I have had The Girl King for about 5 months now and I am kicking myself for not reading it sooner. Because it’s amazing. I am so ashamed of myself for not reading this glorious stunning beauty earlier.
Sisters Lu and Min have always known their places as the princesses of the Empire of the First Flame: the eldest, assertive Lu, will be named her father’s heir and become the dynasty’s first female ruler, while timid Min will lead a quiet life in Lu’s shadow. Then their father names their male cousin Set the heir instead, throwing both girls’ lives into chaos.
Determined to reclaim her birthright, Lu is forced to flee, leaving Min to face the volatile court alone. Lu crosses paths with Nokhai, the lone, unlikely survivor of the decimated Ashina, nomadic wolf shapeshifters. Nok never learned to shift–and he has no trust for the Empire that killed his family–but working with the princess might be the key to unlocking his true power.
As Lu and Nok form a tenuous alliance, Min’s own hidden power awakens–a forbidden, deadly magic that could secure Set’s reign . . . or allow her to claim the throne herself. But there can only be one Emperor, and the sisters’ greatest enemy could very well turn out to be each other.
(Disclaimer: I received this free book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
UPDATE: I just wanted to draw attention to a review by Vicky from Vicky Who Reads which pointed out some problematic elements that I completely missed when reading this book. It’s definitely worth checking out her review.
I can’t think of an element of The Girl King that I didn’t love. Everything from the characters, to the world building, to the story arc, it was all executed with such grace. With tenderness, elegance, and beauty. If you have an Asian American teen in your life, do them a favor and give them a copy of this book. Do it for the younger me who never got to read a book like this growing up.
World Building & Writing
At the very beginning you can feel the pulse of this book. It is genuine, expansive, and detailed. There’s a distinct sense that the world existed long before the first page, that this book is not the beginning of this world. And this is reflected in the care taken with the little details about the world: the dresses, the food, the layers of histories.
There are so many folds of the past and intrigue. It bewitches us, weaves us in a web that we don’t want to escape. Because of the detailed world building we appreciate the scope of the book more. The way Yu weaves us into a story of manipulation, secrets, and plots decades in the making.
We witness the way wars and casualties are framed by the victor. A big part of this book deals with the nature of history. The way it is framed by the rulers – even if the truth defies the history books. There are power drunk individuals, bent on conquering and subjugation. All while our heroes are playing with a fire that could consume the world as we know it.
In the course of Lu’s journey throughout the book, and as a character, she has to learn what it means to be a soldier, loyal, and a good person. She has this idealistic version of her kingdom. Of her soldiers. Where they are all honorable, loyal, but in reality she’s met with soldiers who are drunk on power, intolerant, and cruel. While this may be just one instance, it’s another pebble. A pebble on a growing landslide within Lu to have her question what she has been taught.
Through all these experiences, Lu has to figure out what it really means to govern, to rule. What sacrifices need to be made. How it feels to hold people’s lives in your hands. How they cease to be playing pieces, strategic moves, and instead become friends and allies.
I adored this three point of view novel. We are able to see not only many aspects of the situation from Nok’s cautiousness, to Lu’s reckless determination, to Min’s own journey to find her voice. While I would have guessed at the beginning that Lu would be my favorite, because I’m always drawn to girls with head strong wills, stubborn, and determined, Min ended up being my favorite. And Nok is a precious cinnamon bun of a human.
But Min and the way she has to find her voice, struggling in her own way, and powerful beyond words all won me over. And within Min, and all these other women in this book, Yu shows us various portrayals of strength, intelligence, and cunning.
We witness other women’s bids for power, quests for ambition, and sacrifices. There’s Min and her quiet strength which blossoms under the right touch. And Lu who is fierce, perhaps a little naive, and incredibly willing to prove herself.
Lu and Min have an interesting sister relationship considering they are separated for so much of this book. Min has to realize what is true and false about her life, what she’s been told, just like Lu but in a different way. From Min and Lu we are able to see what they think about their siblings.
And there’s Nok. His sadness, inability to see himself as a good person. He carries memories of shadows and is deeply hurting. I want to pick him up and carry him into the space between my heart.
The Girl King is stunning. Not only was I swept away by the characters, there were several moments where I would make a connection to a sentence or reference earlier in the book and gasp. There’s such an art form, a brilliance, and grace to Yu’s writing. And I cannot be more excited for the sequel. The Girl King is a book about forgiveness, sacrifice, of living life and losing love.