“I know what it means to dream about the past. To dream about things you have loved, and lost.”
Spoiler Free Review
Title: Girls of Paper and Fire
Author: Natasha Ngan
Series or Standalone: Series (Book #1)
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBT
Publication Date: November 6th 2018
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books
Star Rating: ★★★★☆
“Welcome to the palace, Paper Girl.”
Girls of Paper and Fire quickly gained momentum well before it’s release date. It didn’t avoid my radar and young adult fantasy readers shouldn’t let it avoid theirs either. Natasha Ngan is redefining the standard for young adult fantasy because this was damn good.
Heavily inspired by Natasha Ngan’s Malaysian upbringing, Girls of Paper and Fire is set in the fictional region of Ikhara, where three types of classes (known as ‘castes’) exist. The first being Moon castes, who represent the most powerful class. They are demons that look like animals in humanoid form. Below this class are Steel castes, who mostly have a human form, but take on demonic features (i.e. horns patches of fur). Lastly Paper castes are the most oppressed class and are completely human.
This story follows Lei, who is from the most oppressed class. Lei is stolen by the Demon King’s royal soldiers, who every year take eight girls from the Paper caste where they are trained to become his concubines.
What immediately caught my attention was how phenomenally written this book is. The ability of Natasha Ngan to write something horrifyingly emotive, yet gorgeous was incredible.
“For a moment, it feels so like before—when our family was still whole, and our hearts. When it didn’t hurt to think of my mother, to whisper her name in the middle of the night and know she can’t answer. But despite his joking, Baba’s smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes, and it reminds me that I’m not the only one haunted by their memories.”
In a society that is incredibly misogynistic and Moon castes are outrageously privileged, this story features some really disturbing themes. It is ripe with sexual abuse, rape and violence against underpowered parties. Most notably the Paper Girls, who are chosen as concubines and begin their work as sex slaves for the Demon King.
Some of the Paper Girls are raised to see this as an honourable position. And really, when they are so young, taken to a life of luxury and assured their families are being looked after; you can’t blame them for not knowing better. Lei on the other hand, instantly despises her role and is finding ways to rebel against the Demon King and the Kingdom that stole her mother from her.
Lei shows such strength and determination in the face of adversity. She felt so real too – there are more facets shown apart from strength. Like her pain and stubbornness, her ability to love, feel happiness and support her friends and fellow Paper Girls. Lei is definitely a character many readers will find easy to champion.
I also adored the personality this book has. Despite the heaviness of whats happening, there are light moments too. Honestly after this passage, you have to read Lei’s name aloud and smile to yourself (biasedly maybe).
“They named me Lei, with a soft rising tone. They told me they chose it because the word makes your mouth form a smile, and they wanted to smile every time they thought of me.”
Also, Natasha Ngan is coming for you people who take morning showers.
“First stop—the bathing courtyard.” “Um…I usually bathe at the end of the day. You know, after I’ve had time to get dirty?”
Furthermore, this book does not neglect side characters. Lei’s relationship with her fellow Paper Girls is as complex as their attitudes towards one another. At times, it’s complicated and political. In moments where you want them to band together, they don’t. This was arguably the most frustrating part of the story, but ultimately really important. I can see the roles of side characters being expanded upon in future novels and can see these relationships being really rewarding.
We’re also blessed with an f/f romance and a lot of sapphic content. This love story is slow burn and absolutely divine. It compliments the story so well, but I would’ve loved some more angst. I wouldn’t have minded being made to wait longer in the series and essentially would’ve elongating that slow burn.
“I have seen beneath that Paper Girl mask, the night when the rain washed away everything between us and left only the deep thrum of desire.”
This world is incredibly rich and the book itself is such a page turner. It is also much needed in the Young Adult realm, where sapphic Asian girls have representation and are the incredible heroes of their own story. I can hardly wait for the forthcoming books.
If you have made it here, thank you 📚💕 I would love to hear from you in the comment section too! 📖