• CW/TW: rape, sexual assault/abuse, separation, violence
  • Rumors of what? Here’s the thing I kind of hate about fantasy, it takes a while to become familiar with the world (fine), but when world building isn’t done well then I have no idea what’s going on (not fine). I think the world building has a great start here and it’s really close, but I don’t fall into it like I have with other books. I think there’s not quite enough information at the beginning, and we don’t really get any more extensive world-building past that.
  • The writing is immediately elegant and graceful. I love it.
  • “What did they say when baby-me opened her eyes to reveal luminous, liquid gold?” What does this mean exactly?
  • Ooooh she has golden eyes. Okay, I’m 100 percent sure me not understanding this is user error.
  • I have this vision of her refilling the herb boxes like Kamaji from Spirited Away
  • Hmmm, courtesans huh? I didn’t know anything about this book except it’s a w/w and had content warnings for sexual assault and rape so this is interesting. I’m so glad I don’t live in medieval times wow.
  • Well I can’t say I don’t respect his tactics, families close to the kind prepare their daughters to be paper-girls a la Hunger Games I’m guessing.
  • So if shamans are magic users, is she or the girl she meets going to be one?
  • I hate the eagle demon madam (whose name I can’t remember right now for some reason), she’s such a witch.
  • Oooh yes, the flirting and eye-contact has began. It’s begun, so Wren(?) is definitely going to be the LI right?
  • Why is it surprising that many families don’t put beautiful girls forward for the king? Like I would think that’s to be expected.
  • “Cut long and slender, sleeveless, with a high collar” like a qipao? That’s what immediately comes to mind from this description.
  • Ah HA! I was 100 percent correct. Although they use the another name “cheongsam” for it.
  • “Understanding arrives then the way twilight falls: instantaneously. Just a blink, a skip in time, leaving only the before and the after, and the inescapable ripples of change.” This is lovely.
  • YES GIRLS LOVING GIRLS YES
  • Oooh, Wren knew about the attack on the puppet show.
  • I think she was a little harsh on Wren for not allowing her to explain or say anything first. I mean think of it from Wren’s perspective, how does she know she can genuinely trust Lei? She, and her entire family, could be executed if the king found out she’s Xia so I think cutting her a little slack is good. I feel like Lei’s reaction to this information is… idk, there’s something off about it. I don’t really feel the betrayal?
  • WHY IS SHE ASKING WHO WREN WAS WITH LAST NIGHT WITH EVERYTHING ELSE GOING ON???
  • AGAIN, completely the wrong time to be talking about the King’s fertility…
  • OK I kind of timed out during most of the rest of this book but long story short, Lei and Wren get closer and start spending the nights together. Blue finds out about them and then there’s the new year celebration/party.
  • Wait, so Wren’s mom died? So now Lei—who has no training, not even non-Xia training has to kill the king? This feels very much like ex-machina. I don’t appreciate it. It feels very underdeveloped. Surely there’s someone ELSE who is able to get close to the king and kill him. Like why does it have to be Lei, don’t they have palace and kingly guards who are part of the resistance?
  • Oh wow, I totally forgot that the general (whose name I don’t remember) was like “hey if you don’t behave we’ll kill your father and Tien.” TOTALLY forgot about this.
  • Loooll, Lei forgot about the dumb fan performance.
  • Lei’s very lucky there were a lot of people behind her because she definitely could have died.
  • Okay, so the last bit was very rushed and I felt like the pacing in this book is really off. Like it’s so slow for 80 percent of the book and then all of a sudden shit hits the fan and I just don’t care very much?
  • THEY’RE NOT DEAD UNTIL THEY’RE WARM AND IN THE GROUND DEAD. That’s my policy.
  • 5/10—There were a lot of things I wish were different about this book. I don’t think it’s objectively a bad thing I just didn’t really relate to a lot of it. For some reason I wasn’t drawn in by the plot, it’s pretty slow moving especially for about 60-80 percent of the book. I don’t think the hype ruined this book for me, I just think it wasn’t for me. The pacing was frustrating to me because all the action happened in the first 5 percent or the last 10 percent which I’m just not a fan of. My thoughts are pretty messy but here’s the gist of it all.
    • The writing is phenomenal. I love the imagery and the flow of the sentences are great.
    • There were things I totally forgot about—things that were supposed to be big and important. The general threatening her parents (she like completely forgot about it after she got to the palace; she never mentioned it after getting there).
    • I will say the sexual assault and rape is handled very well. I think it’s important to understand what happened without it being extremely graphic. That’s focusing on the violence and sometimes can even be glorifying it.
    • The nuance of how all the different paper girls feel about being courtesans is done very well too. Obviously, all the girls are going to feel different (also the king is manipulative and power dynamics exist) about how they’re basically sexual slaves/being raped.