GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE
Characters & their development: 5
Personal enjoyment: 4
WHERE DID I GET THIS FROM? Hachette NZ
-wren and her friend
– the trigger warnings
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 learns 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.
This story follows our main character, Lei, is stolen from her family and forced to become a paper girl for the empire, a gloried concubine in training. But with time, she comes to understand the other paper girls, and finds herself locked in turmoil both internal and external. She might just find herself to be the key that could unlock the path forward.
Overall, I wasn’t impressed, or unimpressed by this novel. I found myself dragging through this at parts, and at other points flying through. In the end, I just found it okay, and I have a few thoughts.
Diversity wise this was amazing, it was south Asian inspired, and there is a F/F relationship in this novel. These things were not pushed as these strange or important things, but as normal things, we should accept which I love because it really shows how it should be weaved in. This was the highlight for me because Natasha Ngan handled both of these things perfectly.
My favourite characters were Wren, a fellow paper girl and a secret friend she has. They felt the most dimensional and unique, whereas many of the other characters felt lackluster. I felt like Wren had substance, she had aims, quirks, and bad habits. She was not a Mary Sue, and every part of her intrigued me. I also loved her friends and the people she worked with. For some reason, these characters felt the most lifelike, and like the author had spent the most time working on their characterization.
I really appreciated the trigger warnings that this novel presented. Before you even start the novel, there is a warning to warn the reader of acts of sexual violence. It didn’t stop me reading the book, and it didn’t change my opinion on the book in a negative way, but it allowed me to be warned which meant I was not surprised when these topics were broached. I wish this was more normalized so it could hopefully help others avoid a book that could be harmful to them.
Something I wish there was more of, was the mythology. We hear about the paper casts, the humans, and of the Steel and Moon castes, half and full demons. They’re mentioned in passing, and their origins are briefly explained. It was weaved in nicely, at the end of chapters or just in passing. I found I was the most interested by these parts and really wished there was more of them, like a whole story revolving around this instead of this novel.
I enjoyed the idea of courts inside the palace. There was the women’s court, the night court, the ghost court and more. The whole area was encased in walls and known as the palace, but they separated people via their jobs and lives which is a horrible thing but made for a very interesting dynamic as we saw the poor stuck in one court, the courtiers stuck in another, and at times moving between the courts was forbidden.
My biggest issue with this novel was that I disliked the writing for the most part. It wasn’t bad per se, but it wasn’t amazing either, it was merely okay, and I found that her explanations and way with words didn’t really drag me in or enchant me as much as I had hoped. I would definitely try her novels again because I can see where her writing is heading, but it just felt like it could have been more polished or more worked through.
I also have to admit I disliked the villain, not because he was a good villain, but because he was so clichéd. A power-hungry king who was starting to go insane is something I’ve seen so many times, and I couldn’t find anything unique about him. True, some horrendous things he did made me despise him, but overall I couldn’t help but think that there was not much to him, and wished that he was more interesting.
All in all, I really appreciate this novel for its Diversity, however, I think it was just a little bit lacking in technical aspects.
I’ll be keeping an eye out for her future novels, but I’d recommend this to those looking for a diverse read, or who are new to YA.