The Girl King
by Mimi Yu
Published January 2019
This is one of those books that I realized, far too late, wasn’t a standalone novel. Far too few pages left for everything that still needs to be wrapped up, and yep. Only the first book. I’m not sure why I hadn’t realized it wasn’t a standalone. The second book, Empress of Flames, isn’t due out until early 2020, which is far too long to wait! I need to know what happens to these characters!
The Girl King is mainly the story of Lu, eldest daughter of the Emperor of the First Flame. She is expecting to be named heir, and when she isn’t and her cousin (and bully) Set is named instead, she decides not to placidly accept the injustice. She runs away from court, intending to find allies to help her retake the throne. Lu is single-minded and selfish. She doesn’t really pay attention to how her actions affect other people – she doesn’t think twice about leaving her younger, more timid sister to face the court, their mother, and Set on her own. I know that we’re supposed to be cheering for Lu in this book, but in D&D terms, she’s a paladin. She might be right. She’s not very likable. I had far more sympathy for Min, her sister.
Actually, thinking back on it, almost none of these characters did much thinking about how their actions affect other people. The leader of the refugee Gifted did, she had her people to think about. And the triad of rulers of the mythical city were looking out for their people. But Lu really only thinks of herself. Set definitely only thinks about himself. Min is set up to be more sympathetic but is stuck inside her own head. Nok is too consumed with his own private pity party to think much about other people. I love Nok, don’t get me wrong, he was probably my favorite character, but he doesn’t think much about other people other than his mentor.
I feel like it’s reasonable to have one or two self-obsessed characters, but when it’s everyone, I think that might be a writing issue. The story was still great, and I will definitely be reading the second book, but I’m hoping for some character growth and learning about empathy as the story progresses.
From the cover of The Girl King:
IN AN EMPIRE OF FLAMES, THEY MUST RISE FROM THE ASHES.
Sisters Lu and Min have always known their places as princesses of the Empire of the First Flame: 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. Until their father names a new heir – their male cousin, Set.
Determined to reclaim her birthright, Lu goes in search of allies, leaving Min to face the volatile court alone. Lu soon crosses paths with Nokhai, the lone, unlikely survivor of a clan of nomadic wolf shapeshifters. Nok never learned to shift – or to trust the empire that killed his family – but working with Lu might be the only way to unlock his true power.
As Lu and Nok form a tenuous alliance, Min’s own power awakens, a forbidden magic that could secure Set’s reign . . . or allow her to claim the throne herself. But there can be only one emperor, and each sister’s greatest enemy could very well be the other.
This sweeping fantasy set against a world of ancient magic and political intrigue weaves an unforgettable story of ambition, betrayal, and sacrifice.