Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
Series: Girls of Paper and Fire
Published November 6th 2018 by Jimmy Patterson Books
Genre: young adult, fantasy, lgbt, romance, magic, ownvoices
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 demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.
In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.
trigger warnings: rape, sexual abuse, death, abduction, torture, bloody scenes
girls of paper and fire reminded me of the the classic chinese palace political intrigue and setting. this #ownvoices novel is filled with demons, secret plans for rebellions and assassinations. natasha ngan used her malaysian background to create this rich and beautiful YA fantasy filled with powerful friendship, traditional court conflict and an expansive world-building.
lei is taken into the palace as one of the demon king’s concubines. being the ninth, she’s the special one because only eight girls were chosen each year. although i do find lei to be annoying once in a while, i couldn’t help but be in awe of her strength and determination. she’s just a normal girl, brought into this world unwillingly, and she’s doing all she can to survive.
“I don’t want an easy life. I want a meaningful one.”
in this hostile environment, lei managed to make a couple of friends and even develop a romance. the relationship wasn’t with a male, wasn’t with the demon king but rather, lei fell in love with another concubine named wren. i really enjoyed their romance which bloomed in an terrifying situation for the both of them. since it’s a forbidden one, i tensed up every time they got together secretly because someone, someday, somehow is going to know about it and report it to the king. the thought of them being found out and the repercussions they would face is scary.
through girls of paper and fire, the author discussed about the effects and impacts of sexual abuse through the different girls chosen to be concubines. although there’s no horrifyingly explicit scenes, the reader knows it happens. the girls reacted differently to sexual abuse. some would convince themselves that it’s alright, some are groomed and conditioned to accept it. others would fight back with all their might like lei.
i’m not sure what will happen in girls of storm and shadow but the end of girls of paper and fire is too chilling for me to feel anything except for fear.