Marguerite, a red head, is his prized possession, and he keeps her tied to him so she cannot escape. He imagines that Kelsea took Marguerite to satisfy her own sexual pleasure. One of his slaves tells about having been woken up in the middle of the night to perform oral sex on another of the Regent’s female slaves just to satisfy his lust.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Throughout the novel characters drink beer and wine, some to the point of drunkenness.

Drugs: One of Kelsea’s guards becomes addicted to an opiate after seeing his family tortured and killed by the Mort army. Kelsea believes herself to be merciful when she gives him a strong dose of the drug and then slices his throat for treason.

Prostitution/Sexual slavery: A street of prostitutes is described. The Red Queen and the Regent keep slaves for the purpose of satisfying themselves sexually. It is suggested that many Tear children are used as sexual slaves in Mortmesne.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 and up


Erika Johansen






Record Label



HarperCollins Publishing


On Video

Year Published



Indie Next Pick, July 2014; LibraryReads List, July 2014


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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