Published by Bloomsbury YA, Hachette Australia on January 8, 2019
Genres: Action & Adventure, Diversity, Own Voices, Young Adult
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Two sisters become unwitting rivals in a war to claim the title of Emperor in this sweeping tale of ambition, sacrifice and betrayal for readers of Sabaa Tahir and Alwyn Hamilton.
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.
What a stunning fantasy debut!
Seriously fantasy readers, you better have this book on your radar. The Girl King reveals a stimulating plot full of betrayal and sacrifices as characters fight their way to the top. Among the ensemble of casts is Lu, Min, and Nokhai. All three of them have very distinct POV’s that readers get to follow, so I’ll give a section for each. Their stories are rooted in treachery, lies, hope, devotion, and deception. It’s an intense fantasy story and I have no doubt that Yu has many grandiose things planned for our characters. It starts with magic. And a kingdom.
Lu has known all her life that she would become the next ruler of the kingdom. She is called “The Girl King.” She is arrogant and impatient, loud and ferocious. She is the apple of her father’s eye. But from the very first chapter of the book, she is handed over to Set, her loathesome cousin, as a bride so that he may become the inheritor of the throne. And Lu is NOT having it. Her impetuous nature demands justice, and so she calls him out to battle like the old times. But Set does not battle fair. Before Lu knows it, she’s a fugitive and on the run. Blah and his forces have control of the kingdom, and she must find an army to go up against him. But where is that army?
Beauty as a weapon – one that required honing and care, like a sword. But also like a sword it could cut both ways.
Min is an interesting character that I personally could not empathize with, but I appreciated. I know many readers will find her intriguing as well! She’s the younger sister of Lu, and the total opposite of her. She is meek and unassuming, demure and naive. Min is the loved one in their mother’s eyes, even though she’s always shielded from the outside world. I’m very invested in her character arc, as she discovers she has inherited hidden powers that could change the tides of the kingdom. She also has a strained relationship with her glowing sister who steals all the spotlight, which is reasonable and justified. Once she marries blah, all bets are off with Lu reclaiming the throne. Or are they? Min finds herself growing into her secret, magical powers, and although she still has a naive outlook on the world, she’s ready to take it on after years of spending in the shadows.
Min was their mother’s project, while Lu was their father’s. No one ever said as much, but it had been the unspoken rule of their family.
Nok is the man of my hearts. He is caring and empathetic, a bit lost, yet waiting to be found. He is also one of the last shifters in the world. After his clan got demolished by the currently reignin kingdom, he lives in hiding as an apothecary’s apprentice. But this apothecary might have secrets of his own. Before he knows it, Nok is on the journey with Lu to find a hidden place that could make or break her place as a ruler. Nok himself has to go through a journey as he discovers hidden shapeshifter talents that he does not know how to deal with. He once had a family to help him with these growths – but now he only has himself. Nok is probably the character that captured my heart the most. He’s had a horrible past, but one can say despite it, he still grows up to be a very caring and nurturing soul. He doesn’t like seeing deaths and is hesitant to seek out his own destiny. I can’t wait to see where he goes from this book, and how he deals with his burgeoning powers and sense of responsibility.
The Girl King promises heartstopping action in the midst of destinies woven across the characters’ timelines. Whether readers are attracted to Lu’s tough demeanor, Min’s soulful naivety, or Sokh’s caring attitude, all the characters bring a wealth of personality and voice to the page. I really enjoyed reading their exceptionally flawed point of views, and can’t wait to the continuation of this story. Yu masterfully writes a beautiful culture and background amongst unique characters that are ready to change the world they live in. The only question is – is the world ready for them?
Trigger/Content Warnings: menstruation, emotional and physical abuse, intense violence, addiction, trauma
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thank you Bloomsbury and Hachette Australia for the review copy!