Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Published on 6 November 2018
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Girls & Women, Love & Romance, Royalty, Young Adult
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Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It's the highest honor they could hope for...and the most cruel.
But this year, there's a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she's made of fire.
In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it's Lei they're after--the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king's interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king's consort. But Lei isn't content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable--she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she's willing to go for justice and revenge.
TW: violence and sexual abuse.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
There were some things I liked about this book and some things I didn’t, so I’m trying to go middle of the road and rate this a solid 3 stars.
I’ll start with the things I didn’t like:
- Lei had super special pretty beautiful eyes that made her super special and she was treated differently because of this, not because of any internal characteristics.
- Lei didn’t have to go through the trials the other girls did to become a Paper Girl because of her super special pretty eyes, and that’s because she would have failed.
- One of the characters told Lei she was the strongest person she’d ever met. Lei had done absolutely nothing to warrant this praise.
- Lei was the only Paper Girl ever who refused the king and he let her get away with it.
- Sometimes Lei said something that wasn’t particularly cutting but the person in authority she said it to always looked like she’d slapped them, because the author was trying to show how brave/mouthy/spontaneous/witty Lei was, but the reaction seemed really weird and out of place.
The betrayer was way too obvious and it would have been more interesting and a better conflict if the person betraying them was a different character who did it not because ‘it wasn’t fair’ but because of loyalty to the king. And also, I love reformed bad guys so I would have loved it if Lei’s enemy/rival had NOT been the one to betray her and become almost begrudging friends.
When Lei was confronted, she didn’t even TRY to deny anything, and no one even had any proof.
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What I did like:
- The romance was really well written, like really. It’s probably worth reading for that alone. And not because it’s LGBTQ, which I didn’t know going in to this (I don’t really move from my corner of the interwebz and I don’t really feel any kind of hype because I’m not active on social media, so I legit had NO idea), but because it’s just really well written. And as unprepared as I was, it didn’t seem out of place. I can safely say this is NOT instalove, and maybe even a slow burn, and really enjoyable.
- The worldbuilding was kinda cool. The different caste systems, the magic. I mean, it’s pretty easy to see the Eastern influences but I think it was solid worldbuilding. I’ve been reading a lot of diverse YA fantasy about oppressed women living in luxury lately (The Bone Witch, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, Grace and Fury etc) and it fit in really well with those books.
- I liked the descriptions of the clothing and food.
Other things to note:
The blurb is kind of innocent and mentions that Paper Girls ‘serve’ the king as a ‘consort’ and that it’s a high honour, but it was actually View Spoiler » sexual slavery « Hide Spoiler. This book was just as dark as Damsel by Elena K Arnold but definitely aimed at a young adult audience.
Lei complained again and again about how the demons treated her and the other Paper caste like they ‘weren’t even human’ and that language doesn’t work at all because the demons are superior to the humans, so to treat them like they’re human would mean something completely different in this world where humans are little better than animals.
It seems that to most demons, being Paper caste already makes you less than human.
Think of all the Paper castes he has his soldiers capture as slaves and kill as easily, as if we weren’t even human.
I wish the author had thought more about this language when Lei made that complaint multiple times. I really hope this is changed for the final version.
If you are more invested in the romance part of fantasy romance, you’ll probably enjoy this forbidden romance as much as I did.
(I actually already own The Elites by this same author and I’m pretty keen to give it a read now!)