review

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Publication: November 6th 2018 by Jimmy Patterson Books 
Pages: 336 
Purchase: Amazon | Waterstones | Book Depository

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.

“They can take and steal and break all they want, but there is one thing they have no control over. Our emotions.”

Natasha Ngan’s Girls of Paper and Fire seemed right up my street when I read the synopsis on Goodreads. I’m a sucker for books where the main characters end up in a competition at a palace (The Selection, Grace & Fury), and this one sounded like it approached this subject in an interesting way. However, although it wasn’t entirely terrible, I found this one to be pretty disappointing.

Initially, I was intrigued by the premise and the world this story was set in but, as I read, I discovered that things were not anywhere near as fleshed out as I would have liked them to have been. The characters felt flat, and I found it difficult to imagine the different castes (basically, demon classes) within this world. They could have made the story very interesting, but instead came across as a strange addition — not having enough substance to seem like a requirement. The class system in this novel could have been written in any other way, and it wouldn’t have been any different.

This lack of substance, unfortunately, applied to a great deal of this novel. I found it impossible to connect with any of the characters, which wasn’t ideal when reading a novel that should have evoked a lot of intense and uncomfortable emotions. This emotional disconnect was difficult when it came to the romance in the novel (which ended up feeling rushed and lacking any real chemistry), but it was especially difficult when it came to the extremely sensitive content present for the majority of the story. Although Ngan wrote a great deal about sexual assault in this novel, she failed to properly address the emotional trauma of it in any real way. Of course, Lei and many of the other women in the novel were concubines, and such content was to be expected, but I feel that the author should have taken a little more care when writing about the aftermath of sexual assault, rather than have her characters pass it off as “just how it is.”

Despite these negative points, it was good to read not only an Asian-inspired YA fantasy, but one including a lesbian romance. It’s a huge positive to see more and more representation in YA novels, and I really hope that we continue to see an increase in this as the months go on.

Unfortunately, however, this one just didn’t quite hit the mark for me, and I doubt I’ll bother to read the sequel.

Love is what gives us hope. What gets us through each day.

2/5

27 year old book blogger from Scotland. Probably nervous.

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