*I received a copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
Title: Girls of Paper and Fire
Author: Natasha Ngan
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Publication Date: November 6, 2018
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.
Review: My expectations going into this book were already high, but it totally took my breath away. Girls of Paper and Fire is such a brutal fiery fantasy filled with an amazing cast of characters and incredible worldbuilding. The writing honestly had me hooked because everything was practically jumping off the page. I could vividly picture the characters and world the author created and it really enhanced my reading experience overall. Everything about this story just flowed so naturally and the writing was practically poetic. This story totally consumed me and I refused to put it down.
In the kingdom of Ikhara, there are three castes: Moon, Paper, and Steel. Those of the Moon caste are anthropomorphic animals and hold the most power, with the Emperor ruling over them all. Steels are in between with each person having a slight animal feature. Lei is of the Paper caste, considered the lowest of them all, and she is fully human. Although, her mysterious golden eyes have always made people question her true nature. Lei is still haunted by the day they took away her mother. Being born into the Paper caste, she has always lived a simple life in her father’s shop. When they come for her, the girl with the golden eyes, she goes, unwillingly, to keep her family safe.
She becomes the ninth Paper Girl chosen to serve as one of the Demon King’s concubines. All the other girls chosen have been raised to consider their chosen status as an honour and have each been taught the proper etiquette. Lei rebels against her new life as a Paper Girl in any way she can, but she knows if she fails that the threat against her family will carry out. She begins to befriend some of the girls and one of them becomes her mentor.
Betrayal runs throughout the very veins if this book. There are so many secrets hidden within the walls of the palace and deception is lurking in every corner. Lei learns that trust is a luxury and that even those closet to her can betray her. Rebellion is brewing and Lei becomes part of it, knowing that if she gets caught, she risks the fury of the Demon King. Not only that, but she begins a forbidden romance with another woman, which only adds to her treason.
I think what I loved most about this book was how real it felt to me. There was so much detail and depth put into the writing and was such a beautiful story. I also loved that the author drew from her own experiences growing up in Malaysia and the mythology that she wove into the plot so effortlessly.
Girls of Paper and Fire is such a beautiful and fiercely feminine Asian-inspired fantasy! It’s so lush and Lei is fuelled by a rage that could set the world on fire. The ending had me on the edge of my seat. It has easily been one of my favourite reads of the year. Natasha Ngan definitely knows how to tell a story and I can’t wait to see where she goes with this series and what she publishes in the future.
Content Warning: sexual assault, animal violence, violence towards women, abuse, slavery, graphic violence.