Written by: Natasha Ngan
Published: November 6, 2018 by Jimmy Books (Little, Brown Books)
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.
TW: violence and sexual abuse.
This book was one of my most anticipated debuts of the year. I read a lot of YA fantasy (because I love it, obviously), and I am always excited to see a standalone, especially one on the darker side with political intrigue. And this was a really good read.
One of the best things about this book is the world. I'm surprised by how rich and engaging the world of this book is even though it's more subtle. It's a book inspired by Asian cultures and the emphasis is interesting and makes for a lush and beautiful setting. I usually like my fantasies to go big when it comes to magic but this one didn't. Instead it just developed the story around the world where people have animal features. These are the people who are the most revered and powerful within this world and there is a firm caste system between the others with people just being human at the lowest level. And like a lot of fantasy there is a brutal and authoritarian ruler. It added more depth to the world and a lot of political intrigue to the plot.
But I will say, that I still have a lot of questions about the world of this book. I know the general rule of them is to show instead of tell when it comes to world building but then you have to actually show these things. Maybe I was just reading more into it then it actually was but I thought there was some opportunities for big reveals in the explanation of the world and magical system. This boiok never went there and I wish that it had.
However, it may be possible that the world building was simple because the plot took more of the focus. This is one of those books where I think the trigger warning is good because this is very much a brutal read. It doesn't shrink away from the abuse of power of the Demon King, not only on the people in general but the young women who are his courtesans. It's often hard to read but it made for a dark and engaging story that had me wanting the protagonists to succeed in their goal to overthrow the king. I'm a plot-driven reader and usually I prefer a book full of action and surprises but this too was on the more subtle side. It was a simple sort of rebellion story but it was an interesting one nonetheless. I was invested in the story and it definitely did build to an exciting conclusion.
As far as the characters, I am not entirely sure how I feel about them. I already mentioned the brutal antagonist and I feel like Ngan did a great job in developing a terrible villain that was easy to dislike. But I would have like some more from the protagonists. Lei was a good enough main character, the kind of person who goes through so much that you can't help but root for her over the oppressors. But as an individual, I don't think she really came to life. It's not that she didn't have individual traits, because she was definitely fierce and determined in a way that usually endears me to a character. I mean she has some serious Sansa Stark vibes and you know how I love me some Sansa. But she just didn't make that strong an impression on me.
What surprised me though it that I did however like the romance. It's a f/f relationship and I actually liked the way that it developed. It is a little bit of a instalove, I mean it develops very quickly, but I think the author does a good job of showing the character's inner thoughts about the relationship. It's a bit of a forbidden fruit sort of thing but it never got to over the top with that. I liked that the character was torn about her feelings which makes it all the more satisfying when it came together. It had a good balance too and didn't overpower the story for me.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book even though it wasn't perfect. It had a rich and engaging world, a plot that pulled me and kept me reading until the exciting conclusion, and a romance that I actually enjoyed.
I give Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan 8.5 out of 10 stars
Have you read Girls of Paper and Fire? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!