Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan (a review)
Updated: Jan 12
GENRE: YA Fantasy
LENGTH: 380 pages
Lei is a human (known as Paper caste) living in a world ruled by demons (known as Steel and Moon caste; they are human-animal hybrids). She is chosen to be a concubine to the Demon King.
There are numerous characters in this novel, among them eight Paper girls including Lei. All of the girls, but especially Lei and her love interest Wren, exude a quiet strength and rebellion. Some of the characters, specifically Paper girls Blue and Aoki and Lei's maid Lill, were a tad too archetypal for me. Blue was a classic mean girl with a sad backstory. Aoki and Lill, while sweet characters and good supports for Lei, were simply too similar to each other.
As mentioned above, the novel features an LGBT+/sapphic romance between Lei and Wren. While the romance between them falls into the forbidden love trope I was pleased that it was NOT because they were two girls. Rather, it was because the king's concubines were not to take any other lovers. In fact, we are shown multiple times throughout the novel that same sex couples (or at least two men) are readily accepted in Lei's world. The romance of Lei and Wren itself starts out subtly and has a foundation of mutual respect and physical attraction.
The novel is told from the first person perspective of Lei. The writing is stunning and its beauty perfectly contrasts the horror of Lei's situation. The idea of love (both familial and romantic) being inspirational is threaded throughout the novel.
I don't have a lot to say in terms of pacing other than that the romance was well paced. It builds from a small spark into a raging fire. I liked the building of the relationship as it's the opposite of insta-love (which I despise) and it read as realistic in its development.
This is an Asian inspired fantasy world that would be easy for beginners. I say this because while the world feels lush the setting of this first novel is largely insular. It takes place almost entirely within the walls of the Hidden Palace. The caste system is also very easy to grasp as there are only three castes and the hierarchy is clearly laid out. Even the magic is accessible to new fantasy readers. Even experienced fantasy readers and world building lovers (such as myself) will still find themselves lost in this world, though. FINAL THOUGHTS
This is one of the most unique fantasy books I've read. I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves high fantasy novels, strong female characters, and anyone looking for an LGBT+ read and/or an Asian inspired fantasy.
FINAL RATING: 4.5⭐️