The Girl King, Mimi Yu – Extract #BlogTour

Hello Humans! I am utterly delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Mimi Yu’s The Girl King. I’m sharing this tour with a lot of amazing bloggers so be sure to check them out their posts. The Girl King blog banner.png

In particular, check out YA Under My Skin who yesterday posted the extract that comes before this one. That’s right, you get to read a huge chunk of The Girl King – aren’t you lucky!

The Girl King Mimi Yu

Read my review of The Girl King here!

Find The Girl King on Goodreads | Amazon (Affiliate)

Extract

The drums heralding the start of court beat solemn and orotund, steady as blood. The theatre of power. Standing with her sister and their nunas like actors waiting backstage, Lu peered through the seam of Kangmun Hall’s closed front doors, out into the Heart. The massive yellow stone courtyard was made small by the scores of court officials, magistrates, prefecture governors, and Inner Ring gentry pouring in.

There would be more people outside the closed gates— unlucky lower gentry whose family rank did not warrant a seat within the Heart, and supercilious First Ring gossipmongers who bandied fresh information as currency. There might even be a few Second Ringers lucky enough to sneak through the Ring walls under some pretence or another. All of them waiting to hear second-hand tellings of the emperor’s pronouncements.

Word of my succession will spread fast. Lu’s chest tightened in anticipation. At long last, it was happening.

“Really? You can’t even wait for them to open the doors?” The voice was low in her ear. Lu jumped, whirling to find her eldest nuna Hyacinth doubled over in silent laughter.

“Cut it out,” she hissed. But she was unable to suppress a smile. “I’m just gauging the crowd,” she said with exaggerated primness. “Reconnaissance.”

Hyacinth snorted. “You look like a child sneaking into her birthday gifts.”

“I think you mean I look like a future emperor.”

“Certainly. A future emperor sneaking into her birthday gi— ” She broke off into a strangled giggle as Lu poked her in the ribs.

“Oh!” Min exclaimed. “I’d forgotten. The pink men are visiting today.”

Her sister was peeking through the gap in the doors. Lu leaned back in over her shoulder and glimpsed three foreign men in the crowd, their pale pinkish flesh and bulbous facial features marking them as the delegation from Elland.

Lu pulled her sister back from the doors. “Call them Ellandaise. Not ‘pink men.’ ”

Min flushed at the admonishment. “Of course. The nunas call them that sometimes . . . I t’s just a bad habit. Forgive me.”

“Commoners use that term. It does not do for a princess,” Lu told her. Then she frowned. “It doesn’t become a nuna, either. Well- bred girls from Inner Ring gentry with sky manses ought to know better. I’ll see that Amma Ruxin has a talk with them.” The stern old amma in charge of training Min’s handmaidens would not stand for such behaviour.

“I understand, sister. I’m sorry— ”

“So,” Hyacinth’s effervescent whisper came in her other ear. “What will be Emperor Lu’s first decree?”

“Stemming the northern expansion,” Lu said, turning away from Min. “We’re bleeding resources needed for the city’s poor into the colonies.”

“It’ll be difficult to walk back those mines. The wealth from the sparkstone they’re dredging up— it’s enticing. And popular.”

“What is popular is not always what is right,” Lu countered. “We’ve encroached onto northern land for too long.”

Hyacinth tilted her head, considering. “It’s not like there are any slipskin clans left to give it back to.”

“Right,” Lu snapped. “Because the few Gifted we didn’t kill are languishing in the labour camps.”

“It’s time! Everyone into their places!” Amma Ruxin snapped, giving both Lu and Hyacinth a reproachful look as the doors began to open. Hyacinth rolled her eyes at the woman’s turned back. Then she winked at Lu and stepped into place with the other nunas.

“Good luck,” she mouthed.

Lu took a deep breath and stepped outside, in front of the assembled court. Min trailed so closely it looked like she was trying to hide beneath her skirts. Even a regular court session left her little sister anxious; a crowd this size might kill her. Hopefully Butterfly would catch her if she fainted.

