Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/Little Brown (US)
Pub date: 6 November 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.
Presented by James Patterson, Natasha Ngan’s lyrical, searing, visceral fantasy, Girls of Paper and Fire, will remind us how precious freedom is–and the price we must pay to achieve it.
I will begin by saying that if violence or sexual assault is a trigger for you, that this may be a hard read for you.
If you push ahead, however, I promise you that you’ll find a stunning novel that is full of such promise that waiting for the next book is going to be agonizing. I hadn’t heard a great deal about this book, admittedly, but I saw the cover and I was instantly fascinated. I mean, look at those eyes! Lei-Zhi is our narrator and the one who possesses those very eyes. She is part of the lowest caste, Paper. Her life hasn’t been the easiest; given that her mother was taken away from the family when she was young and she spends her time working in the Herb Shop with her father and Tien, who seems to be a psuedo-mother figure to her, despite being of another (higher!) caste. Life can turn in the blink of an eye, however, and the little bit of peace Lei knows is shattered when she is taken to the royal court. She is to be a Paper Girl, despite there already being eight.
Thrust from one world into one where nothing is certain, rules are strongly enforced, and your life is not your own, Lei has to learn how to survive. Though initially hesitant, she finds friends amongst the girls, particularly amongst Aoki and Lill, her handmaiden. And, not only must she learn to survive, she must assimilate if she means to survive. However, Lei somewhat endures, despite hiccups. Surprising to even herself, she finds love.
But in this place, love is forbidden and choices must be made. What will she do? What path will she take?
I absolutely loved the world of Ikhara and I hope we get to explore it more in future books. There’s so much I’d like to learn still and read. I also was excited about representation–this is an Asian inspired world and it’s beautiful. Also, can we get a ‘yaaasss‘ for Lei x Wren? I was so happy for some LGBTQ representation. I seldom read books where it is present and is so sweetly and respectfully written. The story is nuanced and paced nicely, painting a true image into Lei’s life. I truly felt a kinship with her, enjoying her spirit and how she refused to be broken, despite being close to it and honestly, having every reason to do so.
The world she lives in is not a pleasant one and I can say with great confidence, I would not wish to live there either. Court life is oppressive, catty, and one never really knows where they stand. The King is a cruel, cruel man. One who in some moments, we are presented with some facts that made you understand why he was, but mostly, he seems to just thrive off the power he possesses. I also love how demons and those of other castes could be different animal shapes. It is difficult to describe them, but to read about them, it’s easy to picture them. (I think I would want to be a bird of some sort. My luck would be that I’d have catlike features and fur to match, and I’d be allergic to myself.) Now, this isn’t to say that life is easy anywhere, because the King wields his power and attacks other villages and cities. Whether fuelled by paranoia or just cruelty, I’ll let you wonder, but I think you should go grab this book and read it.
To try and summarize it perfectly for you, I’d do a disservice. I am rambling as it is, but I’m still half in Ikhara as I write this. I can honestly say though, you will love this story and you’ll embrace the characters like they’re old friends. Well, some of them.
((You should take a look at Natasha’s Pinterest Aesthetic Board for this; it definitely adds to the visuals.))
- I’d give it ★★★★★ stars.
- I won my copy in a giveaway on Twitter! )And it’s definitely a ‘never getting rid of this copy/not lending it out’ kind of book.)
- I highly recommend this to everyone!! Go. Stop reading this and go read THAT.
Natasha Ngan is a writer and yoga teacher. She grew up between Malaysia, where the Chinese side of her family is from, and the UK. This multicultural upbringing continues to influence her writing, and she is passionate about bringing diverse stories to teens. Natasha studied Geography at the University of Cambridge before working as a social media consultant and fashion blogger.
She recently moved to Paris, where she likes to imagine she drifts stylishly from brasserie to brasserie, notepad in one hand, wineglass in the other. In reality, she spends most of her time getting lost on the metro and confusing locals with her French.
She is represented by Taylor Haggerty at Root Literary. Her YA novels THE ELITES and THE MEMORY KEEPERS are out now from Hot Key Books, and GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE will be published in October 2018 by Jimmy Patterson/Little Brown (US) and Hodder & Stoughton (UK). Head on over to the Books page for more info!
Natasha is also co-owner of fashion, travel and lifestyle blog Girl in the Lens.