Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
Genre: Fantasy | Young Adult | LGBT
Length: 374 pages
Published on 6th November 2018 by Hodder & Stoughton
Purchase: Amazon | TBD
Natasha Ngan: Website | Twitter | Goodreads
ARC received from publishers at YALC
Synopsis: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.
Presented by James Patterson, Natasha Ngan’s lyrical, searing, visceral fantasy, Girls of Paper and Fire, will remind us how precious freedom is–and the price we must pay to achieve it.
I wanted to pick this book up immediately after leaving YALC because not only did it sound like a great fantasy read but it has a queer female lead! Hell yeah.
But as with all of my reading plans I didn’t pick it up till the 29th October and then I read it all in one sitting. It really helped that I was on a 12 hour long plane and whilst I did have 5 books with me this was the one that took all of my attention.
After finishing GoPaF I couldn’t even force myself to pick up one of my other books because this was exactly what I needed and there was no way in hell anything could live up to the feelings I was having at that exact moment.
I don’t doubt the other books I had are great, but to read ANYTHING straight after this felt like a crime!
This book follows Lei who is from the poor areas in her country due to being a paper caste (this expression is explained on the opening page, in short she is just a human). Her family want nothing to do with their ruler because of his harsh and abusive ways, they’re far enough away they can pretend he doesn’t exist most days even though he has left a wound on them; he took Lei’s mother.
This book doesn’t try and sugar coat the Demon Kings brutality as whilst his soldiers are there to take Lei to be his concubine, they also murder her dog, and threaten her family if she makes it any harder than she had already tried.
I saw a lot of people talk about this shortly after YALC as a thing to prepare readers for but by the time I picked it up I had totally forgotten so here is your release week reminder.
I definitely cried on the plane.
For me the story really picks up once Lei is at the palace as she has to learn, adapt, and grow to survive there. She has to come to terms with what will eventually be expected of her whilst trying to make friendships to survive within the Paper Girls living area.
The other girls really help to make this book as each of them are such full of personality. I don’t really want to delve into each of them too much as I believe a lot of what I loved about them was their own growth or Lei’s understanding of them as the book progress’.
Ngan does extremely well of making sure each character has depth to them and seeing how the friendships Lei makes change over time because of the other characters experiences too are super important.
I was also a huge fan of her own growth as a character because she doesn’t have any special powers or help to make her a heroine, she just wants to keep her freedom and choices. She stands up for what she believes in.
As mentioned earlier Lei is queer. She isn’t aware of this at the start of the book so I loved the exploration of her coming to terms with this and accepting that this is a part of her life she’s okay with even if it could get her killed.
Seeing her struggle to keep her crush a secret because its not normal (please note: within this world men often take male lovers but Lei says she’s rarely seen it the other way around) and she doesn’t consider the feelings could be reciprocated.
The relationship formed felt very genuine and made me very happy. I did lots of squeals.
Lastly, I need to give a content warning for rape. The story does focus on this a fair bit given that none of the girls want to be the Demon Kings concubines but that is what they’re chosen to be there for and he does rape them. However, this doesn’t happen on page which I’m thankful for and instead its the aftermath we see; how each girl deals with it and helping the others through it.
Its a horrible thing to happen indeed.
I feel I’ve touched a lot upon my love for the characters and very little for the story so in case you need further convincing to read it the short version is about two girls banding together in fight for their and other girls freedom, for the countries freedom from such a brutal leader, but also for their world to survive as it’s being torn about because of global warming (of a magical sense), which makes it very relevant.
This has definitely been one of my favourite stories of the year and I look forward to see what else Ngan writes. I think this is the first in a series but I can’t find any information confirming it so.