(Website, Twitter, Goodreads)Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 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.
TW: violence and sexual abuse.
I admit it, when I saw the cover for Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan I wanted to read it…I almost didn’t care what the story was going to be about. Well…that’s not true but that cover is sooo pretty. With that said, this story was everything I hoped it would be!
Lei lives in Ikhara, a world where class rules everything. As a member of the Paper caste, she and her family are oppressed and have lived with the trauma of seeing her mother ripped away from them by the royal guards. Now, having heard a rumor about a paper girl with golden eyes, the royal guards are back, and they aren’t leaving without Lei.
The world Ngan has created is not a pretty one. There are three castes and they are what dictate how everyone engages with one another. The Paper caste is the lowest – They are fully human and do not have any demon abilities. Just above Paper is the Steel caste. This group is made up of humans with partial animal-demon qualities…both physical and ability. The highest caste, Moon caste, is fully demon and has whole animal-demon features. All castes are ruled by the Demon King.
Every year, 8 beautiful girls are chosen to be Paper Girls who come to the palace to serve the King. It is supposed to be an honor and some of the girls absolutely believe this to be true but for Lei, it is her worst nightmare. She never had any intention of being in this role and when she is forced to join the girls who were chosen his year, she dreams of the day she can escape. As she trains to serve, she finds out quickly which of the girls she can trust and which she can’t. I thought the friendships Lei built with Aoki and Wren were believable. Of course, there is always a girl who just has to antagonize everyone else and you will very quickly learn who she is and while I get her dissatisfaction with the hand she has been dealt, she is definitely not justified in taking her anger and frustration out on Lei.
Lei’s relationships are what help balance this story out. By getting to spend time with Lei and the girls, they become more than the Paper Girls forced to serve the king. With that said, there is still a whole host of things that are wrong with what these girls are forced to do. The king may be handsome and powerful, but he is for sure not a good guy and no one learns that more than Lei.
First, Madam Himura was a piece of work. Other than having control of the girls, I couldn’t understand her motivation behind treating the girls the way she did…of course, she is from the highest caste so that had a lot to do with it but from the second she was introduced, she was mean and abrasive.
Second, when I say serve the king, I mean in every way. These girls have no choice and over time, it is apparent even Aoki has constructed a world in her head that allows her to feel ok with what is happening. I won’t say too much about this, but the way Ngan reflects the evolution of Aoki’s feelings seemed realistic and made me want to dive into the pages just to shake her.
As the story progresses and each girl gets called, Lei struggles with her fate and doesn’t know how she will be able to just go along with everything when it’s her name on the piece of paper. While she is waiting, she trains and goes along as normal, but she also does the unthinkable – she falls in love. Because this is forbidden, it puts her in a dangerous situation, but it also motivates her to find a way to get out of her current situation. When she is called, Lei can’t just go along with what the king wants and when she fights, the punishment is severe.
It is safe for me to say that Lei and the king have a contentious relationship. She makes him doubt himself and his power and that isn’t something that sits well with him. When she doesn’t just let him control her, he takes his frustration out on her and she definitely suffers for it.
There isn’t too much more I can tell you without ruining the story, so I am going to stop here. Overall, I thought this was a fantastic read. It has interesting characters, an engaging story, and danger around every corner. Definitely check this one out and I will be waiting over here for the next book Ngan writes.
Thank you to the publisher for the copy in exchange for an honest review.