“I wasn’t made for you at all. I was made for me.”
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.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED JANUARY 9, 2019
TW: child abuse, family death, PTSD, animal death, gore, attempted sexual assault, addiction, violence
Listen. If you’re going to pit characters in competition for a throne, I am HERE FOR IT. Which of course meant that I had to request The Girl King from NetGalley, and man, imagine my surprise when they actually granted the request! (I never expect to get the ARCs I request, which makes getting them so much better.)
And imagine my surprise when it was even better than I was expecting, when I already had pretty high expectations.
Seriously, this book was a delight. For starters, I loved the setting and the history that propped it up. It gave the world a lived in feel and a sense of long-standing conflict, and it also meant that the descriptions were lush and lively. I loved the comfy but confined air of the palace, the sheer opulence of it. I loved how the city felt expansive and crowded and admittedly a little like Ba Sing Se with its divisions. I loved how the wilderness felt dangerous and overgrown and untamed. I loved how the mountains felt towering and majestic and downright enchanting.
The Girl King does not mess around with setting. Not one bit.
But as always, my greatest love is the characters. I’m predictable like that, and I’m especially predictable in deciding Lu is my favorite. She’s ambitious and fierce and uncompromising. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it lands her in trouble. Either way, she holds to her ideals, and for all her abrasive edges, she aims to do the right thing. She’s forced to confront her privilege as a princess, to confront her family’s history in the land’s bloody past. And she wants to make a change going forward, a change for the better. Lu is exactly the sharp, furious sort of female character I can’t help adoring.
And Nokhai, Nok for short, is her polar opposite. Wounded but wonderful, he’s had his life ripped out from under him by the actions of Lu’s family, and trauma has shaped so much of his life since. He’s also one of the Gifted, from a clan of people who can turn into wolves so long as they have the Gift. He is the last, though, and with no connection to the knowledge that should have led him to his Gift long ago. He’s defensive and cautious, and his loyalty is unquestionable once earned. I enjoyed his chapters in part because he fits the trope of reluctant hero so well; there’s something so compelling about a character who can make a great change, but fears what it will take to do so. It’s a human conflict, that’s for sure.
And I liked Min to start, Lu’s little sister. She’s young and shelter, never expected to be out of Lu’s shadow, and then she ends up in over her head. She was the one frustrating part of the book for me because I wanted to like her, and I certainly pitied her. She’d never been prepared for any degree of power, not in the way Lu was, and when things change so suddenly, placing her at the forefront of efforts to take control, she’s drowning in so much she doesn’t understand. It made her easy to manipulate, shaped her into something darker than a girl like Min ever should have been.
And at the same time, I’m a tiny bit irritated by how flat she felt. Everything else about the novel was wonderfully done, but Min sticks in mind as that half star taken away. She was reactive, not proactive, and when you set her up against Lu, it gets harder and harder to enjoy her POV, especially with Lu doing her utmost to do the right thing, even if she’s not exactly tactful about it or fully understanding all the time. I want to hope she’ll be more interesting, that she’ll have more agency in the next book, but I’m not sure if she will. It’s too early to say, but I want her to change, because in contrast with literally EVERYTHING ELSE, I just couldn’t bring myself to maintain any interest in Min as the story went on.
Min aside, The Girl King was riveting, with fascinating magic, immersive settings, and POVs that absolutely delighted me, along with a few twists that had me on the edge of my seat, waiting for the consequences. And that epilogue?
Oh boy. Now that was a phenomenal epilogue. Make sure you preorder The Girl King, because it comes out on January 9th, and you’re going to want to get your hands on this one!
Have you read The Girl King yet? Are you planning to? Tell me all about it!