Grac's Never-ending TBR Pile of Doom

Grac's Never-ending TBR Pile of Doom

Mostly science fiction and fantasy, though the odd non-fiction book will crop up now and then...

Review
4 Stars
The Seventh Bride - T. Kingfisher
The Seventh Bride - T. Kingfisher

I picked this book up for free, after reading and enjoying other things by the author under various pen names, and especially after reading Swordheart (which I haven't review yet because I am a bad person). 

 

This is basically a retelling of the Bluebeard myth, in this case featuring a teenage girl called Rhea who is a miller's daughter. One day she gets a proposal of marriage from a noble, a friend of the lord who owns the mill her father works, and doesn't feel that she can say no, even when she discovers that said noble (Crevan) is a sorcerer. On arriving at his house, a mysterious place nobody seems to realise is there, Rhea discovers that she is not Crevan's first wife and also that a number of those previous wives are still alive, either wholly or mostly.

 

Together with the other wives, as well as the help of a hedgehog who turns out to be her familiar, Rhea plots to deal with Crevan and free herself and the other wives, all of whom have had something stolen from them to help Crevan gain fame and influence. He plans, for example, to use Rhea's youth in order to gain immortality and she's determined that his days of taking are numbered. 

 

I very much like this author's turn of phrase and didn't quite see where the storyline was going even though I knew the fairytale on which it's based. The story is well-paced and entertaining, though I'm not quite sure that hedgehogs are capable (or even interested in) all of the things to which this particular one turns its paw!

Review
4 Stars
The City in the Middle of the Night - Charlie Jane Anders
The City in the Middle of the Night - Charlie Jane Anders

A bit of a delayed review, as I finished this before the weekend - picked this one up courtesy of my local library, which have started getting better at ordering the kind of books I really want to read (and long may it continue!). I was also a bit ambivalent about The City in the Middle of the Night, as I'd read this author's previous book and had issues with some of it, but my concerns proved unfounded this time around. 

 

This is a much more traditional (in some ways, at least) SF book, based on a colonised planet called January. This planet has never-ending days and nights, so the human colonists have adapted their lives to try and deal with that, Outside, in the darkness, there are also the original inhabitants of January, who get hunted at times for sport and for food. The initial chapters do a lot of setting up of the world in which our main characters live, with all four being women - two university students (one poor and one a spoiled rich kid) and two traders (one the last of her people, who practised a bizarre religion and were killed before she was technically an adult, and her sarcastic friend). 

 

When Sophie takes the blame for a petty crime her roommate Bianca committed, she is sentenced to death by exposure but survives after coming into contact with the alien inhabitants everyone calls Crocodiles. Bianca is radicalised by the supposed death of her friend but her desire to right societal wrongs is ultimately betrayed by her selfishness and lack of understanding of anyone else. She sees Sophie's link to the Crocodiles, for example, as something to be exploited. In her pursuit of 'justice' for the people of her city, Bianca crosses paths with the others, mainly with Mouth who has lost her job as a smuggler on returning to the city, while Mouth discovers that her people were not only the religious community she believed them to be but had actually put all of the inhabitants of January at risk. 

 

In the end, The City in the Middle of the Night is a beautifully-written book but looking back on it, didn't quite work for me as much as it seemed when I was reading it. Maybe it's because all four protagonists are flawed, some more than others, and some of what happens to them is the result of their own missteps. Sophie is the one who changes the most, both in terms of her ideas and physically, while her idol Bianca is just annoyingly shallow and self-absorbed. I fully expect to see this book on the shortlist for a number of awards next year but am still a long way from accepting the putative comparisons between this author and LeGuin. 

Review
5 Stars
The Calculating Stars - Mary Robinette Kowal
The Calculating Stars - Mary Robinette Kowal

This is another book on the shortlist for Best Novel at the Hugo Awards and then my local library picked up a copy of both this and the sequel (The Fated Sky), which discovery delighted me greatly. While I appreciate reading ebooks for sheer portability, and of course ARC tend to come in this format now, I much prefer proper books if I can get them!