Their parents were already seated on the stone portico, side by side, though somehow they made the arm’s- length distance between them look much wider. Theirs had been a marriage of politics, arranged to strengthen ties between the ethnic Hana aristocracy and the ethnic Hu royals, and they had never found reason to make it anything more.

“Come on, then,” Lu directed Min. “Let’s play our parts.”

She said it with the edge of a shared joke— one only they in the whole world could share.

Her sister blinked, a surprised smile quivering across her mouth, chasing away the rictus of fear for a moment.

The sisters filed over and fell to their knees before their father, Emperor Daagmun, ruler of the sixteen provinces of the Empire of the First Flame. “Your child and subject bows before the Lord of Ten Thousand Years,” they recited in unison.

“Rise, my daughters.”

Lu stood easily; Min’s heavy layered robes made the task more difficult. Butterfly and Snowdrop hurried over, heads still bowed in respect, to assist the younger princess.

Their father caught Lu’s eye and smiled. He looked well today, resplendent in formal robes of saffron and gold— all signs of illness tucked away beneath silk and royal pomp. He looked every bit the strong and formidable Hu ruler he needed to be.

Lu stepped forward and dropped a warm kiss on his hand. It trembled in hers and she swallowed a pang of sadness. He could not hide his disease forever. From this close she could see the tired lines of a much older man around his eyes.

By contrast, Empress Rinyi looked ten years younger than her thirty- some years. Lu had always felt there was something almost urgent in the care she took with her appearance— all those oils and salves and meticulously applied powders. As though she were preserving her beauty for some later occasion. Lu nodded curtly in her direction, and their mother responded in kind, her fixed smile barely hiding a poisoned well of disdain and impatience beneath.

As Lu and Min took their seats the drums stilled, leaving in their wake only the sharp crackle of the First Flame, burning bright and eternal at the centre of the Heart. According to Hana legend, the flame had been ignited by a drop of the sun thousands of years ago— a gift from the gods to their then- fledgling kingdom— and kept alive ever since.

Her father spoke: “Ours is the greatest kingdom this world has ever known,” he began. For a moment, his voice cracked, and she flicked a sidelong glance toward him. Was he having one of his spells now? But, no. He remained steady and upright in his throne. She relaxed as he continued.

“Our kingdom comprises an empire the likes of which our ancestors could not have imagined. Beyond what even my bold, visionary great- grandsire Kangmun, the first Hu emperor, foretold. Each day our borders grow wider. Our colonies are hungry, thriving, like the topmost branches of a great tree, stretching ever closer to the sun. At the same time, our towns and cities grow more prosperous and efficient— the strong roots of the empire.”

Her father went on to describe news from the northern front. The mines were dredging up enormous wealth from the earth— sparkstone enough to soon see the entire imperial army fitted with firearms. Settlements were sprawling, and soon they would make proper colonies, worthy of women and children, shops and cities.

There had been another— highly improbable— sighting by scouts in the Ruvai Mountains of a battalion of men clad in the white and grey uniforms of Yunis soldiers.

Her father did not mention the bandit raid on prison camp eight two weeks ago that had sprung over fifty laborers and left her cousin Lord Set, General of the North, looking the fool. Everyone knew of it, though.

Lu hid a satisfied smile and parsed the crowd. The left side of the Heart was filled with officials, while on the right were the First Ring gentry. Each was ordered such that the most important among them were seated in front, closest to the emperor.

A few rows deep, she spotted Hyacinth’s parents, the Cuis, and her nuna’s three younger sisters. With them sat a boy of thirteen or fourteen she nearly didn’t recognize— until she noted the small birthmark on his chin. Wonin, Hyacinth’s younger brother. He must nearly be of age to begin his studies at the Imperial Academy. It had been some time since Lu had last seen him, and in the intervening moons he had grown into a tall, elegant- looking youth.

