Girls of Paper and Fire

(Girls of Paper and Fire #1, By: Natasha Ngan)

SUMMARY:

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.

TW: violence and sexual abuse.

Expected publication: November 6th 2018 by Jimmy Patterson Books

REVIEW:

I gave this book 4 stars. This was a fierce read with a whirlwind story of love, pain, and justice. I absolutely adored the cultural world that Ngan created and the rich history that wove itself throughout the story. Please keep in mind that this book covers a plethora of hard and dark topics, and at points can be hard to read. While this is part of what makes it so real and so worth reading, make sure you are in the right head space.

Content and trigger warnings: for rape, rape culture, sexual assault, slavery, sex trafficking, torture, branding, physical abuse, and graphic animal death.

Let’s start with the world building because it was one of my favorite aspects of this read. Ngan was raised in a multicultural home (between Malaysia and the UK) and boy it that evident in her writing. She brought to life a world full of vibrant and unique culture with customs and history that made it feel unbelievably real. While the world is brutal, I was completely immersed in it. If you enjoyed reading Memoirs of a Geisha, you will love this book.

Along with the cultural aspects of this read, Ngan focused on many social injustices. Everything from sexism, to homophobia, to castes systems is woven into this story. I appreciated the diversity, and especially loved how she made the love story so normal. The female/female relationship developed so naturally that the story wasn’t hyper focused on making it a “thing”. This allowed the characters to be themselves and the story to focus on love in general and the beauty of it even in the darkest of places.

The characters in general were beautiful and inspiring. So much strength was shown in the way that the Paper Girls existed in a world that taught them their entire lives that they were less than everything around them (ugh!). At times, especially at the beginning, I did find myself straying from Lei, the main character, and more interested in the other girls. However, as the story progressed Lei started to really win me over.

The plot was full of tension and conflict, due to the nature of the setting and events going on, but I found some areas to be a bit repetitive. At several points, the momentum would get stuck in these eddies, swirling around the same issues / points of contention longer than they needed to. While a bit predicable, the plot would eventually push on and ultimately led the reader along a trajectory that was extremely entertaining.

Overall, this read was beautiful and heartbreaking and meaningful. Basically all of the things I look for in a story. While there were small aspects that would have pushed it to 5 stars, I still adored this book and highly recommend it. Ngan’s writing is stunning and she beautifully balanced some horrid topics with the strength that humans have to overcome them.


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