Title: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 6 November 2018
Genre: Fantasy | Young adult
Page count: 384 pages
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.
Why had I not already read this book?!?! I somehow missed the hype when this book was released last year, but OMG it is incredible and I can’t believe I waited till now to read. Girls of Paper and Fire weaves a beautifully detailed yet dark fantasy world, where each year, eight girls are chosen to become consorts of the King. The girls are chosen from the Paper class, the lowest class, those without any magical demon abilities. But this year, things are different. Lei is kidnapped from her home by the King’s Generals, due to her unusual eyes, in the hope the gift of a ninth girl will win the General favour in the eyes of the King. Lei is forced into a life as the King’s consort, with comfort and friendships formed on one hand, but torn apart from her family and facing sexual assault regularly at the King’s hand. This book is very hard-hitting and does discuss and picture sexual assault on page. But it is discussed in a very delicate yet empowering way, more about how the girls can recover and feel strong again than the act itself.
Natasha’s writing is just absolutely exquisite! I was hooked from the very first page – I started the book just before going to sleep one night and what an absolute regret that was the next day because I couldn’t stop reading and it was such a struggle to stop thinking about the world and actually go sleep. The characters are all so vivid, from Lei who struggles with finding happiness and friendship with the other Paper girls, knowing her family must be devasted; to Wren, who is so silent and mysterious but slowly opens up to Lei; to Aoki, who is manipulated into loving the Demon King; to the Demon King himself, who is so inherently evil and wears his evil so arrogantly, he just forces you to pay attention to him when reading.
The worldbuilding was really well done, though I wish we’d seen a little more with regards the demon castes (Steel and Moon). I really liked seeing the combination of animal demons with human traits – I am an absolute sucker for any fantasy with cat/human creatures (and really any creature based magic). I wish we’d seen more of the shamans, the King’s magicians who wield some incredible magic but it’s never really hugely explained. I also really liked the hints about how too much magic has been taken, so the world is fighting back with something called ‘The Sickness’ – I’m guessing this will be revealed more in the later books so cannot wait to get some more info on what exactly the sickness is.
I really liked that Lei wasn’t some superhuman ‘destined to save the world’ girl. She struggles like everyone else, and fails, and still fights back. Her relationship with Wren was so lovely – MORE F/F FANTASY PLEEEEASE – and their relationship just felt so soft and gentle and special (in huge contrast to their forced relationship with the King).
All in all, this book was incredible, I couldn’t stop reading and I really wish it was November already so I can read the sequel!
Rach + Draco