Review: GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE by Natasha Ngan

Publisher: JIMMY Patterson Books
Page Count: 336
Release Date: November 6th, 2018
Rating: 4/5 Stars

51a0p4mjbllTo say that GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE has been taking the internet by storm is a bit of an understatement.  I finally got my hands on a copy and I’m happy to say I enjoyed the read!  While I wasn’t quite as blown away as others, I can definitely see the appeal, as there’s a lot to love in this Asian-inspired fantasy where one young woman stands up against forces far greater than herself.

In the world of PAPER AND FIRE, there are three castes.  Those of the Moon caste are pure-blooded demons, who manifest in a humanoid, animalistic form and are the current ruling class.  Paper caste, the lowest, is made of pure-blooded humans, while those of Steel are mixed-blood. Our heroine Lei is a Paper caste, living a quiet life in a tiny village at the outskirts of the kingdom.  All that changes when a retinue of soldiers arrive, drawn to the town by rumors of Lei’s unusual golden eyes.  Lei is snatched away from her home to be a present from a disgraced general to the Demon King, whose superstitious nature may make him believe that Lei is a sign of good fortune.  To protect her family from reprisals, Lei agrees to become a Paper Girl, one of eight annually chosen concubines in the king’s court.  But as the day when Lei may be summoned to the king’s bedchamber draws closer, she finds that listlessly submitting to her fate may not be in her nature.  And complicating matters further, she’s started developing feelings for another Paper Girl – who might just have those same feelings as well.

Natasha Ngan is an elegant writer; everything from how the palace looks at night to the ceremonial dresses the girls wear is painted in sumptuous detail.  That same skill at writing captures the tensions of Lei’s initial journey to the palace and of the subsequent intrigue that follows.  She has a deft hand at conveying Lei’s first-person emotions, which run the gamut from terror to heartache to joy.  Lei was accessible and real as a character, someone whose victories and losses were my own because I was able to identify with her so well.

I also appreciated Lei’s personal journey. Lei begins as someone relatively ignorant and naive.  While she accepts her position at the court out of fear for her family, she still can’t keep questioning why things are the way they are.  Why do the girls of noble houses accept spending their whole lives being groomed to be a Paper Girl?  Why don’t they want something more?  Lei keeps kicking the hornet’s nest simply by asking the questions, but it takes fellow Paper Girl Wren to show Lei that asking is not enough. You have to be willing to do something about it. Taking that next step is not an easy task, but it’s an important lesson many of us have to learn: to stop talking and start doing.

I do wish that some of Lei’s relationships with the other Paper Girls had been pushed a little further. For instance, one girl in particular constantly defends the Demon King’s actions as she develops unhealthy feelings for him.  Although it brings tensions to her friendship with Lei, that storyline is swept under the rug by the end of the tale.  Perhaps it is a thread to be picked up in another book, but it felt unresolved in a way that didn’t sit well with me.

GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE is a story that definitely resonates with those tired of being told to stay in your lane, to accept things the way they are and don’t rock the boat. Although this is the first in a trilogy, it’s a satisfying standalone tale with a resounding finale.  It is perhaps best summed up by this quote from one of the characters: “I don’t want an easy life. I want a meaningful one.”

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