Two sisters become unwitting rivals in a war to claim the title of Emperor in Mimi Yu’s debut, The Girl King.
Content warning: rape, violence
🌸 I don’t recommend anyone of any age read this, but if you have to put an age, I’d say 16+.
There’s no good way to say this.
I’ve been really really excited for The Girl King (I’m #OwnVoices for it too, so you know I was super pumped!).
But, this ended up being uncomfortable for me? And I haven’t seen anyone point out potentially problematic things for this book, and so now I have to be the first to do it (yikes) and I’m just really sad and disappointed that this did not work out for me.
I dislike writing negative reviews. I try to be picky about the books I choose so I don’t have to write negative reviews. And I avoid writing them when I can do it, and I would have done that for this book if not for some of the issues I had. This review isn’t even publisher-associated (the lovely Kristen @ Barnie Bookworm sent me this book) and normally for non-publisher associated ARCs, I just won’t review it at all if it was going to be negative.
But this is something I think people deserve to know, and I feel the need to let people know about this book.
Know that I am not the person who decides what is wrong and what is right. Maybe these things aren’t actually an issue. Maybe they are. But they ended up making me, an #OwnVoices reviewer, feel uncomfortable, and that I believe has a tiny bit of weight.
First off . . .
The only vaguely queer character in this book is a rapist.
There are no queer main characters. There are no queer side characters. There is only one character who is in one scene who is a guard (named Wailun) who is vaguely queer. The barely named male guard tries to rape Nok (the male protagonist) and this made me really uncomfortable.
Not because of a rape scene and obviously not because of queer characters, but because the only character with even a slight hint of queerness ends up being a rapist? Like what?
And I could have missed something. Maybe there are other queer characters. And there probably wasn’t bad intent behind this. But I personally did not like this and found it to be almost dehumanizing for queer folx.
Obviously, I’m not the best judge of this. A queer reader would probably know better than I. But I try to be aware, and I find this to be an issue? That the only portrayal of queerness is when you’re villainizing a character?
So yeah. This is up to you, but I’ve laid out the facts (if you have a copy, it’s on page 226-227) and it’s up to you to judge if it influences if you read.
The way they talk about some ethnicities is kind of uncomfortable.
One of the more obvious is how they (Lu and Min, the female protagonists) call the Ellandaise “pink.”
I assume this is meant to indicate that the Ellandaise (who are like visitors from another country/kingdom) are white people, yet I feel like it’s kind of hypocritical for the (Asian) characters to use this. (Because Asians don’t want white people calling them “yellow” so why are we calling them “pink”?)
Yes, Lu corrects Min to not say that and it’s not a huge problem, but I still think that the overall culture of the book was very anti-otherness.
There’s a slur for the Gifted Kith ethnicity: slipskin. And this was also used, and even though Lu stops using it, it never felt like she understood the offensiveness of her words.
There’s a lot of different ethnicities, and nowhere in the book did I really feel like they were disabling part of that xenophobia and racism. Sure, they stopped using the offensive words. But just because you don’t use the n-word, doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
And so I was just uncomfortable sometimes with Lu and Min and a lot of royalty, and how Lu wants her throne back and is willing to help them now, but in my opinion, she never achieves the level of empathy and respect she needs to treat them as equals.
I felt like some of the violence was almost unnecessary.
This is kind of unrelated to the problematicness, but I just felt like some of the scenes (the rape scene among others) were overly violent for no real purpose.
Yes, violence can be used to make a book better and more impactful. But personally, for me? It didn’t contribute to the story. It didn’t make the book stronger–it only highlighted Lu’s flaws and made me like her less.
I feel like the violence in here was elaborated in a way that was a little unnecessary. I’m not squeamish, nor am I anti violence in books. But this mixed in with my general uncomfortableness with different aspects of the book just made it too much for me.
There were some good aspects, but I don’t think it was worth it.
I’d rather have not had that reading experience.
I was uncomfortable, and not in the good way that made you think. I think this story had a lot of potential and frankly, it was a pretty good concept and plot. But the way it was executed did not do it for me, and I unfortunately wouldn’t recommend.
It might not have been The Continent level of bad (aka why I gave this 1.5 not 1), but it was still pretty uncomfortable for me.
If you’re looking for a diverse read feat. sisterhood themes, you might want to look elsewhere.
Thank you to Kristen @ Barnie Bookworm for sending me her ARC! All thoughts are my own honest opinion.