Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
Released: November 6th, 2018
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books
Pages/Hours: 336 pages / 14 hrs 23 mins
Buy it: Amazon | Audible | Local Bookstore
BOOK SUMMARY FROM GOODREADS
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 against women.
WHAT I LOVED.
How do I even begin to describe what a treasure this book is? I am so excited it’s finally out in the world and we can all talk about it! I’ve never read anything like it. It’s very much the book I needed when I was younger, and I’m so unbelievably glad it exists now for anyone who may need it.
I actually didn’t know anything about this book when I got it. I was at BookCon, saw a line starting to form and just jumped in it so I wouldn’t get left out! Turns out it was for Girls of Paper and Fire and Natasha Ngan was there signing the books! Fun fact she is just a really sweet and beautiful person and I wish her only the very best things in life!
When I started reading GoPaF I didn’t know what it was, honestly I was just excited because its Asian Fantasy! I was slightly annoyed because for a hot second I thought the Lei was gonna like…come around on the King and he wasn’t gonna be that bad blah blah blah, you know one of THOSE stories. That might have been fine because I still really really want marginalized voices to get those tropey stories because even though yes they’re cliched, we still want to see ourselves in them! So hell yeah, give ’em to me! But also I can’t really stand stories of kidnapped girls falling in love with their captors that’s LiKE NOT- no you know what now’s not the time for that rant.
I remember the second I realized what was going on because I very loudly went “OH SHIIIIIIIIIT!” in the coffee shop where I was reading and doubled down on my enthusiasm for the book!
The relationship between Wren and Lei is a warm slow-burn, like the kind that flickers in your chest and then spreads to the very tips of your fingers. The relationship is so wonderfully sapphic!
“Her kisses heal the parts of me that the King broke. They tell me: You are strong, Lei. You are beautiful. You are mine. And, always, most important: You are yours.”
Their scenes together are the much needed contrast against some of the darker moments – and this book has some dark moments. It can be really hard to get through at times, I remember at least one scene that was particularly graphic and hard for me to get through. I love this book, but please take care of yourself first! Check in with yourself as you read to make sure you’re in the right headspace!
Ngan deftly navigates through this world of pain, trauma, and violence, and manages to pull through the one shining thread of hope that I’ve always held onto. That it is the relationship between women that will pull you through the darkness. That the strength and kindness and love of other women can heal the scars inflicted by men. And that even after all that violence, and torment you are still worthy and capable of unconditional love.
In media there is this common narratives that women have to go through unspeakable violences to become strong and learn to rise up and fight back. Girls of Paper and Fire never felt like one of those stories to me. It wasn’t how the violence made her strong, instead it was about how love and kindness in the face of that violence made her strong. And the support and strength of other women gave Lei something to protect, and that distinction really defines the character for me.
WHAT WAS MEH.
While nothing in this book is truly MEH, I’ll admit it took me a minute to really get into the book. The world is really fascinating but I think the actual plot is slow to start. While the world is full and fully realized, and still unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered in YA Fantasy, there are still some aspects that felt like…they were just add ons to an already rich world. For example the Birth-Blessing?
That did not come into play as much as I thought it did, especially for it being the first thing you learn about this world. It shows up again at the end but it’s just kind of like…??? Okay that’s super cool but also we’ve got so much going on right now and this is noT REALLY HELPFUL?
Lei isn’t particularly exciting to me as a protagonist until a little after half-way through the book. It’s hard to connect with her until that drive hits her and she becomes a more active character. But once she does I am fully engaged with her and loving it!
So Wren is basically my dream girl. She could punch me in the face and I’d thank her for it. I’m such a sucker for characters that are basically like deadly killers who have disciplined themselves to never show emotions or care about anyone else, then that ONE person shows up and they’re like. “Oh shit. I’ve got feelings.” I could watch that play out for the rest of my life and never once get tired of it.
WORTH THE READ?
Yes. YES. A thousand percent yes. It has meant so much to me to see this book, about two girls falling in love in a vibrant Asian inspired fantasy world, get the praise and recognition it deserves! This was very much the book I needed when I was younger. Whenever I’ve described the book to my friends, and I’ve seen the way their eyes light up, I know it’s the book a lot of us needed.
Talk to me! What did you think of GoPaF? Did it live up to the hype?!