I have such mixed feelings about this book.
From the very beginning, that is, before even opening to read the jacket, this book drew me in. The cover design was absolutely phenomenal, which matters to me especially as an artist. The title was intriguing; it sounded like exactly my type of book. But what really did it for me was the tagline:
“In my land, we’re known as Paper Girls… easily torn, existing only for others to use and discard. But there’s something they’ve all forgotten about paper. It can light the world on fire… and make it burn.”
From this description, I was expecting much more of a dystopian story than a fantasy one, one with rich worldbuilding, a caste system, and a story focused on rebellion. And I was excited.
So with all of this, I was sold before even opening the cover. Which meant I hadn’t read the synopsis when I took the book home with me. Big mistake.
But even if I had read the synopsis before starting to read, I would have known nothing about the elaborate half animal-half human demons that make up half the cast. Needless to say, I was very surprised to open the book a few pages in and find a description of the distinctions in humanity between the different castes. This is definitely not what I had signed up for.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I read fantasy, too. I even write it. But it can be very off-putting when it comes as a surprise, especially when it’s taken to the extreme that it is here. This is entirely personal preference on my part, but I much prefer a human cast, and this book definitely pushed the definition of human beyond what I’m used to.
Now, if I had known that this is what the book would be about, I still might have picked it up, and probably enjoyed it more than I did. But the fact of the matter is, I had built such high expectations for this book in my head that I was disappointed with what I got, which sort of put a damper on things from the beginning.
Another issue I had was that the rebellion aspect of the plot took up very little space on the page. It didn’t pop up at all until about halfway through the story, and even when it did, the main character, Lei, didn’t have very much agency or control in the plot whatsoever. If not for an unexpected turn of events that almost qualifies as a deus ex machina, Lei would have had little to no role in the climax at all.
Instead, the major focus of the plot was forbidden romance, which was well-written, and a wonderful inclusion of LGBT representation, but it just wasn’t what I was craving when I picked up the book.
That being said, the love interest was very well-rounded, and I think her character was more developed than Lei’s was, if I’m being honest. But I definitely enjoyed watching the relationship unfold, as it didn’t feel rushed or forced in anyway as you so often get in novels like this. I also really appreciated the way that the main character came to terms with her orientation and the implications her relationship held in terms of the plot.
I also enjoyed the unfoldings of the plot in the first half of the book, though they weren’t what I was expecting. Watching the main character struggle with what is expected of her, what she needs in order to maintain her integrity, and the consequences she faces was very compelling from both a plot and character perspective.
Yet one part that I thought to be very under-explored was Lei’s search for her missing mother, who was stolen years ago. I feel like the mystery that seems to drive her in the beginning of the book is almost ignored, and it’s “resolved” when she simply accepts that her mother is probably dead, which I found incredibly underwhelming.
My final issue with this book was the actual writing itself. As I writer myself, that’s something I pay attention to more than the average reader, and I have never been so annoyed with the way a book was written in my life. The author struggles from a severe lack of commas throughout the entire novel, and it was extremely off-putting for me. I found myself reading over the same sentence three times, trying to figure out why it felt so wrong and correcting it in my head. Doing this what felt like hundreds of times throughout the novel became very distracting very fast.
Yet despite all my mixed feelings about this book, I never put it down. It was aggravating, but I also found myself attached to the plot, demanding answers about how things would end up. Honestly, I can’t even tell you if I enjoyed reading it or not. As of right now, the jury is still out.