Title: Girls of Paper and Fire
Author: Natasha Ngan
Published: November 2018
Publisher: Hodder & Stroughton
Readership: Young Adult
RRP: $19.99 AUD
Trigger Warnings: kidnapping, rape, abuse, violence towards women
I received a copy of Girls of Paper and Fire from the publisher, via Netgalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honour they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.
Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. Ten years ago, her mother was snatched by the royal guards, and her fate remains unknown. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after – the girl with the golden eyes, whose rumoured beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, Lei 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.
I’ll admit my interest in Girls of Paper and Fire was two-fold – first, the cover is so strikingly beautiful that I just wanted to pick it up and find out what was going on, and second, it’s coming from James Patterson’s line of young adult fiction books, and I’ve really enjoyed what’s been published so far under his James Patterson Presents line.
I also had no idea what it was about, and the story itself was a lot darker than I thought.
Lei is a member of the Paper caste – fully human and thus at the lowest scale of society in the world of Ikhara, which is ruled by the Moon caste – beings that look more animal than human. A decade earlier the royal guards raided her small village and took her mother; now they’re back, only this time it’s for Lei and her golden eyes. She’s taken to the palace to be trained as one of the Paper Girls, a group of eight girls that the king has selected for the year and she must learn to survive in the palace and dedicate herself to the king above all else. Which is fine, until she falls in love with someone else.
There are a lot of things to love about Girls of Paper and Fire. It is beautifully written and easy to read, and there’s an undercurrent of tension the whole way through the story. Lei begins as an incredibly naive teenage girl who fights her new situation without knowing the best way to do that at first. Her determination and her skills grow throughout the course of the story.
I also appreciated the female/female relationship that is developed within the story, too, but also the female friendships. We spend a lot of time with Lei and the other Paper Girls, and while they’re not always nice to one another, they each have their reasons and there’s a lot of understanding and acceptance between some of the characters – particularly Lei, Wren and Aoki – that they’re each partly to blame for the hurt they cause each other in arguments. There are genuine apologies, because the girls enjoy one another’s company, and that’s important.
There are a lot of trigger warnings in this story – kidnapping, rape, abuse, and violence toward women are just the beginning – but they’re dealt with in a way that highlights just how wrong those things are, and the impact they have on the people involved.
If you’re a fan of dark, young adult fantasy stories, Girls of Paper and Fire is definitely worth checking out when it’s released in November.