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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!

The Girl King by Mimi Yu, Young Adult Fantasy, Book Cover

Title: The Girl King

Author: Mimi Yu

Published: 10th January 2019

Publisher: Gollancz

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.

4 Stars

*I was sent an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

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  • 13th January 2019 at 8:49 pm

    I loved The Girl King- especially how it blended action with character and plot development. And I think Lu has to be one of my favourite heroines I’ve read in YA so far!!

    • 14th January 2019 at 12:19 am

      Yes, exactly! It weaves everything together so nicely. Lu is awesome. I really think the whole cast of characters are very strong. Thank you for commenting x

  • 14th January 2019 at 8:36 am

    OMG Adele, I absolutely loved your review! <3 This seems like a good read!! How is the pacing though? I find it really difficult to get into YA Fantasy books these days esp. if the story drags 🙁

  • 14th January 2019 at 7:56 pm

    Thank you so much! I personally thought the pacing was fine and read it really easily. Much easier than when I read Three Dark Crowns, although I love that story. The book is character driven rather than it being action packed and you can tell that it is the first book in a duology or series rather than a standalone. It makes it tough to call if it would be the right book for you. What YA Fantasy books do you like?

  • 15th January 2019 at 1:57 pm

    Great review. Not a book I’d normally be drawn to but I’m really interested now.

  • 2nd February 2019 at 9:50 am

    I liked the book but I REALLY struggled for the first 100 or so pages.
    I found the concept of time passing and the magic in the book to need some more detail, there’s lots of pretty description but not really giving information.
    I’d read the next but don’t think I’d reread this and I would be careful who I recommended this to due to the hard slog at the beginning

    • 2nd February 2019 at 10:07 am

      It has a very unusual beginning, which doesn’t make any sense until much later in the book. I know a few people who found that off-putting and I can understand why. I hope that book two will look deeper into the magic system as there are a lot of really interesting aspects to explore! It is one of those books that I have no problem recommending to a YA Fantasy fan but would be more cautious for people who are outside of that group. Thank you for commenting 🙂


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