*In this book review I will give a brief overview and opinion on the text without the deliberate inclusion of any spoilers.
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.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 📚
I found this to be a such a profound and heartfelt story that literally took me on a whirlwind of emotions from start to finish.
The descriptive nature of Natasha Ngan’s writing literally manifests in the reader’s mind, from the simple but worn down land of the Paper castes to the grandeur and dark opulence of the palace and the city that surrounds it. Here is where the stark contrast between those in poverty and those with wealth is clearly seen, from this alone we come to understand the protagonist Lei more as a character, as where she comes from makes up the foundation of her personality.
‘Remember, even that which seems impossible at first can be overcome by strength of mind and heart.’ – Mistress Eira
Being forced into a form of servitude as the King’s concubine is not the only hard transition Lei finds herself going through. It’s the transition from young girl to a worldly woman that really shows throughout the book. We see Lei come into her own and struggle with her identity in more ways than one.
‘Everyone’s assumption is for women and men to be together, and yet here we are, human girls, the Demon King’s concubines. Surely love between two women wouldn’t be so strange?’ – Lei
Usually books I’ve read that at first seemed similar to this one in terms of plot lines made me have expectations of a particular kind of love interest. But the book really surprised me with the direction it took and I’m so glad it did. Lei is already an incredibly relatable character but taking the journey with her regarding understanding her feelings, what they mean and her first love make the character that much more real.
This is definitely the book relationship I never knew I needed! I completely ship Lei and her love interest (I don’t want to spoil it for anyone so I won’t name the other character). It’s almost a delicate love that grows throughout the book, developing in spite of the dangers and secrets surrounding it.
‘Maybe it’s just like this because it’s us, and it’s right.’ – Lei
There are plenty of secondary storylines running throughout the book, including the mystery of what happened to Lei’s mother after she was brutally taken from her family all those years ago. Lei now being at the palace- a place where her mother was suspected of being taken, gives the feeling of history repeating itself. Added to the heightening dissention in the other castes (this is the name of the classes in society) against the King, there is a sense of things building up to something that is sure to change the entire direction of the book and the world within.
The magical elements of the world such as shamans and the various castes almost seem like background noise as Lei steals the show with her values, courage, personal growth and unapologetic humanness.
Despite not being depicted as a traditional ‘strong woman’, like a warrior, Lei shows she is strong in the way she fights for who she loves and what she believes in. She may not be a physical fighter but that does not mean she cannot fight. Throughout the book the author portrays Lei to be this incredibly strong young woman who is not willing to be broken.
‘More than anyone, I know how some wounds can stay hidden and yet still be felt so keenly, day after day, year after year.’ – Lei
And while the scenes aren’t too graphic to be considered explicit, the implications of rape are all there. Throughout the story the reader is foretold of what it means to be a Paper Girl and what Lei’s fate as one means. But that doesn’t make it less emotional or shocking when it does happen. As even though it is deemed to be their new purpose, the author shows us how much it is not of any of the female characters in the books free will.
To sum up, I fell in love with this story and would happily recommend it to anyone else who is looking for a new read!
Have you read this book? What did you think?
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