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.
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. But now, the guards are back with Lei and her mysterious golden eyes piquing 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, and her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara.
Trigger Warning: Violence & Sexual Abuse
This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and I’m so happy to say that I loved reading Girls of Paper and Fire. It was so luxuriant and amazing and well-developed, I had an amazing time reading, and am so sad I wasn’t able to meet Natasha at Book Con. *cries in book*
But really. Girls of Paper and Fire is everything you could ask for. But one of my favorite parts was definitely the rich worldbuilding. Natasha’s worldbuilding was so exquisite and tasteful and I loved being immersed in this world.
It’s both magical and very very real at the same time, and I really got into the world and some of the magic and setting. It was all very lush and unique, but without feeling overly flowery.
Plus, I love the concept of the demon/human hierarchy with humans at the bottom under part demons and full demons (as some of my friends would say, furries). I think this was such a novel concept and did a good job of revealing themes of oppression outside of the obvious oppression of women in this sort of society.
There are a lot of deeper themes and subtext when you look at this book–and not just the more feminist themes of concubines revolting etc., but the entire oppression system and some of the more personal themes handing rape and domestic violence.
I found Ngan’s execution of these themes to be very elegant and well-done, as well as with a proper amount of vagueness to lend itself to be applicable to a wide age range of readers.
Plus, I absolutely loved the romance between Lei and Wren and found it to be swoony and so fierce that this wasn’t a concubine-falling-in-love-with-a-king story. Phew. They are a good match, and the romance was honestly a little slow-burn, which is honestly why I liked it so much.
The only thing I didn’t really like and why this was bumped down half a star was because I felt like for a lot of the middle portion of the book, there was a lack of aim/goal. I loved the writing and the subtle scenes and buildup that was happening, but I feel like Ngan didn’t really give the readers something to look forward to in that time section.
I liked what was happening, but I didn’t know what I might be expecting/what the character’s goal was, and that was ultimately what brought it down.
It’s still such an amazing novel, both with the luscious writing, but also with the buildup to THAT ENDING. I thought the climax was awesome, and even though I was a little unguided to the lead-up, the climax completely blew me away.
I think Ngan created a really nice balance of resolution and hinting towards the sequel with the epilogue, which, no spoilers, was a good mix of eerie and foreboding, so props for that too!
Overall, I really enjoyed reading Girls of Paper and Fire and would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a lush, Asian fantasy full of real characters and lots of nuance and subtlety!
Thank you so much to Natasha Ngan and Jimmy Patterson for providing me with an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review!