The Girl King was an interesting read, with a storyline that keeps you on your toes, and a wide variety of characters to interest you. Told through three main perspectives in the third person – Lu, Min and Nokahi – it is a politically-minded story that has themes of imperialism, colonialism and xenophobia.
With such a volatile political situation, the ascension of the next Emperor results in Lu being framed for her father’s death, and ridiculed as the eponymous Girl King. The people in the kingdom are a mix of Hu and Hana, but while their loyalties are more towards the Hu monarchy, they definitely are much more comfortable with a man in charge; Lu rails against this misogyny as she thinks she is better than her cousin Set, who marries Min instead (manipulating a 15 year old is super easy for the golden warrior). As a fugitive, she goes on with Nokhai to gain support from Yunis, another city-state that was conquered by her own ancestors. While on the way, she has to face the truth about her line, how they have destroyed other cultures or subjugated them, how they mistreat people just because they have magic, and contend with her family’s bloody history.
While Lu is a good character to look through, primarily because she is, well, badass, and also because she grows so much in the book, understands her privilege and the honor she falsely attributed to her family line, Min is pretty much the opposite. The latter is set up to be the antagonist, or at least to be used by the antagonists which makes her blatant oversight over the terrible things her husband and his advisor do even more frustrating. Granted, she was bullied by her mother and Set showing her any interest was enough to give her loyalty to him, but she keeps supporting him even when he shows he has no qualms about endangering her, or even after ‘witnessing’ what he and her mother did; heck, she keeps going on and on about giving him babies to be heirs *eyeroll* Even when she gains her own power, she only wants to use it for Set’s sake, with no ambition of her own. Nokhai, meanwhile feels terribly underutilized only as a love interest and I hope with that ending, he has a larger role to play in the plot of the next book.
The magic system of this book could have done with more development. As for the sisterly rivalry, that seems to be an exaggeration in the blurb – Min and Lu barely have any interaction, and Min is never really at odds with Lu; her resentment towards the golden child seems justified, but she also looks up to Lu, so it seems odd that she sides with Set over her (yes I know he is her husband but still…). Otherwise, on a plot and pacing level, as well as diving into the themes it wanted to discuss, this book was pretty good. I just feel it needed to do better in the amount of detail that went into the world-building and motivations for the characters.