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, sexual abuse, death of a pet
I think Girls has been one of the most talked about books for the second half of the year, and for good reason too.
When I won the ARC back in March, I honestly hadn’t heard about the book nor had I seen anyone talking about it. Comes May, that had drastically changed. In two short months, this went from an underground treasure to hyped feminist tale.
Personally, I loved this book. It wasn’t a five-star master piece, but it is one I’m not going to be forgetting any time soon.
“Instead of disappearing, she makes me feel reappeared. Reimagined. Her touch shapes me, draws out the boldness that had been hiding in my core.”
I wasn’t sure what the plot for this one was at first. I mean, becoming the King’s concubine doesn’t sound like a compelling fantasy plot, but Ngan actually structures this in such an interesting way.
Now, as you can see from the trigger warnings, this book covers some incredibly dark topics and I urge you to heed these warnings. While this was an incredibly enjoyable fantasy book, it’s not worth putting your mental health at risk. Because of what has been going on in my life, I actually had to put the book down for a day after the death of the pet at the beginning of the book.
But, once the plot got going, I did enjoy where the book ended up. The romance in this book was done so well. I like how the love interest was not only a forbidden romance, but slow burn as well. There’s an err of mystique with Wren and you’re not really sure where everything’s going to end up until you do, and ah it was so good!
Now, one bit of “controversy” I saw on Twitter that I wanted to address was the suggestion of this book condoning bestiality because of the demon characters. I want to mention that this is really not the case. The demons in this world are humanoid creatures with animal characteristics, but feel more like something out of mythology. As this book is based on Asian mythology it actually really worked for this story and wasn’t something I thought was weird. I did want to address it though.
But, the thing with this plot it, I really can’t talk about it. A lot of the most interesting parts of the story happen in the second half and I really want to avoid spoiling it for you. If you read a lot of fantasy, you may see it coming, but it’s still enjoyable to read!
“Perhaps being a traitor can be a good thing if you are betraying those who deserve it.”
Okay, so I do want to talk about one of the last things that happened in this book.
This book had one of the most shocking endings I’ve read in 2018 (don’t worry, that video is coming soon) and it’s one that I actually didn’t see coming. Well, I saw part of it coming, but I didn’t think we would find out what we did in this book.
This book ends on such a compelling cliffhanger that has me so excited for book two!
“I don’t want an easy life. I want a meaningful one.”
Girls of Paper and Fire remind us of what classic fantasy books can be. This story was heart wrenching, beautiful, romantic, and shocking. It’s one that got a lot of praise this year, and for good reason.
If you like slow burn romance, mythological world building, or strong female characters, this is a book you should definitely consider picking up!