 

A couple of years ago, a shorter piece of fiction featuring the same protagonist picked up the Hugo for Best Novelette, so I was delighted to see these books make an appearance. They're only science fiction in that they posit a world where a massive meteor strike off the eastern coast of the US in the early 1950's has pre-empted climate change to the point where the planet is likely to become uninhabitable in the lifetime of the people driving this story. As a result, plans to go into space and then to other planets are pushed forward dramatically as a worldwide endeavour but with all the period issues around discrimination still looming large. 

 

Our main character, Elma York, is a computer - a woman (as most of these workers wore, before mechanical computers took over their jobs) whose job it is to calculate the information needed for space flight. She's also a pilot, one of a number who had ferried aircraft around during the recent war, and sees absolutely no reason why she and women like her shouldn't be considered as potential astronauts. Surely this is even more sensible, given that impending disaster on Earth will require colonisation rather than just exploration?

 

In this book, we see the immediate aftermath of the meteor strike and the tentative formation of worldwide efforts, as well as the results of Elma and her peers pushing to be included in the plans that are made. Alongside the discrimination she faces, Elma also suffers from anxiety and a fear that even taking medication to manage this will be seen as a sign of weakness. She, and the other women like her, are there for window dressing according to some and aren't taken seriously by everyone. There's a particularly galling scene where they're put through an underwater escape simulation but are first dressed in bikinis for the benefit of the press, before discovering that they aren't even going to be allowed to do the simulation in its entirety. 

 

All in all, this is an excellent book and the amount of research involves shines through without becoming overwhelming. Alongside the solid world-building, there's also strong characterisation and a real sense of uncertainty about how this will all resolve - a few twists and turns along the way! I'm now looking forward to picking up The Fated Sky at some point soon, for the next instalment in Elma's story. 

Review
4 Stars
Spellbound - Allie Therin
Spellbound - Allie Therin

This is one of those books I picked up off Netgalley because it sounded like it might be my cup of tea and, for the most part, it pretty much worked for me. It's historical urban fantasy, for lack of a better descriptor, set in the Prohibition era in the US but with added magic - a number of the characters we meet during the book have various powers and this is not generally known. 

 

Their way of life is under threat from the import of artefacts which can be used to devastating effect by people who have these magical powers, though usually at a high cost. One of our protagonists (Rory) has such a power, in his case the ability to see the history of an object, which he uses to determine whether or not antiques are fakes and he helps his aunt run a profitable business in Hell's Kitchen. Early on, Rory crosses paths with our other protagonist (Arthur), who has no magic of his own but who hangs around with a hell of a lot of people who do - he and his friends also have a troubled history with magic and its misuse, which led to the death of people they cared about.

 

There's a lot to like about Spellbound, the adventure plot of which mostly hangs together well and the setting of which also promises some future issues around period-typical discrimination even if those are only alluded to in this particular book. There's enough period detail to make the setting work without falling into infodump territory or the perils of an author wanting to demonstrate that they have Done The Research. 

 

In terms of the romance storyline, this book was on the knife-edge for me between 'these characters are delightful' and 'these characters are annoying me now' and I'm not completely sure which side they landed in the end. For a novel-length story, there's a temptation for miscommunication to get over-used and I think this was a little too heavily done here. There's only so much mileage to get out of 'surely he can't feel about me the way I feel about him?' and this was a fraction overdone for my tastes.

 

There's also some messing about with names, as one of our heroes is commonly known as 'Ace' and that's used interchangeably (and not always consistent with the temperature of the relationship at the time) while it's revealed partway through that Rory is actually using an assumed name and not only does he get called by both names, there's also a nickname added in too. I initially thought that Rory's big secret, one of those 'you wouldn't like me if you knew the truth'-type secrets, was that he was trans and that then led me down the wormhole of dead-naming someone, which made the name usage really not work for me. 

