Date started: May 15th
Date finished: May 22nd
Damn, this was a fun book. Like, really fun. As in, I lost sleep over the last couple of nights because I wanted to read ‘just one more chapter’.
The story focuses on two teenage girls who inherit superpowers upon the deaths of their mothers; Bonnie Braverman and Lola LeFever. Given their names, I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say Bonnie’s the hero and Lola’s the villain. We follow both their paths as they learn about their powers, develop friendships and romantic relationships, and (as is the case with these sorts of stories) come together for various apocalyptic showdowns.
It’s clear from the narrative that Kelly Thompson loves comics. She regularly writes for Comic Book Resources, and has a degree in sequential art. And The Girl Who Would Be King is packed with winks and nods towards this, from the overall tone and plot, down to simple things like Bonnie wearing a Wonder Woman shirt and reading superhero comics.
The book is split into three acts and an epilogue. Rather than filling these in with traditional chapters, Thompson has split them into sections, each focusing on one of the protagonists, separated by dots (whit for Bonnie, black for Lola). The whole thing is told in first person, giving us intimate access to each character’s thoughts and motives as the story moves along.
With this kind of setup, it’s easy to see how it could become complicated and hard to follow. It’s fortunate then that each character has a distinctive voice. Bonnie is more soft spoken, while Lola is blunt and angry. Both are introspective enough to give us access to their innermost struggles, and it’s here the novel excels. Even though I knew it was speeding along to a final confrontation where there could be only one winner, I was still totally invested in both characters throughout, and ultimately wanted to spend more time with them.
The writing setup also contributes nicely to the action scenes where the two characters do come together. It’s fun to see a section end with one character throwing a punch, and the next to start with the effects of the punch on the other character. It helps to lend the action a very kinetic feel, while keeping it grounded within the thoughts and feelings of the characters we get to know during the book’s quieter scenes.
Any problems that do come out of The Girl Who Would Be King come out of these quieter scenes. It’s not specifically a problem with what’s there, more that I wanted more of it. Lola and Bonnie both met guys they went on to have romantic relationships with, but they both sort of fell in love instantly. It felt a little disingenuous, and while there was a plausible explanation for it late in the book, I would have liked more of a courting period for both couples, rather than just bluntly telling me they were in love.
I’d have also liked a longer epilogue. The book ends on a high note with a twist that I loved, but it ended abruptly, not giving much closure to the various relationships of the surviving character.
Despite the relatively minor issues, I did have a lot of fun reading The Girl Who Would Be King. It’s fast paced and compulsive, with believably teenage and likable characters. Though the plot doesn’t stray far from the comic book tropes Kelly Thompson takes inspiration from, it’s the smaller character building moments along the way that really make this worth reading. Recommended for comic fans looking to dive into some prose fiction, or fans of YA in general.
One last caveat: Though this is a YA book, and the sort of thing I’d have devoured at age 13 onwards, there are often descriptions of violence, and sometimes ‘off panel’ sex. Nothing I would feel uncomfortable about reading as a teenager, but it is more extreme than a lot of the YA I’ve read, so discretion is advised here.
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