Title: Girls of Paper and Fire
Series: Girls of Paper and Fire #1
Author: Natasha Ngan
Published on November 2018 by Jimmy Patterson Books
Genre: fantasy (YA)
Rating: 9/10 – loved it!
In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.
TW: violence and sexual abuse.
I mentioned Girls of Paper and Fire on my most anticipated releases of 2018 list a few months ago, because it seemed like an incredible read. Fantasy is my favorite genre, so knowing this is a fantasy novel set in a world inspired by Asia bumped it high up my to-read list. Then I found out it was an LGBTQ+ book with an f/f romance! Sadly, there aren’t enough of those when it comes to SFF. I knew I had to read it close to the release date. Apparently, past Jolien was intrigued enough to preorder a Kindle copy, and present me completely forgot and got a pleasant surprise on release date.
I had seen some mixed reviews surface already, and it dimmed my enthusiasm for this novel. I decided to give it a try anyway during The One Readathon, and I’m so glad I did. I ended up loving this book, and I’ll definitely be recommending it to others.
Before I talk about the story, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the world. First, there are three castes: Paper, Steel, and Moon. The Paper caste are human, the Steel caste are part demon yet not entirely, and the Moon caste are fully demon. Generations ago, the King conquered the different states and elevated the Moon caste above all others, while trampling the paper one under his hooves. Ever since, he chooses 8 Paper Girls a year to who become his concubines. He does whatever he wants with them for that set amount of time.
TW for sexual assault and rape. Can I just say how happy it makes me that they included a trigger warning in the synopsis and book?
The story starts when Lei is taken from her home by General Yu to become one of the King’s Paper Girls. She doesn’t have a choice in the matter, and would rather do anything than be close to the King. After all, he raided her village years ago and took her mother. We follow Lei as she gets to know the other Paper Girls and tries to survive in the palace, dreading the moment the King will call upon her.
It feels weird to say I enjoyed the story line because it deals with some very serious and difficult topics, like rape and assault. How else do I explain it though? I flew through this book because I did absolutely love it. Though to some it may seem like not that much happened in the novel, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. I wanted to get to know the Paper Girls better, and help them get out of the situation they were in. I wasn’t bored once while reading.
I’m glad this book received the buzz it did, because I hope it encouraged a lot of people to pick it up. It’s an intense fantasy novel set in an intriguing yet cruel world that chronicles the lives of these girls as they try to survive one of the worst situations anyone could be put in. Seeing the different ways they react to it is definitely thought-provoking.
I really loved the characters. Lei was such an interesting girl, and one you really start to root for. She’s brave but not stupid, skeptical yet trusting. She’s gone through so much, both before the story starts and during the book, and that has left scars. Traumatic experiences aren’t just shrugged off, and she doesn’t simply ‘pick herself back up’ after them. She actually deals with them, and has to learn to fight through the terror the experiences have left her with.
Wren is another interesting character. Dare I say that in most YA fantasy novels she would be the MC. If you’ve read the book, let me know so we can discuss this! I absolutely adored Wren.
AND CAN I GET A THANK YOU FOR THE ADORABLE, WONDERFUL, AND FANTASTIC F/F RELATIONSHIP!
The side character that stood out to me most was Aoki. She’s also one of the Paper Girls, alongside Wren and Lei. The way Aoki reacts to being a concubine for a year is very different than the others girls though. Through her, we really start to see how manipulative and smart the King is because he knows exactly how to play her. slight spoiler > maybe she even suffers from Stockholm syndrome? He’s technically her abuser, but she grows to love him anyway. < end spoiler
And can we talk about that ending? Wow! I have to admit I saw it coming, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it at all. I can’t wait to read the sequel and see what the girls get up to next.
It’s probably clear by now that I would recommend this book to everyone. Do take a look at the trigger warnings first though, to decide whether you’ll be able to read this. It’s quite brutal at times. I loved every single second of this reading experience, and I’ll definitely continue the series as soon as it comes out. Have you read this book? What did you think of it?