 

Anyway, an enjoyable enough read even with the issues above and apparently the first of at least a trilogy, so I guess if I end up reading those then we'll see whether the author can push the characters firmly back into 'delightful' for me!

 

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
4 Stars
Tess of the Road - Rachel Hartman
Tess of the Road - Rachel Hartman

Another of the Hugo-adjacent books, this time because Tess of the Road is nominated for the Lodestar Award, the not-a-Hugo for YA books - not the first book I've read by this writer, as I'd read both Seraphina and its sequel but apparently long enough ago to remember very little about it...

 

Tess of the Road is set in the same universe, with Seraphina's younger half-sister as the eponymous main character, a girl whose every decision seems to lead to trouble of one kind or another. When we first meet Tess, she's still trying to get over a disastrous first relationship and the loss of an illegitimate baby, for which latter event her judgemental mother seems to think she should be grateful. Tess is also hip-deep in trying to sort things out for her twin sister, both in terms of running interference with their mother and organising her present and future life. That, at least, gives her little time to think about the mess she finds herself in and how much she's drinking to try and cope with it.

 

Matters eventually come to a head when Tess discovers that her childhood friend, a dragon-like creature called Pathka, is being held captive and forced to work creating gadgets. Helping him escape, the two go on the run in search of a creature Pathka says is one of seven World Serpents, creatures both humans and dragons have ulterior motives to find first. Along the way, Tess comes to terms with both her own personality and history, while demonstrating she is not as Bad as her mother would have her believe. 

 

One thing I really liked about Tess of the Road was the supporting characters we meet along the way, as they didn't slot into neat categories in the way that happens with some books. Sometimes you can tell how important a character is going to be to the overall story by the way they're introduced and this book avoids that. Tess is, of course, not the most reliable of narrators and at times this becomes a little annoying as she goes into yet another self-critical spiral. 

 

If I have any complaints about Tess of the Road, it's about how the book ends - I would have ended it a little earlier, with Tess addressing her relationships with her sisters and then setting out for her next adventure. Taking matters a little further, to me, seemed to make it more incomplete, as if it was a more arbitrary stopping point rather than a conscious decision. Hence the 4 star rating, as it annoyed me a bit, as well as the heavy-handed sense of potential romance touted at the end, which always annoys me. 

Review
4 Stars
Trail of Lightning - Rebecca Roanhorse
Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World) - Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning is another book from my Hugo reading, this time nominated for Best Novel - it's also a book I've had on my TBR pile (at least the imaginary version of it) for quite a while, as it sounded like something that would be very much my cup of tea, even though my appetite for urban fantasy waned a while back. 

 

This is post-apocalyptic urban fantasy too, the apocalypse in particular being a massive flood which has devastated much of the US, leaving the Dinétah (the former Navajo reservation) a place of safety for some but also now populated partly by both gods and monsters. Within that setting, our protagonist (Maggie Hoskie) goes through the traumatic murder of her grandmother and is rescued/apprenticed to become a monster slayer, only to be left behind once more. Maggie has various powers, well suited to her new calling, but also which set her even further apart from everyone else and when we first meet her she's unsuccessfully trying her best to avoid getting drawn back to the slaying of monsters. 

 

It's a really enjoyable ride, with strong characterisation particularly where Maggie is concerned and some first rate world-building. It also avoids what a friend of mine has now termed 'the proximity fuck', where characters (usually a man and a woman) have sex without any apparent chemistry but rather because they are both just physically there. There's pointers towards a planned relationship in a future book or books between Maggie and Kai, who also has powers, but it's clearly not the A plot for this series. 

 

Trail of Lightning does what it does well, I enjoyed it a lot and very much want to read the next book in the series (Storm of Locusts) but it didn't grab that elusive fifth star because I can't see myself re-reading it. 

