The Girl King by Mimi Yu (ARC): A Vaguely Problematic Anticipated Read

1.5 star

1.5 stars

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+.

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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.

much love, vicky

Have you read The Girl King? What were your thoughts?

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29 thoughts on “The Girl King by Mimi Yu (ARC): A Vaguely Problematic Anticipated Read

  1. Thank you for writing such an honest review! This is on my TBR (from NetGalley) But I am a little worried now about what you said regarding the only queer character, I hate that in books so I reckon I would have a problem with that too. But I guess I will just have to read and find out!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve heard a lot about this book, mostly good things; it’s why I like looking at a lot of different reviews. As a queer person, your note about how the only queer character (or at least hinted at being queer) was a rapist is definitely… Something. I haven’t read the book yet, so I obviously don’t have the full context, but it would definitely be something that would be less an issue if it weren’t the only person. Queer people can be villains, or anti-heroes, or in general just not great people, but when the only one in a story is one of those things it’s certainly indicative of a larger problem. If non-LGBT+ characters are allowed to be multiple and diverse, we should be too.

    I’m not certain if I’ll be picking this book up for my own reading (negative reviews in general don’t tend to deter me from a book since we all have different views on literature) but this definitely gives me something to think about especially the elements you commented on that I don’t have experiences with (like Asian culture.) Thank you for the well-written review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I found it an issue largely because they were the ONLY queer character in the book. I honestly wouldn’t recommend, but if you do decide to read, definitely let me know how it is for you, as I’m obviously not the best voice to comment on this, but it’s something I wanted to point out.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for warning us. As a queer person, I’m done reading stories that feature no queer protagonists at all (like you can imagine all sorts of shit in fantasy but not that someone could be queer? come on), and especially those that villify queer people. I had such high hopes for this one, and I’m so disappointed. And really fucking tired.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Of course! And yeah, I was like wtf at the only person in the whole book being vaguely queer being a villain. Sorry to bear bad news, but glad you’re now warned! ❤

      Like

  4. Oh no! I was so excited for this one, but thank you for letting us know about the problematic aspects, it’s definitely good to know that before you dive into something that could be harmful!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for warning us for the problems in this book. I was just about to order it, since it really interested me, but now I won’t! I really don’t understand why these kind of things go unnoticed before the book is published or before ARCs are sent out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Of course! I honestly don’t know how people missed this too–it’s REALLY late to be catching something like this and I wish publishing would diversify more so things like this wouldn’t happen.

      Like

  6. Thank you for warning us! I was really excited for this, but now I am taking it of my TBR. I really don’t understand that these things aren’t picked out of a book before publishing it or before sending out ARCs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good for you! I wouldn’t recommend losing stress over it, and even besides the problematic aspects, I heard that it was kind of slow for other people to read.

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  7. I’ve only heard negative things about this book, although no one has mentioned the issues you did. Everyone else has mentioned how boring and slow they’ve found this book. A queer rapist is definitely a red flag for me, so thank you for brining it to everyone’s attention. I might skip this one. 💕

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Personally, it’s not about a queer folk attempting rape that bothers me but the fact that rape is used as a plot device to show a character is bad. Like, there are many, many bad things they can do. I don’t know why many writers resort to rape. Then finding out the only queer character is a rapist? No, no, no. It leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

    I was really looking forward to this book but knowing now that none of the problematic themes are addressed by the characters doesn’t sit well with me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It wasn’t a main or even really a side character, and I personally found more issue in the fact that the ONLY queer character in the whole book was a rapist. But what you’re saying is also really true (as we can’t just be like “oh let’s make them bad by making them a rapist”). I think queer folx attempting rape is a legitimate thing to write about, but in this context it’s a very very bad look.

      It was also largely used like a plot device to get the characters moving with their journey, so like…yeah. Thanks for stopping by, Cam! ❤

      Like

  9. I was excited to read this book but am really glad now that I didn’t request an ARC of it, because I am not interested in reading it anymore. I’ve seen some negative/meh reviews but yours is definitely the first to mention the problematic aspects of the plot. I am not for stories that use rape as a plot device, especially when it is done by the only queer character in the book. Definitely doesn’t sit well for me.

    Thank you for your honest and thoughtful review, Vicky.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I was excited for this book (being #OwnVoices and everything) but I am glad that I know to stay away now. These factors may seem minor compared to other books, but I don’t think that any case of problematic representation is minor. Ignoring these things can lead to ignoring larger things, which is a really scary thought.

    I really appreciate that you called attention to these issues! Negative reviews are always tricky, but thanks to your review, I know that I am not interested in what this book does.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yeah–I was so excited too (I was basically begging on twitter for a copy so you know I was really into the idea). and yeah, I think this isn’t as blatant problematicism, but I do think that it is still something people should note. thank you for the lovely comment!!!

      Like

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