Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

34433755Series: Girls of Paper and Fire #1
Pages: 400
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books
Release Date: November 6th, 2018
My Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
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 learn 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.

I really don’t know what I was expecting going into this. I was thinking it would be more like Wither by Lauren DeStefano, where these girls are selected to be more like brides for the king, and I was expecting more of a competition aspect in that they’re all fighting to be the chosen Paper Girl. I was wrong.

The premise of this book is dark, be warned. Each year eight Paper Girls are chosen to basically join the Demon King’s exclusive harem. They are selected against their will, trained in the ways of the court, and expected to perform for the king. Their duties reminded me quite a bit of The Handmaid’s Tale, though they are not trying to get pregnant. They’re chosen to be the playthings of a vicious and paranoid ruler whose monarchy has ruled for the past 200 years.

When Lei is brought to the palace, she is determined to rebel in any small way she can. What she doesn’t expect is to make friends, and even fall in love with one of her fellow Paper Girls.

This world is so richly developed. There’s a map at the beginning but it’s only of the palace itself. Still, I was able to picture the entire kingdom of Ikhara so perfectly. There are three castes in this society: Moon, Steel, and Paper. The Moon Caste are demons, half human half animal, and make up the upper class and the nobility. Steel Caste is a little closer to human but still have animalistic features. Paper Caste are purely human and are the lowest of the low. The descriptions of the palace and the gowns and even the food are so detailed and beautiful that I was completely immersed in this world. The descriptions of the Moon Castes were so detailed and eerie. One of the main characters is an eagle woman whose face narrows into a beak and who has feathers down her arms that, when extended, make up huge wings. There are wolves, foxes, bulls, and even lizards. Watching the way these different creatures interact in a formal court setting was fascinating.

Lei is an excellent main character. She really struggles with missing home and her family while also starting to feel comfortable in court and make friends, and then with the guilt that comes from starting to feel happy away from her family. She wants to be compliant and do her duties as a Paper Girl to keep her family safe but is also horrified by what’s expected of her and wants to fight against it.

All of the side characters are equally excellent. Wren, Aoiki, Zelle, and Tien are so richly developed that you can’t help but feel for them. The slow revelations we get alongside Lei as we learn about Wren was written so wonderfully, it felt so genuine.

Honestly, this book was just incredible. Some definite trigger warnings include: forced sexual activity/sexual assault, violence, and cruelty to animals (brief), so be aware of those going in. If those don’t deter you, I highly recommend picking this up.

_Tia

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I write, therefore I am. she/her pronouns

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