Review
3 Stars
Lost Gods - Micah Yongo
Lost Gods (Lost Gods #1) - Micah Yongo

To be perfectly honest, I'm feeling a bit guilty about this review as I got a copy of Lost Gods through the generosity of its publishers, after picking up the sequel via Netgalley and complaining on Twitter that I hadn't read the first one. I'm a bit of a completist, after all, and very much insist on reading books in a series in order even though they suggested it would stand well enough on its own.

 

Now I've actually read Lost Gods, I'm not so sure a sequel to this could be read individually, as there's a hell of a lot of world-building going on in the first book and that tends to make subsequent books work poorly alone. There is, for example, a whole set-up of assassins loyal to the crown who are raised from childhood and then given missions that they're not allowed to tell anyone about, set within a world with a variety of nation states and warring invaders.

 

Our main protagonist is Neythan, whose first mission outside of the confines of the order which has trained him, is derailed by the apparent defection of one of his fellow trainees who seems to have murdered a third. Instead of continuing with his mission, Neythan decides that he must track her down and discovers that not only is she not a traitor, the order for which he works has been infiltrated. The eponymous gods, it turns out towards the end of the book, have not been lost at all but are merely biding their time to regain power.

 

Lost Gods is another one of those books that looks very much like a first novel - there's a lot of attention paid to the world-building but that ends up with a large amount of names and information being written in that might not immediately be relevant. We don't quite get to 'as you know, Bob' types of conversation but it skirts perilously close at times and there's a declamatory quality to some of the conversations that doesn't quite work for the characters in question. I will, however, be reading the sequel despite all of this, since I have it now and always want to see if things improve past first novel status. 

Review
4 Stars
Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach - Kelly Robson
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach - Kelly Robson

This is another of the things I'm reading to vote in the Hugos, this time from the novella category, and despite not giving it 4 stars I enjoyed it quite a bit. 

 

The book's basic premise is that, following some kind of apocalyptic scenario, humanity is living in 'habs' - some on the surface and some underground - while trying to figure out a way to survive long term. It's fair to say that this apocalypse was environmental, so the onus is on ways to address this and this has led to the development of time travel. Our main protagonist, Minh, is a scientist who is recruited to become involved in a trip back to Bronze Age Mesopotamia, where she can study the environment of the Euphrates and Tigris in an attempt to recreate this in the modern day. This is justified by folks in the present as just creating a timeline which will then collapse when they leave, even though it's not really clear if this is actually what happens or what the organisation running the time travel trips want everyone to think. 

 

Since Minh comes from a time when body modification is considered quite normal, she happens to be the character in the book's cover, complete with octopus limbs. Another character, her assistant, also goes through a similar modification in order to accompany Minh as she's otherwise too big to fit into the craft they will be using. It's only when Minh and the others are back in the Bronze Age that they realise one of their number is just as unscrupulous as he first appeared and was planning to steal their work and leave them behind in that time period. 

 

We also see some of what's going on from the perspective of the Bronze Age inhabitants, as they try to make sense with their limited frame of reference of what's happening. In some ways, this is where I think the novella ends at an inopportune moment, just as the two cultures have finally met, and we don't really get a conclusion to anyone's story. It's that, more than the quality of the writing, combined with a slightly less convincing characterisation for everyone except Minh, that makes me drop my rating down a star. 

Review
5 Stars
The Black God's Drums - P. Djeli Clark
The Black God's Drums - P. Djeli Clark

It's Hugo nomination reading time again and this is one of the candidates for Best Novella, one of those which are stand-alone pieces of writing rather than one in a series (which reminds me, I must check out where I'm up to with the series containing some of the other nominees...).

 

Anyway, the basic premise of The Black God's Drums is that it's set in an alternate world, one where the US Civil War ground to a halt around the time that Haiti and a number of other Caribbean islands asserted their independence. Unlike our world, where the various attempts at this were only partly successful, this one stuck and that was in part due to the use of the eponymous weapon - something supernatural, harnessing the force of a number of African gods with devastating result. This story is set some years after, mostly in New Orleans, a city in neutral ground where a plot is hatched to gain control of that weapon for the use of the Confederacy. 

