Title: Girls of Paper and Fire
Author: Natasha Ngan
Genre: YA fantasy
CW: Sexual assault, violence
Source: Library (borrowed)
One Sentence Synopsis
A girl from a marginalized caste is forcibly thrown into the ranks of the demon king’s concubines and finds heartache, friendship, and love.
“I don’t want an easy life. I want a meaningful one.”
This book appeared on my radar in the most random of ways. After wresting myself out of a rather dramatic reading slump, I felt like I was out of touch with the current goings-on of the book world. Someone mentioned that I should give Booktube a try. And I had no idea what that was. I spent a Saturday on Youtube, watching hours of videos of people just talking about books and it was like I had found my people! Girls of Paper and Fire, though it had been released the year before, kept getting mentioned because the sequel, Girls of Storm and Shadow, was being released in 2019. The more I listened to Booktubers talk about it, the more I wanted to read it for myself. I had also recently moved and wanted to visit our local library, so I figured I could go get my shiny, new library card and pick this book up at the same time.
I absolutely tore through this book! I fell in love with the story of Lei, a girl born into the Paper Caste but with eyes the color of shimmering gold. Her eyes attract attention and, unfortunately, the interest of the demon king. She is forcibly recruited to become one of the king’s Paper Girls; women from across the country picked for their beauty and breeding to become the king’s concubines. Lei would rather be anywhere but the palace, but she finds herself growing close to the other girls and especially the mysterious Wren.
Let me gush about the things I loved about this book. First, the world-building was first rate. I love a book that doesn’t dump information on you in an obvious way, but weaves the information you need into the story beautifully, and Natasha Ngan pulled this off extremely well. On a similar level, Ngan’s descriptions of her world and the characters that populate it were just lush and wonderful to read. It was so easy to imagine the palace and the gardens and all the Paper Girls that Lei comes to know. It’s just so rich and evocative and I absolutely ate it up.
Second, I found myself becoming quickly attached to the main character, Lei. She was so strong and fierce, even when she was terrified for not only herself, but her family. She is thrown into a terrible situation, but she remains resolute and tries her hardest to make it work for her. She is smart and a survivor and I found myself rooting for her almost instantly. I also really enjoyed getting to know Wren, another Paper Girl to who Lei feels a surprising attraction. She’s also a strong woman making her current situation work for her, though, I will say she seems a little more one-dimensional than Lei. Actually, all the other Paper Girls fell a little flat, to me, and just didn’t come to life like Lei did.
Third, the story itself was a thrill to read. There’s intrigue, there’s action, there’s politics… It sucked me in and didn’t let go until the last page! The pacing was wonderful and kept me engaged throughout all 400 pages. The ending, though. I both loved and hated how the book ended! It felt a little… not forced but… obvious? Like, if I hadn’t already know there was a sequel to this book, it would be quite clear that the author was setting us up for another book. I don’t mind reading series, but I tend to like it better when the ending doesn’t it make it so obvious. If that makes sense, heh.
All in all, Girls of Paper and Fire was a beautiful story and I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel!