Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan (a review)
Updated: Feb 19
GENRE: YA Fantasy
LENGTH: 397 pages
Set immediately following the events of Girls of Paper and Fire, Lei, Wren and their companions travel across Ikhara in search of allies in the coming war against the Demon King.
There are quite a few new characters introduced within this novel. There are, of course, Lei and Wren, but there is also Shifu Caen and Hiro, Merrin, and Bo and Nitta, among others. Shifu Caen was Wren's mentor growing up (and is now Lei's). He's the stern, pseudo-leader of the group. Hiro is a shaman who is quiet and, unfortunately, underdeveloped and underutilized as a character. Merrin is an owl demon who cares for his fellow allies and is perhaps the most essential member of the group (due to his flight abilities). Nitta and Bo are leopard demon siblings and Bo in particular was my least favorite character. I strongly disliked him for his role as a comic relief character (more on that later).
I liked being able to see Lei and Wren's relationship outside of the Hidden Palace and how it wasn't all rainbows and butterflies. There is still that fierce love and passion present, but the reality of their world and the war leads to some conflict. It wasn't always fun but it was a lot more real. After all, every relationship has its ups and downs.
The overall group dynamics were...okay. I don't necessarily think they all had fantastic chemistry together. In one scene Lei had more chemistry with a clan leader's daughter (Qanna) than she does in the whole novel with the likes of Bo. Obviously, the more members there are the less time there is to fully flesh out every character and their individual dynamics. That being said, I think characters like Hiro and Bo cold have been removed and the group would have been improved.
The novel is told mostly through the first-person perspective of Lei. However, there are a few chapters interspersed throughout the novel that have the third person narrative of various characters back at the Hidden Palace. I normally wouldn't like having a mix of first and third person perspectives within the same novel. I'm giving Ngan a pass here, though. All the additional perspectives deal with different departments and conflicts within the Palace. It would have been much messier and more confusing if all of them had a singular first person chapter. Also, the chapters at the Hidden Palace were necessary. Not only were they glimpses of how the more minor characters were doing, but they served to progress the plot.
The novel is a bit all over the place tonally. Ngan does a fantastic job of writing more serious, dark material. This novel addresses the realities of war and the characters' PTSD in ways that were heart wrenching. Yet we go from scenes of Lei drinking because of her trauma to ones of Bo making cracks about erectile dysfunction. Some may enjoy the jokes in this novel and find it a nice reprieve from the more somber tones. Indeed, the two can be successfully mixed. A great example is Under the Whispering Door by T. J. Klune. Unfortunately, for me at least, I found the jokes juvenile and dissonant.
There is a lot of traveling in this novel which is heavily contrasted to the first novel in the trilogy which took place almost entirely in the Hidden Palace. I happen to like journeys in books and especially in fantasy. I will discuss this more in the next section, but we spend an appropriate amount of time with each clan and with the in between; i.e. mountains and forests.
My hope for all fantasy sequels is that the world will be expanded upon. That's exactly what happened here. The very premise of the novel lends it to exploring more of the world. The characters in this novel travel to three different demon clans; the White Wing, who live in a heavenly if sterile sky palace, the Czo, who live on a jungle island, and the Amalas, who are a nomadic desert clan. Each region is distinct from the other and offers the reader a chance to learn more about the culture and landscape of Ikhara.
We also get a chance to see more positive interactions between demons and humans. In the first novel there are only a couple of demons who demonstrate themselves to be sympathetic and kind towards humans (or the Paper castes). It becomes easy to see all demons as villains. The sequel helps give a more nuanced perspective of demonkind.
FINAL THOUGHTS It's not often a sequel is as strong as the first book in a series, but this was a good follow up. Really the main area it is weaker than Girls of Paper and Fire is in its fluctuating tone. However, it successfully accomplishes all a sequel and middle book in a series should. It progresses the plot, shows us more of the world, and explores the aftermath of the events of the first novel. So, while it may fall short of its predecessor it is still good and does the job.
FINAL RATING: 4⭐