 

Our protagonist is Creeper, a young girl living on her own in the city and making her way however she can, helped by the fact that she's special to one of these gods and can harness Oya's power at times. When Creeper overhears elements of the plot, she makes plans to foil it and falls into the company of a number of interesting individuals along the way. 

 

I really enjoyed this novella, as the world-building was excellent and the plotting really drove the story onward - if it wasn't incredibly mean to do so, I'd have dropped a star for the fact that I really didn't want this to be novella-length, as I'd have happily carried on reading a novel-length story in this setting. Hopefully the author may turn his hand back to this at some point in the future!

Review
5 Stars
Hexarchate Stories - Yoon Ha Lee
Hexarchate Stories (The Machineries of Empire) - Yoon Ha Lee

To be honest, this was a very easy sell for me as I love the universe in which these stories are set and the Machineries of Empire books (starting with Nine Fox Gambit) are some of my favourite science fiction of recent years. Hexarchate Stories is mostly for completists, though, as quite a bit of the content is short stories that pad out character or plot moments from those books and which are also mostly available elsewhere, though in this case put in chronological order according to the universe. 

 

The exceptions to this are the longer pieces, 'Extracurricular Activities' and 'Glass Cannon'. The former is a heist story, effectively, with Jedao as unwilling criminal mastermind organising a raid on a space station by getting himself arrested, and is a very enjoyable look at the twistiness of Jedao's approach to doing things. 'Glass Cannon' is the story I'd been waiting for, a novella-length follow-up to the events of Revenant Gun which details what both Jedao and Cheris did next. It had me gripped all the way through, as Jedao comes in search of Cheris because he wants his memories back and Cheris discovers all sorts of things about the new Jedao that she really never wanted to know. 

 

All in all, if you're a completist like me you'll love this, if not then those two longer pieces are worth the price of admission on their own in my humble opinion. I can't wait to see what Yoon Ha Lee writes next and I will be right there waiting, money in hand!

 

I received this book free from Netgalley and the publishers in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
4 Stars
The True Queen - Zen Cho
The True Queen (Sorcerer Royal #2) - Zen Cho

It took me a long time to finish The True Queen, even though I'd been waiting eagerly for it to be published - it just turned up at a time when life was a bit busy and I was having trouble concentrating on anything much. I think that wasn't helped by the fact that while it's set in the same universe as Sorcerer to the Crown and follows on from it in terms of its timeline, the characters I'd grown to know and love from that book play mostly supporting roles in this story. 

 

The main point of view character is Muna - along with her sister Sakti, she finds herself under the tutelage of Mak Gengang and has no memory of her past. After a misjudged attempt to ransack the library of the English consul on Janda Baik, the sisters are sent through Faery to seek some kind of refuge in England but get separated along the way. Muna, who has no magic of her own, is forced to pretend she does and subsequently also becomes embroiled in problems coming from Faery, where a valuable talisman has been stolen. 

 

While I enjoyed this book, I felt that at times the foreshadowing was quite heavy-handed as I could predict a number of what should otherwise have been unexpected plot twists. Alongside this, at the end there's a (for me, anyway), unconvincing ending to a sub-plot around one of Prunella's friends agreeing to an unwanted marriage in order to save her family's fortunes - an alternative is offered, in fact two alternatives, with the second suddenly not mentioning the financial issues involved at all. Just one throwaway line could have fixed that for me but instead it just nagged at me as something unresolved. 

 

So, despite feeling miserly, I've gone from 5 stars to 4, not that this will stop me picking up anything else this author writes, it's just that Sorcerer to the Crown was an incredibly tough act to follow and this book (again, for me at least) didn't quite pull it off. 

