ARC provided by Hachette in exchange for an honest review.
“We might be Paper Girls, easily torn and written upon. The very title we’re given suggests that we are blank, waiting to be filled. But what the Demon King and his court do not understand is that paper is flammable. And there is a fire catching among us.”
Once I heard that this was an ownvoices Asian inspired fantasy world where two girls, who are forced to be concubines to a demon king, try to overcome it all and fall in love, I knew this was going to be a book for me. But friends, I fell in love. Girls of Paper and Fire will make it onto my best books of 2018 list come December.
In this world, there are castes that people are born into which determine your social standing in the world:
➽ Paper – Humans. Lowest class. They look just like you and me.
➽ Steel – Half human, half demon. Middle class. Look mostly human but will have a little bit of an animal attribute.
➽ Moon – Demons. Highest class. Take on animal characteristics.
“Demon men can take what they want. Our homes. Our lives. Our bodies.”
And each year, the demon King takes eight paper girls to be concubines; some willing, others completely unwillingly. And these eight girls will live an entire year in the palace, living somewhat in the life a luxury, waiting to see if the King will call one of them to his chamber every night. And the impression they leave on the king will impact how their future goes after the year is up. And no girl can afford to make a mistake, because they will be punished in unthinkable ways.
This story stars a young girl named Lei, whose mother was ripped out of her life and taken by the king seven years ago. She has since grown up in a remote village with her father. But even though Lei is Paper caste, she has golden demon eyes that make her very unforgettable. So, palace guards eventually come for her. And this year, Lei gets taken to become one of the King’s paper girls.
“But perhaps the gods have forgotten us, or grown bored with our small corner of the kingdom. Because here I am, about to share the last thing I’d ever want to offer the King. Myself.”
To me, this is a book about rape, and rape culture, and how rape survivors will reclaim their bodies in all the different ways. And how rape is always about power, never about sex. This book is about how rapists can be charming, good looking, friendly, and have the entire world at their feet. It doesn’t matter. This is a book about reclaiming your body after someone forcibly takes it. And how everyone heals differently at their own pace.
Content and trigger warnings for rape, attempted rape, sexual assault, slavery, sex trafficking, abandonment, heavy grief depictions, loss of a loved one, murder, abduction, captivity, torture, branding, violence, a forced medical/health exam, physical abuse, graphic animal death, and war themes. Please use caution, this book can get pretty dark at times. Make sure you are in the right headspace.
“Order was restored the only way the King knew how. Bloodshed.”
This book is also about finding love; for others but also for yourself. And it is about finding your worth and knowing that you are worthy of love regardless of what has happened to you in your life. The world can be such an ugly place, but unconditional love still hides within it, and it’s so very beautiful. And love is always worth not only a risk, but it’s worth everything. And the f/f romance in this? One of my favorites of all time. It’s slow burn, but I say that in the best way possible. Without a question, my biggest ship of 2018 is within this book’s pages.
“Her kisses heal the parts of me that the King broke. They tell me: You are strong, Lei. You are beautiful. You are mine. And, always, most important: You are yours.”
And not only is the story amazing; Natasha Ngan’s writing is out of the world. I was completely captivated by the world and felt completely teleported into this world. And the masterpiece that she created? So damn impressive. My amazing friend, May let me in on some of Natasha’s inspirations with the paper girls and the regions they are from, and I’m just blown away. It’s so impressive the amount of work and love this author truly put into this story. This is seriously a work of art, and it just made me appreciate and love this world, characters, and book even more.
Overall, this meant so much to me. From the messages and the themes, to just me seeing queer, Asian girls falling in love against a world that wants to tear them apart, it meant everything. Yet, this book does end on a massive cliffhanger, so be warned. But it has hyped me so much to see what Natasha will do next! And book two will for sure be one of my most anticipated releases of 2019. But in the meantime, I can’t wait for the rest of the world to fall in love with the start of this amazing story.
“Our kingdom believes words have power. That the characters of our language can bless or curse a life.”
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.