Library Journal Review
Gr 10 Up-Seventeen-year-old Lei is kidnapped and forced into sexual servitude by the vicious Demon King who rules her country. Her land has three castes: the low-status Paper caste who are fully human, high-status Moon caste or demons who are half animal in form, and middle-status Steel caste who have some animal features. Lei and her fellow Paper Girls live in a special section of the magical Hidden Palace where they are subjected to forced medical examinations, abused by their trainer, and raped by the bestial ruler. While Lei's fear and disgust at her impending assault are thoroughly depicted, her mental state afterward is less well described. Her enslavement becomes more bearable when she falls in love with Wren, a Paper Girl on a mission to kill the king, and their tender relationship provides some of the happier moments in this brutal story. Ngan grew up in Malaysia, and the setting shows the influence of several Asian cultures: the Hidden Palace resembles China's Forbidden Palace, the king forces the girls to drink sake, characters wear Malaysian kebayas and Chinese cheongsams. Lei's fate echoes those of the imperial concubines held by several Chinese emperors, as well as the "comfort women" forced to service World War II Japanese troops in Malaysia and other countries. Lei and her allies have backstories and motivations that make their situation all the more disturbing. VERDICT A deeply unsettling look at forced prostitution for mature readers of fantasy. Consider for purchase where Ellen Hopkins's Tricks and Traffick are popular.-Beth Wright Redford, Richmond Elementary School Library, VT © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Booklist Review
In Ikhara, there are three castes: the chimera-like, demonic Moon; the part-human, part-demon Steel; and the fully human Paper. Paper Lei's otherworldly golden eyes draw unwanted attention, and when she is picked to become a Paper Girl a member of the Demon King's human harem she cannot say no. Lei trains with other Paper Girls, learning exactly how few freedoms she is allowed, and dreading the day the king summons her. As she navigates this new world of social graces and subterfuge, she grows close to Wren, a Paper Girl with a mysterious past. Loving a fellow Paper Girl is dangerous enough, but Wren is involved with deadlier plots, and Lei learns just how far she's willing to follow her heart. This glittering commercial romance has real stakes, and the lavish, intriguingly conceptualized world will capture readers. This is a story about violence against women and difficult choices, and it's rarely easy to read. Love stories between women are still disappointingly few in fantasy, and romance and action fans alike will find much to savor here.--Maggie Reagan Copyright 2018 Booklist
Kirkus Review
Thrust into the beauty and horror of the Hidden Palace, will this Paper Girl survive?Ngan (The Memory Keepers, 2014, etc.) offers an amalgamation of Asian cultures set in a fantasy world reminiscent of imperial China. Individuals are separated into three castes: Moon, the ruling class that is wholly demon; Steel, who are human-demon hybrids; and Paper, the oppressed population that is entirely human. Seventeen-year-old Lei is dragged from her small village to become a Paper Girl, or concubine. Besides her long, raven hair, her only striking features are her unusual gold eyes. She reluctantly submits in the slim hope of finding her mother, who was abducted. While in the Palace, Lei lives as best she can, developing friendships and finding forbidden love in the arms of Wren, another Paper Girl, who possesses a feline elegance and is hiding secrets of her own. Lei's natural clumsiness and the requirements of learning court manners keep her out of the King's bed for a while, but sexual violence and the threat of it, though not graphically depicted, are prevalent throughout the story. Lei can be painfully nave at times and, unfortunately, does not have fire superpowers as the title might suggest. The setup and worldbuilding are strong, but many supporting characters are unfortunately more interesting than Lei.Setting up a strong foundation for a hoped-for sequel, this is ideal for those seeking diverse LGBTQ fantasy stories. (Fantasy. 14-18) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.