Review
4 Stars
The Raven Tower - Ann Leckie
The Raven Tower - Ann Leckie

Anyone who's read my reviews will know how much I love Ann Leckie's science fiction books, while I'd also really enjoyed the short stories she's written set in the same universe that The Raven Tower inhabits. This is a universe where gods great and small can speak things into reality, with the caveat that if they make something real that is too much for the limits of their power, they risk destruction.

 

One such god is the eponymous Raven, who has entered into a long-standing arrangement with humanity - they will provide someone to offer themselves as a human sacrifice when the bird which the god inhabits dies. This is a hereditary post and one of our protagonists, Eolo, is the aide of the heir to that position - he and his lord have returned to the city on the death of the Raven's host, only to find that the human component of this arrangement has disappeared. This is a great and shameful scandal, to say the least, and Eolo ends up trying to find out what has actually happened.

 

This storyline is set against its counterpart, another narrative about how the Raven came to be the pre-eminent god of that particular city in the first place and the roles of other gods along the way. Towards the end of The Raven Tower, there's some crossover between the two storylines as they crash together and the truth comes out. This is, after all, a standalone book rather than the set-up for a trilogy or series like many fantasy books. 

 

All in all, I liked The Raven Tower as a book and it kept me engaged, but there was just something not quite gripping enough about the choice of Eolo as a main character. Partly, I think, because the driver for Eolo's choices is often loyalty and friendship towards a character who comes across as a bit whiny and immature at times - at one point, dismissing Eolo's discoveries just because they're inconsistent with his understanding of how the world works. Not that this will stop me happily reading anything else that gets written in this universe, so I wait to see what comes next from Ms Leckie's desk...

Review
4 Stars
The Outside - Ada Hoffmann
The Outside - Ada Hoffmann

I'd seen this book mentioned in a few places on Twitter, so I was very glad to see it pop up on Netgalley and then get approved for it - the premise alone was enough to intrigue me and I wondered whether it was going to live up to my expectations. In the end, it was a pretty good fit for me, though it didn't manage to snag a 5-star rating for reasons I'll explain below.

 

The basic premise of The Outside is that it's set in a universe where the use of computers has been strictly controlled by a number of gods, which are actually AI entities fuelled by the souls of humanity. A particular god gets to claim certain people after they die, dependent on their line of work and also on their behaviour during life. They're assisted by angels, which are augmented humans of various species, and people also can choose to sell their souls to a particular deity in exchange for a variety of upgrades and augmentations. 

 

Our protagonist, Yasira, is a scientist working on a new form of energy drive after years as the protege of another scientist who has since disappeared. When Yasira's drive causes the death of a hundred people on the space station it was powering, she initially dismisses the things she has seen and experienced beforehand as stress-related. What they are, in fact, is evidence of infiltration by the Outside - chaotic forces from beyond their understanding of reality which her mentor had tried to invite into theirs. Yasira is kidnapped by angels and forced to work with them to try and stop this infiltration and starts to discover that perhaps things aren't quite as they seem in the universe where she has been living. 

 

I enjoyed a lot of things about The Outside, even if it did start to lose its way towards the end - I'm not sure if it's intended to be the first part of a series but there was something of a feel of that, with things more fizzling out than being resolved (or even left as a cliffhanger).

 

The general premise and world-building was interesting and engaging, helping to push the story along at a reasonable pace, but I wasn't completely hooked by any of the characters. The most interesting for me was Enga, an angel with a wide variety of modifications who was generally used as muscle, though even she was relatively flatly characterised. Overall then, I'm glad to have read it and will look forward to seeing what else this author comes up with. However, it didn't completely work for me and I can't see myself re-reading it at any point. 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
4 Stars
The Winter of the Witch - Katherine Arden
The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) - Katherine Arden

This is the final book in this trilogy, following on from The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, both of which were a tough act to follow - this is, however, a series that really works for me in a lot of ways, particularly in terms of its use of language.

