Title: Girls of Paper and Fire (Girls of Paper and Fire #1)
Author: Natasha Ngan
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBT
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books
No. of pages: Hardcover, 336 pages
Publication Date: November 6, 2018
Date Read: November 7, 2018
TW: Rape, Abuse, Violence
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. (Goodreads)
I can’t exactly remember when I first heard about this book. All I can remember is that once I heard the basic synopsis, I knew it was one I wanted to read. I was definitely right, this book is one that I wanted to read; at times, it was a hard read due to the subject matter, but it was one that needed to be read.
Girls of Paper and Fire follows Lei. A girl who is part of the Paper Caste, the lowest Caste in this worlds society. Seven years after the mysterious kidnapping and disappearance of her mother, Lei is also taken from her home and is given as a present to the King as a ‘Paper Girl,’ essentially a sex slave to the King for the next year. While bound to the inside of the Hidden Palace, Lei never lets go of hope, even in the face of extreme rituals, abuse, and seeing the other girls around her submit. She fights, and in the midst of fighting, finds love.
Ngan definitely writes a story worth reading. At times, it’s hard to push through scenes of abuse, the threat of rape, and the knowledge of rape happening to characters although never written but implied. Lei as a character embraces who everyone hopes to be if in this situation (God forbid it ever does). Lei doesn’t back down, she continues to fight, she never lets go of hope, and even in the midst of hell, she doesn’t let it get her down.
One of the hardest character developments in this book for me was Aoki. I loved Aoki when we first met her character. As the story continues, I still loved her but I felt that her character was given one the worst hands. I understand why due to the circumstances in the book, it was inevitable that one of the girls would develop some sort of Stockholm Syndrome, but I hated that it was her.
The relationship between Wren and Lei was super well written. The development didn’t feel forced, it was obvious but not obvious. I haven’t read a lot of books where LGBT representation was included so it was a newer experience for me to read, and I’m glad it was included as it validates others who may be LGBT. In the course of this book, I felt this relationship wasn’t written as one of those moments where the author may have felt obligated due to the nature of the character’s circumstances. It didn’t turn into the “damsel in distress” trope where a man comes and saves her. Which I appreciated because due to the nature of the castle, random men couldn’t even get in if they wanted to.
One of the other things I really liked about this book was that there were bits and pieces of the author’s life included. In the author’s notes, Ngan mentioned that a lot of this book was influenced by her experiences growing up in Malaysia and of the influence growing up multi-ethnic. I’m always intrigued and love reading and hearing about cultures and worlds that are different from mine. There were bits and pieces of culture weaved throughout this book and it heavily influenced the richness of the world that Ngan created.
Girls of Paper and Fire was such a great read. If you’re able to, I’d definitely recommend it. It will absolutely be one that will leave you wanting more of the story once it ends. It just came out this past Tuesday, Nov. 6th.
Thanks to Jimmy Patterson Books and Little, Brown and Company for sending me a review copy!!