Book Review: GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE by Natasha Ngan

Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Series: Yes - book 1
CW: sexual abuse

Synopsis:

girls of paper and fire

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

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.

Synopsise taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Thoughts:

This book had me hooked from the get go. I picked it up and just read – for about three hours until I’d finished it.

The writing is so rich, weaving an inescapable net around you – not that you’ll want to leave the world and characters. In a twitter exchange with Ngan (I had remarked the book was a millimetre too tall for my shelf), she admitted there were probably a few adjectives that could have been cut – but I disagree. The adjectives fit seamlessly into the prose, bringing the world to life.

Lei is such a compelling MC, caught between fear for her family, desire for freedom and Wren, disgust, repulsion and fear of the demon king who would use her body to sate his own desire. The deep POV pulled me into her mind so well that I felt her claustrophobic fear. Unlike many books, I couldn’t see ‘the right path’ she needed to take to get out of a situation – her decisions felt logical and the world she was in didn’t seem to have any ‘right paths’. Her arc is brilliant, and I loved the climax.

Wren was nice, but she’s introduced as this aloof woman with secrets, which made her feel a tad cliche. The beautiful love-interest-with-secrets cliche. She was nuanced though, once Lei got to know her (even if the cliche feel didn’t go away). The romance between the two came on very fast. I’m glad Lei actually had the agency to demand answers and be on equal footing with Wren when it came to the secrets.

The other women in this book are equally complex, from Aoki to Zelle. Even the more stereotypical ‘beautiful-rich-petty’ character had more layers than I expected. It was hard to predict what they’d do next – or work out their thoughts on their situation.

This book is one the definitely needs the TW – it deals with some very dark topics. Any actual rape is blacked out, but the before and after is vividly shown. My skin was creeping at the predatory nature of the men, and their possessiveness. At no point was any of it romanticised – unlike some other books.

I’m not entirely sure what I thought of the last page. It felt a little tacked on, like the book was written originally as a standalone and was then made into a series. It undercut Lei’s achievements somewhat.

I’m so glad I picked this book up, and I’m excited to see what comes next after that ending.


Read my reviews of other books by Natasha Ngan:

Girls of Paper and Fire (this series):

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