ARC provided by Jimmy Patterson Books in exchange for an honest review.
Title: Girls of Paper and Fire
Author: Natasha Ngan
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication Date: November 6, 2018
My Rating: ★★★★
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.
This was a very powerful read but it does contain some very heavy topics so please go into this only if you’re in the right headspace ❤
Trigger warnings for rape, sexual abuse, physical abuse, animal abuse, loss of a loved one, mutilation.
Girls of Paper and Fire is an Own Voices, Asian-inspired YA fantasy story that takes place in a world with three castes: Paper, Steel, and Moon. Paper castes are the lowest and fully human. Steel are middle caste, half–human, half-demon with some animal characteristics. Then there’s the highest caste, Moon, who are demons and have full animal characteristics.
And each year the Demon King takes eight Paper girls from their homes and forces them to be his concubines. Lei is a Paper girl, and because of her beautiful golden eyes, she becomes the ninth Paper girl, which is unprecedented. While these girls are told it is an honor to serve the Demon King, Lei refuses to accept this fate.
This is a very quiet, slow-burn of a book. And it did take me a very long time to get into it. I did not fall in love with the writing, but I fell in love with Lei and Wren, and how much love and comfort they found in one another. It is so rare to find YA with f/f romance starring an all Asian cast. I know this book means a lot to so many of my friends — and to me as well. I am Southeast Asian but so rarely find books with amazing Asian rep. Girls of Paper and Fire totally exceeded my expectations regarding that!
But this book does have very dark themes such as rape and oppression. There were so many things in this book that parallels our current situation in the US such as the Me Too movement; overcoming oppression, healing from sexual abuse, reclaiming your worth, and standing up for and loving yourself. The Demon King is a prime example of a ruler who abuses his power to the fullest and wants nothing more than to “put people in their place” and punish those who do not conform to his rules.
Overall the themes in this book were difficult for me to read but it is so important and relevant. It’s a love story in times when you feel like you’ve lost everything else. But I also loved how empowering it was. I have a feeling this will have a sequel because it left things very open-ended. And if so then I hope we get to see more of the world of Ikhara.