The Girl King by Mimi Yu – Book Review #Gifted
Thank you to Gollancz for sending me an ARC of The Girl King to review! Both Samantha Shannon and Kendare Blake have written fantastic reviews of this new YA Fantasy debut! Three Dark Crowns is one of my favourite series. I love the dark intensity and complex sisterly relationships. As soon as I read the synopsis for The Girl King it immediately reminded me of Blake’s series. Does it live up to my expectations? Let’s find out!
The Girl King – My Review
The Girl King is a great debut from a 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. That may seem odd but when you realise the significance of the opening, everything falls into place.
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. This gives different perspectives on their relationship as well as other key elements of the plot.
Characters & Narrative
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 much about, such as Omair. That said, 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.
The plot of the book is very tight and well paced. There are a lot of aspects to the world building that are highly commendable. In particular I like the basis of the magic system that Mimi Yu creates. The magic in the novel derives from a rich heritage. There is 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.
There are a lot of themes explored in The Girl King. The include 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 as it is a character-driven novel. 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, so 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. It is clearly not a stand alone novel and will, I believe, be a duology. I’m really looking forward to reading the next book and learning about the world more as well as finding out what happens next.
I really enjoyed The Girl King and am very pleased that I saved it as my first read of 2019. 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.
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