Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

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Rating: 3/5 stars


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.

CW: animal death, sexual abuse, violence

I’m just gonna say it–Girls of Paper and Fire‘s plot is fairly generic. I mean, how many stories can you name that follow a teenage girl forced into a role she’s untrained for and taken to the royal palace, where she meets the best friend, the mean girl and the love interest. Though she is opposed to the corruption of the ruler she’s now in close quarters with, she’s too scared to actively fight back. However, she’ll probably come into contact with a rebel group while she is inside the palace and eventually learn to fight back against the regime….

Okay, the above paragraph makes it seem like I took this story’s sort of generic plot line as a fault, but I honestly didn’t! Story arcs like these are actually good set-ups for sequels, and aside from the fact that I’ve seen it many times before, there is nothing harmful concerning this plot pattern. There were also a few plays on this plot line–the love interest is a girl named Wren (it’s a sapphic romance!!), the plot takes place in a beautifully diverse world inspired by the author’s Asian roots, and really, at its center, this story is about sexual assault and fighting back against the patriarchy, misogyny and injustice.

As for the characters, they were fine, but not really worth my notice, and I probably won’t think about them say, a month from now. Again, Lei’s character progression is akin to many other YA main characters, but she was still well-developed–she has a good heart completely dedicated to her family, and she begins the book with little agency, but she reclaims it bit by bit as the plot progresses.

I’m sad to say that I don’t have much to say about Wren, but she was an extremely healthy love interest for Lei, and that reveal about her identity made her such a bad-ass!

I loved the relationships that the Paper Girls have with each other. Instead of trying to tear each other down for the king’s affection, they were each supportive of the other, their solidarity obvious in every interaction. Additionally, one girl falls in love with the king, a truly vile rapist and tyrant, yet she is never looked down upon. Instead, her feelings are handled with care, and the author uses this to show how abusers can hide behind a mask of charisma.

As for the world and world building in Girls of Paper and Fire, I would like to reiterate my approval of the fact that this is a diverse Asian-inspired fantasy. None of the characters are white, and the customs and festivals in this book are inspired by actual Asian ones. However, I just don’t think this book gave me a true grasp of the world of Ikhara. I could not tell you even the slightest bit about where all of these places are located. Throughout the book, names of locations are repeatedly dropped with some characteristics tied to them, but this all flew way over my head. I sadly imagine this world to be a blob with some uhh.. mountains somewhere, and then there’s a desert over there, and I think Lei’s village is called Xienzo….. and that’s literally all I can tell you about the world–I’m not kidding.

Overall, Girls of Paper and Fire does have a plot that calls to mind a ton of other YA novelsthink Shatter Me or An Ember in the Ashes. But if you liked these novels, there’s a high chance you’ll like this too! However, Girls of Paper and Fire definitely adds something new to the table in terms of discussions on rape culture. It also features a sapphic romance, which completely subverts the trope of a girl being taken to the palace and falling in love with the prince/king, who’s typically an asshole. The author also talked about her inspirations for Ikhara in her beautiful author’s note:

“I feel extremely lucky to come from a multicultural home. It has shaped my influences and perspectives—and will forever continue to do so.”

As for whether I would recommend this book or not, I’d say that tons of other people did not share the same qualms that I did with this story and instantly added it to their favorites list. You have a high chance of being one of those people. I also think this is a must-read for its discussions on sexual assault.

Additionally, this book is UKYA, and I know we’ve all been disappointed with UKYA authors lately, but this book serves as a reminder to all of us that there are some UKYA authors out there who are actually doing some good for this world. (And that’s all she has to say about that.)

Anyways, I’d better wrap this review up, so let’s discuss in the comments! If you’ve already read this book, what did you think about it? Do we agree or disagree on anything? Please share your thoughts with me!

I also talked about this on Twitter, but I originally rated this four stars, but upon further consideration, I bumped it down to a three. I really think writing this review helped me figure out that I had a lot more quibbles with this book than I originally thought!

13 thoughts on “Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

  1. Omg great review!! I haven’t read many reviews for this book that were less than 5 stars, so it was really interesting to read about your positive AND negative thoughts on this book, and you articulated everything so well. I’m not that into Shatter Me or An Ember in the Ashes (whoops) so I’m low key scared to read this book now, but it also sounds so good that I feel like there’s no way I won’t at least enjoy it. Either way, hopefully you love your next read even more, and I’m excited for your next review 💕💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 🥰 Writing reviews is always been a pain in the butt for me so it’s amazing to know that someone understands me trying to put my thoughts into words 😂 Yeah, I’m kinda sad about the fact that I didn’t rate this five stars like everybody else, but is it weird to say that I kind of wasn’t surprised? I just had a feeling at the back of my head that I wouldn’t fall head over heels in love with this book and I’m was to say that I was right :(( I didn’t hate this book though, so I’m not that disappointed! I really think you *will* find something to enjoy with this book though because it really is a solid read! Comp titles aren’t everything so I don’t think you have to worry about liking then titles I mentioned. I’d just say that the world is like the one in AEITA and the protagonist’s situation is like Juliette’s in Shatter Me :))

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ahhhh I totally get this, I suck so much at writing reviews. It takes me YEARS to organise my thoughts, and even then, I’m pretty sure nothing I write actually makes sense 😆 On the bright side, at least by not going into this book thinking it would be a new favourite, you didn’t experience any crushing disappointment by only rating it 3 stars. Still sucks that you didn’t like it as much as everyone else seems to though :/ But yeah, hopefully I do end up enjoying this when I pick it up next month, because it does still sound like something I’d at least enjoy, even if it doesn’t become a new favourite. Plus, I’m always down to support Asian authors and books with f/f romances.


  2. This is a really interesting view on the book. I haven’t added this on my TBR yet, but the premise does sound interesting. It’s a bit unfortunate that the plot line is generic, but I like how there is the diversity of characters and it sparks some discussion on rape culture. Thanks for sharing all your thoughts on the book. Maybe I’ll give it a go!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm, a lot of other people really fell in love with this book so i def think that I’m in the minority with my kinda mediocre feelings on this book. However, and this is kinda controversial lmao, but I think that if you think this book will be a mediocre read for you, you don’t need to add it to your TBR. I thought that and I was sadly proved to be right. But if you want you read more diversely & about a nuanced discussion of rape culture, this is for sure the book for you ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful review, I enjoyed reading it so, so much and it’s so good to see you rated this book 3 stars as well. I felt like the black sheep for not rating this 5 stars and after all the hype surrounding this title, but somehow it didn’t meet all of my expectations either :/ I hope you’ll love your next read better! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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