I cannot recall quite why this one turned up on my TBR pile, but the cover is rather gorgeous and I liked the sound of a PoC protagonist with a same-sex romance…
BLURB: 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.
REVIEW: Do be aware – this book has an abduction, with the theme of non-consensual sex running through it and there is a rape scene, though it isn’t detailed.
The gripping opening scene, where Lei is snatched from her village immediately drew me in. It had lots of drama and I think that at point, the character jumps off the page and works well as a protagonist. However, although it is a gradual process, from the moment Lei arrives at the Palace, I began to have doubts about her characterisation. She seems to spend too much time making a point of being different. I wasn’t convinced that I was in the head of the first person pov, who is genuinely terrified of the consequences, despite those dire consequences being set out very clearly. She certainly creates a whole nest of problems for herself by behaving more like a bored schoolgirl, than a slave. And the trance scene, which is supposed to foreshadow Lei’s special role in coming events, felt as if it had been added to persuade the reader that she is, indeed, important.
It was a shame, because Ngan writes with passion and commitment. I thought the growing romance between the two girls was tender, but again – far too reckless and obvious, given the circumstances. And about two-thirds of the way into the story, I had the growing conviction that the wrong girl was the main protagonist – that should have been Wren, whose backstory was far more intriguing. And Ngan’s efforts to depict it via Lei grew increasingly clumsy.
That said, there is still a lot I enjoyed. At no point was I tempted to put the book down as the descriptions of the Court life and the beautiful costumes were well depicted and I liked the political undercurrents and sense of control slipping away. I also liked the fact that all the girls trapped as concubines had varying reactions to what was going on around them. But my overall enjoyment was hampered by my misgivings around the main character.
I remember loving this cover when it came out, but I was never tempted to pick this up. I’m not a fan of slave stories😬
I was looking for something a bit different… And I do recall someone highly recommending it – but I didn’t find it wholly successful.
The book’s protagonist sounds like she embodies the sum of the worst traits for YA characters, so this one is probably not for me… Thanks for sharing! 🙂
Yes… there was a strong message that I liked – but I really didn’t feel that the protagonist effectively depicted the sheer fear and oppression of the situation.
Ahh, that is a shame – and such a delightful cover that would definitely have pulled me in.
Yes… I won’t be reading any more of this series. It is a shame, but I am aware that others have really enjoyed it.
Yes, this kind of story is such a tough sell. When the protag seems passive, accepting of horrible circumstances, it just….it goes against all we know. and we can’t follow a character into that acceptance.
It was her behaviour that aggravated me. She was acting up as if she was a naughty schoolgirl… There is a generation of younger writers who have never been hit as children (we were regularly smacked at home and struck with rulers/board rubbers/dictionaries and if you were naughty enough – you were caned. Though I escaped that one. I do recall being properly afraid of authority, particularly at school, in a way I don’t think happens these days. I’m not saying that was the right way to treat children – but I do think some younger writers tend to struggle a bit when writing their protags as having to be very obedient…
Very true. Part of me wonders if Rowling started that trend–Harry Potter consistently proved that DISobeying the rules was the right thing to do, save for book 5, I’d say (when Sirius dies). Hmmm… but then there are oodles of cop movies where the hardened Dirty Harry-esque character “doesn’t play by the rules” and comes out ahead, but in the defense of those characters they tend to be older and (somewhat) wiser and have, in a way, gone through their struggles with authority.
But yes–as one who also got some smacks at home and school, and today the adult could be sued for giving a kid a spanking in public. Adults/authority so often seem to be useless/powerless/not worth listening to.
Hmmm. Might be worth exploring in a blog post sometime…