Author: Natasha Ngan
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBTQIA+
Pub. date: Nov. 6, 2018 (read Sept. 2018)
Okay! I finally have a minute to review this book! I’ve been on vacation for the last two weeks, so I haven’t had a computer to blog from, but I did read 3 books on my vacation and of the 3, this was definitely my favourite!
Special thanks to Hatchette Book Group Canada for providing me with a free advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Girls of Paper and Fire is set in a world that has 3 different castes: paper caste, steel caste, and moon caste. Paper caste are essentially humans and moon caste are essentially demons with strong animal characteristics. Steel falls somewhere in the middle. As you can guess, this world is ruled by the moon caste, who are much stronger than paper caste, who are considered fragile. I will admit that I found the concept a little juvenille at the beginning, mostly because pictured the moon caste as like, these comical Zootopia type characters, and that’s just not very scary, but I ended up getting really into it!
Lei is Paper caste and the book starts with her being stolen away from her home to be one of the Demon King’s Paper Girls. Every year the king selects 8 paper girls to live in the palace as his concubines. Some of the girls are there by choice, others offered up by their families in exchange for good favour from the palace, and then there are some girls like Lei, who are stolen from their homes. Most of the other Paper Girls are excited to take up a life of luxury in the palace, but Lei is terrified of the King and wants nothing more than to return home to her father.
At first I didn’t think the world building had that much depth, but the story was really easy to read and I got into it almost immediately. I didn’t know much about the book going in except that it had some mature themes, was heavily influenced by Asian (specifically Malaysian) culture, and that there were scenes of rape and sexual abuse. I was looking for a real voices, feminist fantasy novel and that is definitely what I got. I did not realize that this book had a queer relationship in it and it was such a thrill to read about! I can’t think of any young adult fantasy books that I’ve read featuring a lesbian romance and it was a wonderful surprise to find one in this book!
The author definitely tackles some heavy topics in this book. I struggle to classify this book as a young adult fantasy book because of the mature themes. The girls are forced to be concubines to the king, who is a violent tyrant and often takes out his anger on them. The story is a great example of how rape is not about sex – but power, the affect it has on women, and taking back some of that power for yourself. I did think the plot was a little superficial, I wish it had a bit more depth, but it was still very different from all the other fantasy I’ve read and I really hope it gets a sequel because I feel like this world has a lot of potential and that Ngan has only scratched the surface.
I love that I’ve been seeing a lot more Asian and African inspired fantasies in the last year or so and that we are getting more diverse voices in literature. I love the escapism of fantasy, but still tackling real life issues that are just as relevant to me in my day to day life. I feel like there are so many awesome female authors out there writing about the struggles that women face in real life every day, and the contrast of writing them in a fantasy world draws more attention to the injustice of it all. Representation is so important.
Overall I was impressed with this book and would definitely recommend, but maybe to more mature readers. My biggest struggle was that the world building seemed on the younger side, while the themes were definitely more mature.