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.
Lei worked in a herb shop with her father and their assistant. They lived a simple life but Lei couldn’t wish for more. One day, a general from the royal palace came to take Lei away to become a “Paper Girl”- a concubine for the Demon King. I loved Lei’s strong, determined personality and her loyalty to her family. Even though Lei was told to follow orders and learn to be “feminine”, she held onto her principles and didn’t let others push her around.
I liked the other Paper Girls as well, including Aoki who became Lei’s best friend, and Wren who was quiet and mysterious.
I wished the villain in this story had more character, rather than… just being bad and paranoid. It also bothered me that the villain seemed to have a mental illness. For all the diversity in this book (LGBT and Asian rep), I wished that it could also send positive messages about mental health.
Plot and Pacing
In this novel, Lei learned what there was to know about being a Paper Girl, and decided to rebel against the system that kept her captive. The plot hooked me right away because it reminded me of the Chinese Wuxia dramas that I loved so much, except that it was written in the English language and incorporated some modern Western themes. This reminded me of all the shows that I used to watch as a kid and as a teenager haha so I was in a happy place! I really enjoyed the story.
I thought the pacing was good, with the right balance of plot advancement and character development.
Writing and Worldbuilding
As soon as I started this novel, I fell in love with the lyrical, descriptive yet concise writing style.
I enjoyed reading about the world as well. I loved that there were fantastical elements incorporated into this fictional, Asian-inspired kingdom, which was very well thought-out in its history and politics. I liked the idea of the Paper caste (humans) and the Moon caste (human-animal hybrids) who occupied different rungs on the hierarchy, and the overarching theme of the novel which was the fight for equality.
The Bottom Line: 3/5 stars!
I loved the Asian-inspired story and setting in this book as well as the diverse representation. However I wished that the villain could be more complex and interesting.