A gripping yet emotive tale of magic, war and the human nature, its civilisations and relationships. Enchanted cities, shapeshifters and magical lightning bolts are characteristic fantasy features. There are many more reasons, however, why Mimi Yu’s debut novel stands out among its fellows.
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The Girl King focuses a lot on comparing lofty aristocracy with its subjects and rivals. The hardship and cruelty experienced by the latter are prominent. Discrimination, subjugation, genocide, rape, all are represented in their harshest colours. In fact, the contrasting beauty of fantasy writing makes the book’s dark parts even more striking.
Two princesses struggle against bonds of stereotypical femininity. Sexism, familial expectations and glass ceilings appear regularly. One character uses grit and physical skill as her bulwark. The other unleashes her repressed rage against everyone in her path. Both women’s experiences strike an infuriating nerve in readers, familiar across reality and fantasy.
There’s a variety of natural themes in this book beyond the co-dependency of nature and humanity. A prominent one is the closer and more respectful relationship lower classes have with the earth and animals as opposed to aristocracy. Another intriguing feature is the idea of gods of nature gifting humans with the ability to turn into particular animals. The Girl King has some wonderful druidic themes.
A particularly interesting concept is the relationship between humans and “gods”. Messages of empowerment and self-assurance, for example, mingle with the idea that deities – perhaps religions in general – are vulnerable. They need people in order to even exist, let alone have power over anything. The book also portrays faith in higher powers as a persistent part of human society, but that it can be a fickle thing too. Be careful what you wish for, as they say…
The Girl King’s stunning and distinctive Asian features certainly helped draw me in. But it’s the story’s soul that lingered with me long after I finished it. A great example of modern fantasy literature with depth and unique imagination.
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