Another boy a few rows behind— older than Wonin, though considerably less well mannered— met Lu’s gaze as it moved over him. He gawped at her as if she were some kind of court dancer, eyes traveling down the length of her body. She felt her face go cold, and he blushed, dropping his stare into his lap.

Soured, Lu closed her mind to the crowd. She had chosen today’s robes not just for how their cut elongated her elegant figure, but because the teal gave her a cool, imperious air. Memorable, yet dignified. Smart. But in the end, would any man see that, or was she only a pretty thing for them to gaze upon? It irritated her that she couldn’t say.

Beauty was a weapon— one that required honing and care, like a sword. But also like a sword it could cut both ways.

We will see who cuts whom once this is over.

A flutter of movement caught the corner of her eye; Min bent in her chair to scratch at her calf through the layers of her skirts. The beads dangling from her hairpins rattled from side to side with the movement. Lu bit her tongue; better not to draw further attention now. She vowed to speak to Min about it later and turned her attention back to her father’s words.

“. . . E ven at the best of times, an empire must not leave anything to chance. A strong emperor does not just rule for the present— he plans for the future.”

His words sent a trill of excitement traipsing down the notches of Lu’s spine, like a series of bells, each amplifying the last until her body rang with it.

The future.

It was finally happening. She kept her face trained in a mask of assured solemnity.

“And so, today,” her father continued. “I will announce my successor.”

He was looking at her. Lu gazed back with the slightest of smiles.

And then it happened. He looked away, as though ashamed of himself.

An unfamiliar sensation seized up her insides, then released, like the black and spotted fronds of a dying fern unfurling in her gut.

Dread.

All pretence of poise and gravity evaporated. Lu was shaking her head in a mute “no” before her father even said the words.

“I hereby betroth my eldest daughter, Princess Lu, to Lord Set of Family Li, General of the Fifth Regiment in Bei Province. He will be your next emperor.”

Stillness fell, tentatively placid as a newly frozen lake. The only sound was the murmur of the First Flame.

What happened next, Lu supposed, depended on one’s belief in ghostly interventions. Either the hungry fires consumed a bit of still- damp kindling, or some greater cosmic force was stirred by her father’s speech. In either case, the First Flame reared up high, then let off an excited pop that resounded through the walled Heart. A shower of sparks rained down in its wake, forcing those seated closest to it to lunge back in alarm.

The crowd took it as a sign. Their roar was deafening. For a disorienting moment, Lu thought they were angry. But then, no; she could make out the words. Long Live the Emperor! they shouted. Long live the Empire of the First Flame!

It was like hearing the ocean at a distance. Blood thrummed so hard in her ears it was as though the drums that had signaled her entry to Heart had taken up again.

Not Set, was all she could think. Anyone but Set.

The dread in her blossomed into outrage, its vines scrabbling at her guts and climbing into her throat, as though trying to escape through her mouth. Some part of her registered that if she allowed it out, it would come as tears.

So she choked on it, bit and swallowed it back down. Crushed the life from it until it was nothing more than a blackened pit.

How could he do this to me?

Lu looked to the emperor with beseeching eyes, but her father was still gazing out at the cheering crowd. And then Lu noticed her mother and sister looking at her from their seats. Minyi was bent at the waist, hunched over; she had been scratching at her calf again when their father’s pronouncement came and was too stunned to right herself. Their mother was as still as ever, her face unreadable.

You, Lu thought. Their mother had to be behind this, just as she had been when Set and Lu were children. Even after all these years, she had never given up on her heinous nephew.

The empress ever possessed a studied air of stern, benign dignity. At least in public. The only time Lu ever saw her speak sharply was in the closed company of her amma and her daughters— the usual targets of her ire. Some, like Lu, more often than others. Even in relative privacy though, Lu rarely saw her look excited or pleased.

But now, as the emperor called the meeting to a close, her gaze still locked with Lu’s, the empress smiled. With teeth.

The Girl King is available now! Order your copy today to keep reading.

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