Reviewed by Ian Lipke
This is one of the better fantasy novels that are being published at the moment. There is a storyline that creaks a bit, a series of strong characters that know how to keep a stiff upper lip, a group of minor characters who are tiresomely presented such that one wonders what possible reason they might have to be living, and landscapes that vary from real and comprehensible to the just plain silly.
But this is not to say that I wasted my time reading this fantasy novel. There was a lot of material that was handled with a deftness that many seasoned writers would love to possess. Yu’s handling of the Lady Macbeth figure that at first we regard as the mother of the royal children is a case in point. We fully expect that Prince Set will be a bit of a dick but his kindness towards Min when we first meet him made me begin to wonder if this guy knows that he’s supposed to be a villain. But he finds his feet and he’s one of the ‘bad guys’ as I had presupposed.
Princess Lu is the representative of girl-power in this book. She is accompanied by Nasan who, when we meet her for the first time, has a most uncomfortable house in the treetops. She is also a very strong character. When Lu and Nasan brawl openly the power of the sisterhood is displayed in physical, but also in mental, force. Princess Min has grown up with Lu as children, but Lu’s forceful character outgrew Min – she became a cipher until suddenly she is not. She is not a princess any longer, she is an empress – and folk better remember that.
I found Princess Mouse easier to believe in than the Empress Rat with a case of distemper that she shows later in the story. I could not accept the glib telling of the tale at these points. When she destroys a civilisation living happily in the sky, I felt the transition was just too great. Lined up against three super-powered types she dishes out punishment as though it was as exciting as putting the household refuse out.
And you who have read this far should note that this book will sell and sell…simply because the kids and the Young Adults it was written for will love it. It is the perfect means of keeping the world of the present day off their minds. Who cares whether climate-sceptics are wrecking the reefs? Who cares if our governments are fine economic managers or Dopey Dudleys? It doesn’t matter if an exciting read can take you away and feed you elks that carry soldiers in full body armour on their backs, and boys who can become wolves at the drop of a caul? Mimi Yu’s character who states that “Sometimes uncertainty is better than languishing in the familiar” (386), is not far removed in thought than Mimi Yu’s readership.
The Girl King is one for the Young Adult and teenage female population. The mature reader may want something more cerebral or … maybe not.
By Mimi Yu
Trade Paperback: $16.99; Paperback $19.99