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.
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 [spoiler] sexual slavery[/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.
I actually think that this whole story could have been more interesting if it was told from another character's point of view.
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!)
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.