The Girl King, Mimi Yu

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She was what thousands of years of warriors had wrought. She had the blood of the tiger in her veins

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.

* * * *
4 / 5

The Girl King has a lot going for it: an epic title, two sisters hell-bent on a crown, a shapeshifting boy who is the last of his kind, and a background of awesome mythology. If only it could have ditched the romance…

In her face he saw both the mischievous little child she had been and the cagey, sardonic girl she had become, and the years lost between them

Lu and Min are sisters, daughters of the emperor. Lu is poised to become the first female ruler – nicknamed the Girl King for her ruthless ambition and dedication to the role – when her father names her cousin, Set, the heir instead. Worse, he promises her hand in marriage to Set. Her father’s betrayal sends Lu on a journey across the empire; Min is left behind, seeking power the only way she has been taught – through marriage. It just might turn out that she’s powerful in a different kind of way…

I loved the darkness of The Girl King, the richness of the mythology, and the epic-ness of the journey. I loved the kingdom of Yunis and their triumvirate of magical rulers. I liked the idea of the Gifted Kith, tribes of people who can transform into animals, persecuted and broken by the empire. I do wish Yu had been a bit less cliché. One of the Kith is a boy called Nokhai, who Lu teams up with. Predictably, Nok is hot, Lu slowly grows to fancy him, and Nok can change into a wolf. Where are my deer boys? Or like a lizard or something? It’s always a wolf! The romance itself was also dull – personally I think Yu should have either cut it out, or paired Lu up with Nok’s sister.

“I wasn’t made to torment you,” she snarled. “I wasn’t made for you at all. I was made for me”

A warning: I found The Girl King in the adult section of my local bookstore, and whilst the plot is firmly YA (girl seeks her crown, meets a boy, etc.) there are firmly adult aspects: concentration camps and attempted rape spring to mind.

The Girl King has a lot of focus on sibling relationships, which I adored. First we have Lu and Min: Min has the attention of their mother, whilst Lu is rejected. But that attention isn’t always positive for Min; their mother is harsh, focused on beauty and marriage and duty, unkind to her servants. On the flip side, Lu is the powerful sister, the one trained for battle, beautiful and elegant and dangerous, a girl who no man may touch, tipped for the crown. When Lu falls from grace, Min rises and finds joy in power. The other sibling pair is a bit of secret, but their relationship is the inverse of Lu and Min: these two have been apart and are now back together, trying to fit the people they were with the people they now are.

The Girl King suffered a bit from being a touch cliché, but more than made up for it with two powerful main characters, interesting mythology, and an epic quest.

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