Summary: 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 demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.
In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.
My Thoughts: I have been looking forward to reading this book for so long because the description sounded amazing. Unfortunately I was fairly underwhelmed. The prologue was gripping and hooked me right away, but the rest of the story unfolded too slowly for me. I was more than half way through the book and it still felt like we were in exposition land. While we did get some beautiful world building and writing style, not enough happened with the characters or the plot. It definitely picked up towards the end, in fact the climax is spectacular, but the build up just wasn’t paced well enough for my taste. It also didn’t help that I had trouble visualizing, and getting on board with the demons/castes in this world. The concept is so unique and cool, especially with Ngan’s Malaysian influence, which is very clear in the narrative and schemes, but I struggled to fully grasp it all. My favorite thing about this book was the depth and complexity of the relationships. I loved Wren and the gradual way we got to know who she was through Lei’s eyes. She is fierce and I can’t wait to find out more about her and her people. All of the supporting characters were fleshed out really well and added so much depth to the story. My least favorite character was Lei. While she was the main character, I felt like she didn’t grow or change enough by the end to sustain the whole plot. She didn’t do much and stayed pretty stagnant the whole time. The evolution of her relationship and discovering who she was was nice, but I needed her to be more than that. While I didn’t love this book, I am fascinated by the world, and gasp-worthy ending made me itch to find out what is going to happen next.