Book Review: The Girl Who Would Be King, Kelly Thompson (2012)

October 28th, 2013 1:08 pm by mad mags

The Novel that Reads Like a Comic Book!

four out of five stars

Bonnie Braverman and Lola LaFever are two young women, both orphans, standing on the threshold of adulthood. Though they don’t know it yet, they are two halves of the same whole: an ancient and powerful force, passed on down though the matrilineal line, which bestows upon its possessor (or possessed, as it were) god-like powers. The descendants of one blood line are driven to save, protect, and nurture; the other, to kill, destroy, and dominate. Their opposing existence ensures that there is balance in the world. But this equilibrium comes at great cost to those destined to maintain it.

The Girl Who Would Be King is an enjoyable story, and unique inasmuch as it’s a piece of prose that reads quite like a comic book. The battle scenes in particular call to mind images of black and white comic book panels; at times I could almost picture Bonnie shooting up into the atmosphere, an unconscious Lola in tow, or Lola ramming Bonnie through the walls of an office building. Reportedly author Kelly Thompson had trouble finding a publisher, since The Girl Who Would Be King was deemed “too violent” for the YA genre. But the violence contained within these pages is cartoonish and over-the-top; more disturbing is Lola’s rapid descent into madness. The language and sex are also rather tame, in keeping with the conventions of the genre.

The story’s greatest strength is in its characters, the bulk of which are women. Men are mostly absent and defined by their relationships to the protagonists – brother, boyfriend, roommate – in a happy inversion of conventional gender roles and representation. Women and their relationships with one another take center stage; as Bonnie and Lola attempt to navigate their social worlds, we get a glimpse of both nurturing and destructive female relationships. Whereas Bonnie mourns her mother, dead some twelve years at story’s outset, our first introduction to Lola is when she’s in the middle of murdering her own mother, Delia, in order to steal her power. Shy and riddled with guilt, Bonnie is just emerging from a decade of self-imposed muteness when she moves to New York City and forms a tentative friendship with coworker Liesel; Lola, on the other hand, kidnaps therapist Liz and coerces her into becoming her criminal advisor and “BFF.” Bonnie and Lola are mirror images of one another, reflections distorted and warped through a cruel and inflexible lens, and their opposing natures are further reflected in their connections with the women in their lives.

The Girl Who Would Be King owes its existence in part to a Kickstarter campaign. In hopes of self-publishing her first book, Thompson launched a fundraiser with the goal of $8000; 709 backers exceeded that number to the tune of $26,478. Clearly, this is something readers want more of: female-driven superhero stories with well-rounded (and practically outfitted) women characters. Thompson has most definitely succeeded in this regard. Are you listening, Hollywood?

In the con column, the story does drag a bit in the middle – but the double twist ending more than makes up for this. Bonnie and Lola sometimes read like caricatures of good and evil; but this is kind of the point, is it not? And of course, there’s also the question of believability, which Thompson addresses in a tongue-in-cheek (and vaguely Whedonesque) manner:

“A lot of stuff about you doesn’t make sense,” Liesel says. [To Bonnie, in reference to her seemingly innate ability to read a foreign language.] “I think we just have to accept that premise and move forward.” (page 300)

Like much good fiction, The Girl Who Would Be King might even compel you to research the historical roots of the story: searching for Banshees, Furies, and Valkyries on Wikipedia, perhaps, or checking out a book or two on the history of women warriors.

The paperback features a gorgeous cover with artwork by Stephanie Hans. Exclusively on the author’s website, you can also buy a limited edition hardcover copy, signed and numbered, with sixteen full-color, full-page illustrations. I wish I’d known this before I bought the paperback – I definitely would have sprung for the shinier copy!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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One Response to “Book Review: The Girl Who Would Be King, Kelly Thompson (2012)”

  1. Tina Says:

    The Girl Who Would be King is a terrible book. Unrelatable and uninteresting character. Atrocious dialogue and story is predictable. Waste of money, don’t buy.

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