Followers of my blog will know that Girls of Paper and Fire was one of the books I was looking forward to the most in November. And you might also know that I received this book in the October Fairyloot box. After spending way too long admiring this gorgeous cover, I curled up with a cup of tea and my copy of this novel…
…and stepped into the wondrous world created by Natasha Ngan.
Meet Lei, a young woman who helps her father in his shop. They belong to the Paper caste, the lowest rank in society. The other castes are Steel (half human, half demon) and Moon (demons, who take on animal characteristics, the highest class). One day, palace guards come for Lei, to take her to the capital. There, she is to become a Paper Girl, a concubine to the demon king, along with eight other girls who have been chosen that year. Together, they begin their training and try to adapt to their life, while waiting (some eagerly, some anxiously) for the king to call on them.
Girls of Paper and Fire starts with a content warning, a foreword and even useful contact information for survivors of abuse. Because yes, this is a dark story. There are a few instances of rape and attempted rape, and throughout the book there is a threat of what could happen to the girls and them dealing with their fear and the aftermath. So be aware when you pick up this book that is not a happy fun story.
Yay, yay and yay
That being said, I loved it so much! This is a book about survivors reclaiming their bodies in their own way. There is romance, but it’s not with the demon king. No, it is in fact with one of the other concubines. And can I get a yay for more LGBTQ in Young Adult fiction?! This romance is sweet and building slowly.
Can I get another yay for Ngan making the demon king handsome? All too often in stories, the abuser is some old, fat, ugly and smelly guy with rotten teeth, making it easy for the reader to hate him. Here, he is young and physically attractive. And unlike in other books where the pretty bad boy has some redeeming qualities, there aren’t any here. He’s just a piece of dog poo who gets his kick out of exerting power over young women.
And if you have a yay left, let’s give it up for the writing! Girls of Paper and Fire is just so beautifully written. The world building is exquisite and I adored Ngan’s writing style. Not too flowery, but not too dry either. It makes it easy to sit down and read for a few hours at a time, and that’s how I like it.
“I don’t want an easy life, I want a meaningful one”
After thinking for a long time, I did find two issues with this book. The first one is minor: the journey from Lei’s hometown to the palace takes quite some time, while nothing really important happens. The palace guards who accompany Lei aren’t all that important in the long run (at least so far). The only reason I see for this amount of attention is the fact that it creates an opportunity for some exposition: how is this society organised, who are the important clans? But we’re all here for the court intrigue, so I was happy when we finally got to that part.
The second issue is a bigger one: that cliffhanger!!! Really, that’s a cliffhanger the size of the Grand Canyon and now I have to wait a year or so to find out how this story continues?! AAAAAAAAARGHHHHHHH!