The Queen of the Tearling — the first installment in a trilogy of novels by Erika Johansen that has already been optioned for a Warner Bros. franchise to star Emma Watson, reuniting her with Harry Potter producer David Heyman — has been called “the female Game of Thrones” and “the lady Game of Thrones.” This is funny, of course, because the female version of Game of Thrones is … Game of Thrones, which has its own dominating female characters, like Daenerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, Arya Stark, Asha/Yara Greyjoy, Melisandre, and on and on. So while the phrasing in the hype surrounding The Queen of the Tearling (which HarperCollins published in July) is a bit off, some undeniable parallels can be found between the Johansen novel and the George R.R. Martin book series that spawned HBO’s Thrones, and you’ll find references to other fantasy titles as well. Here are a few similarities we found when we finally got around to reading it:
An heiress to the throne who grows up in exile.
Shades of our favorite Khaleesi can be found in Kelsea, who was carried off as a baby and hidden from enemies of the crown who wanted her dead. We meet her in her 19th year, which is when she’s supposed to inherit the throne to the kingdom of the Tearling, which has been ruled by her uncle Thomas, the Regent, ever since her mother, Queen Elyssa, died. But although she’s a princess, Kelsea wasn’t raised in the ways of the court — her education has been sorely lacking in certain areas, including just what kind of a ruler Queen Elyssa was. (Short answer: not a good one.) Kelsea is well read, speaks multiple languages, and knows a lot about history, but she’s at first unaware of the exact relationship her kingdom has with its onetime invader, Mortmesne, and the treaty struck between the two countries (kind of like how Dany has a lot to learn about the Targaryens and the roots of Robert’s Rebellion).
An unloving foster parent and the question of parentage.
Kelsea was adopted and raised by two loyal subjects who split up the parenting duties to give the girl different skills. But Carlin decided from the start not to give Kelsea love — she acts more like Catelyn Stark does to Jon Snow at times, but for a better reason. “Children need love, but they also need stiffening,” Carlin told her husband, Barty. “Give her whatever she wants, and she’ll turn into her mother. She has to hate one of us, at least a little, so she can walk out the door and not look back.” Kelsea doesn’t turn into her mother — she has more of Arya’s tomboy spirit, climbing trees for fun, as well as a bit of a temper. She’s also handy with a knife and takes sword-fighting lessons from her masters of arms, since she’s already had a few attempts on her life. Especially when she wears armor à la Brienne, she’s not the great beauty her mother was, but Kelsea’s got other priorities than looking lovely in a dress. When she earns the love and respect of her Queen’s Guard and her people, it’s because of her words and deeds. Still, while it’s known that Kelsea is Queen Elyssa’s daughter — she has to prove it more than once — it’s not known who her father is, which puts her in Jon Snow’s shoes yet again.
Human “tributes” as part of a peace treaty.
The Mort Treaty, struck by Queen Elyssa in a time of crisis, is Hunger Games–esque. The conquered country sends a shipment of 250 people once a month to its invaders — the Tearling had nothing left to offer but its own citizens. The people are chosen by lottery, and a great portion of the shipment includes children because they are of more value (to the pedophile market, among other things). Once shipped to Mortmesne, the “tributes” are used for slave labor, sacrifices, and worse. When Kelsea encounters people saying good-bye to their family members who are being put into cages on the lawn of her Keep, she goes into full Mother of Dragons mode and becomes the Breaker of Shackles. Using a little bit of magic that she doesn’t fully understand (à la Dany’s blood-magic ritual to birth her “babies”), Kelsea becomes not just a leader, but a crusader and a messiah figure, larger than life. She’s even able to make it rain. Mhysa!
Glowing jewels and blood magic.
Part of Kelsea’s proof that she is the heir apparent is that she is in possession of a blue sapphire necklace, which at first just seems like a nice family heirloom. That is, until it starts burning and glowing and creating a glamourlike effect around her, making her seem somehow more queenly. This kind of magic is Melisandre’s domain in Game of Thrones, although she prefers her glowing jewelry to be red. The red priestess’s closest counterpart in The Queen of the Tearling would be the Red Queen, who has also lived longer than the usual human life and uses the blood of innocents for dark forces. But there are shades of Snow White and the Huntsman as well in terms of the threat to the Red Queen’s supposed immortality, her relationship to a demonic figure who can see all, and who is really behind the assassination attempts on Kelsea.
The power of books.
Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley used to spend hours scouring the Hogwarts library for clues for their various dilemmas — some of which involved magical books (Tom Riddle’s diary, actually a horcrux and the Half-Blood Prince’s leftover textbook). Despite it seeming like Kelsea’s world belongs in medieval times, she’s actually well versed in modern literature and has both The Lord of the Rings and “the seven volumes of Rowling” in her own private library. Books, she tells her guard, can help solve problems … except for the problem of how no one else seems to have stocked libraries. This leads to one of Kelsea’s other crusades: to restore literacy in the kingdom. No wonder Hermione is drawn to this project!