The Girl King by Mimi Yu – Book Review
When Samantha Shannon and Kendare Blake both write fantastic reviews of a new YA Fantasy debut you know that it is going to be a good read! Three Dark Crowns is one of my favourite series as I love the dark intensity and complex sisterly relationships, which I was heavily reminded of when I read the synopsis for this book. I was already looking forward reading The Girl King when I was lucky enough to receive an ARC. I was not disappointed!
Title: The Girl King
Author: Mimi Yu
Published: 10th January 2019
Genre: YA Fantasy
“All hail the Girl King.
Sisters Lu and Min have always understood their places as princesses of the Empire. Lu knows she is destined to become the dynasty’s first female ruler, while Min is resigned to a life in her shadow. Then their father declares their male cousin Set the heir instead—a betrayal that sends the sisters down two very different paths.
Determined to reclaim her birthright, Lu goes on the run. She needs an ally—and an army—if she is to succeed. Her quest leads her to Nokhai, the last surviving wolf shapeshifter. Nok wants to keep his identity secret, but finds himself forced into an uneasy alliance with the girl whose family killed everyone he ever loved…
Alone in the volatile court, Min’s hidden power awakens—a forbidden, deadly magic that could secure Set’s reign…or allow Min to claim the throne herself. But there can only be one Emperor, and the sisters’ greatest enemy could turn out to be each other.”
The Girl King is a fantastic debut from a clearly very talented author. The opening of the book is very intriguing and not what I expected. We are initially introduced to characters that we don’t come across again until much later in the book but when you realise the significance of the opening, a lot of plot ideas fall into place.
The plot of the book is very tight and well paced. The author does very well to drive the narrative through without giving the reader superfluous information, which would be easy to do with the way the world is built. There are a lot of aspects to the world building that are highly commendable. In particular I enjoyed the basis of the magic system that Mimi Yu creates. All of the magic derives from a rich heritage, with plenty of history and a nod to the forbidden magic trope. There are numerous elements to the magic system including curses, shape-shifting and wielding raw power or elemental type magic.
One of the best features of the book is how well the author writes from multiple points of view. Throughout the novel the story swaps between the two sisters Lu and Min, giving different perspectives on their relationship as well as other key elements of the plot. I find it rare to enjoy multiple voices equally but that is definitely the case for me with The Girl King. The sisters Lu and Min are very different but I can understand why both of the characters feel and act as they do. Each sister is pushed along a distinct path by their parents, having to navigate expectation and court politics in different ways. Min may seem like the quiet, less temperamental sister whose aim in life is to please her mother but there is a lot bubbling underneath the surface. Lu believes she is fated to be the first ‘girl king’ and is out to prove her worth, even though those who love her know she is worthy of a kingdom and much more. I like the characters of both sisters, they don’t always make the right decisions and choose to do things that they know they shouldn’t do but self-interest takes over. It makes them not only realistic teenagers but also very human. Lu and Min contrast very well together and are extremely well written.
Another perspective the book is written from is Nokhai. Nok is the last surviving wolf shapeshifter, who has suffered greatly at the hands of the empire. He is loyal, thoughtful and has more background depth than the usual journey companion or love interest. I really like Nok. His character is straight forward and simple in the right way. There are a few supporting characters that we don’t learn a lot about such as Omair but I have a feeling that we will find out a lot more about them in book two. One of my favourite characters is Vrea who isn’t a big character but I like her sense of humour and presence.
There are a lot of themes explored in The Girl King including fate, destiny, ambition, betrayal, sacrifice, imperialism, the role of women and racism. Manipulation is a key theme in the novel, particularly as part of Min’s story. Some may find aspects of this triggering. There are a few other trigger warnings that should be mentioned such as the threat of rape, emotional abuse, genocide and substance addiction.
The Girl King is not action packed. A lot of the story focuses on a hero’s journey, which obviously has problems along the way. This isn’t a book full of shocking reveals and if that is what drives your enjoyment then this is probably not the book for you. There are a lot of familiar elements, which if you read a lot of YA fantasy is usually the case. I personally enjoyed The Girl King a lot more than the start of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy and think it is better written than the start of the Throne of Glass series too, although I know that is a big statement and there will be a lot of people who disagree with me! It is clearly not a stand alone novel and will, I believe, be a duology. I am really looking forward to reading the next book and learning about the world more as well as finding out what happens next.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Girl King. I am very pleased that I saved it as my first read of 2019 as it has kicked of my reading year beautifully. If you are a YA fantasy fan, enjoy own voices novels and have a love of strong female characters then you should pick up a copy of this book. I highly recommend it to fans of the Three Dark Crowns series, particularly fans of Queen Katharine.
*I was sent an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*