 

At the end of the previous book, our protagonist (Vasya) has caused the burning of the city of Moscow and is threatened with being burned for witchcraft. This book is the one where Vasya's powers really come into their own, as she uses her position as the metaphorical bridge between humankind and the chyorti to try and stem an imminent invasion.

 

Once, of course, she's managed to escape from the clutches of a particular obsessed priest and discover a little more about her mother's mysterious relatives. One especially will be familiar to anyone who knows Russian folklore, just from the description of the house where she used to live...

 

It's another great, page-turning read and I enjoyed it very much. Two sales for the price of one, as well - I got this copy from my local library, with plans to get my own in paperback once it's out later this year.

Review
3 Stars
David Mogo, Godhunter - Suyi Davies Okungbowa
David Mogo, Godhunter - Suyi Davies Okungbowa

This was one of those books which sadly promised a little more than it was able to deliver in the end - the main issue I had with it was that, while it was an interesting premise and well-written, it got bogged down in unnecessary amounts of exposition and felt as though it was a novella-length plot dragged out to novel-length. 

 

The basic idea of the book is that it's set in Lagos, Nigeria at a time after a number of gods have come to the place, understandably causing chaos. Our protagonist, the eponymous David Mogo, makes a living dealing with the minor gods and makes an unsavoury deal at the beginning of the book to capture a pair of twin gods. In the end, he's only able to catch one of them and then starts to realise that he's been played for a sucker and that his erstwhile employer is actually trying to accumulate power by using the gods he wants David to deliver to him. 

 

Our hero is, of course, something special too - half god, through his mother's side, and raised by a magician to use the powers he's inherited. As the book goes on, David comes into his inheritance more and more, as well as allying himself with a number of others (both gods and mortals) in order to deal with the risks to the people of Lagos. 

 

There's no disputing the author knows how to spin a story, keeping my attention despite the amount of monologuing the villains get up to. I can see why the publishers picked this book up but a stronger editor might have made for a better book in the long run, as well as taking the many interesting ideas laid out here and making them into something more robust. 

 

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
4 Stars
The Girl King - Mimi Yu
The Girl King (The Girl King #1) - Mimi Yu

I have to admit, it took me a while to warm to The Girl King as a book, as initially it seemed as though it was going through all the usual YA tropes and heading in an utterly predictable direction. We have, after all Boy Who is Secretly Special But Traumatised, Girl Who is a Better Fighter Than Everyone and that's just the main characters, not to mention there's a Tragic Romance That Can Never Be...

 

The basic premise of The Girl King is that Lu has been raised to believe by her father than she is going to be named as his heir - she somehow has been allowed, in a very hierarchical and gender-strict system, to be both a pampered princess and be trained as a warrior. Meanwhile, her weedy sister Min is always in Lu's shadow, so when Lu is overlooked in favour of their slightly-unhinged cousin, Min immediately gets groomed to marry said cousin regardless of his obvious negative qualities. Min also has a secret, and this is one place where things start to diverge slightly from my experience of YA and she starts to want power for herself. 

 

Meanwhile Lu has been forced to flee the capital after the death of her father and has met up with Nokhai, who she knew when they were both younger and who is one of the last survivors of a people who Lu's father has pretty much massacred wholesale. Nokhai is a shapeshifter but unable to control his abilities; together, they set out to try and find allies for Lu in order to help her regain the throne and unseat the dodgy cousin. This plan goes all sorts of wrong as the allies they try to recruit are not themselves the most reliable of people. 

 

One thing I didn't expect is that the moustache-twirling cousin meets a bad end before the end of the book, putting Min and Lu as antagonists in their own right rather than Min as someone else's puppet. I'm not sure I would buy the next book in this series (and to be honest, I got this one from the library) but I wouldn't turn it down if I managed to get my hands on it the same way. All in all, some interesting ideas and an author who may bear watching in the longer term.