Hi everyone! Recently I decided to do a re-read of one of my favourite fantasy novels, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, so that I could finally get to the sequel, which I’ve been dying to read for months! I decided to do a joint review of the two of them, and there will be some spoilers for the first book in my review of Girls of Storm and Shadow, so do be aware of that! I hope you enjoy my first review on the blog!
Title: Girls of Paper and Fire
Author: Natasha Ngan
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBT
Rating: 5/5 Stars – 9.71 CAWPILE rating
Synopsis: Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honour they could hope for … and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.
Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. Ten years ago, her mother was snatched by the royal guards, and her fate remains unknown. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after – the girl with the golden eyes, whose rumoured beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, Lei does the unthinkable – she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.
Review: I absolutely adored this book, maybe even more so than the first time that I read it! The characters, for me, were one of the best parts of this novel. Lei, our main character, starts off the book as a scared and angry girl who just wants to be back at home with her family, but she slowly grows to be a strong-hearted, brave character that I can’t help but love. Lei forms an almost found family with the other paper girls around her, particularly a close friendship with Aoki, who wants desperately to fall in love with the King, and Wren, a secretive and beautiful girl with a hard exterior. Other characters that I loved were Lill, a tiny steel caste servant girl with a heart of gold, and Zelle, one of Lei’s teachers. Even the character’s I grew to hate, the King and Blue, were so well developed that I almost enjoyed reading about them! Of course, I can’t talk about characters without discussing the romance, which, of course, I adored! Lei falls for another paper girl and their relationship is slow burn and so unbelievably sweet. They’re strong for each other through the horror’s they face and through their love they realise that intimacy and love can be bravery in itself.
The atmosphere and setting of the book was so lush! I adore Asian-inspired fantasies and the setting of the palace in particular was so intriguing and I wish we’d got to see other parts of it, particularly the other courts, such as the city court and the mortal court. What we did get to see, however, was so magical and stunning – from the steamy, relaxing bath houses to the solemn yet enchanting ghost court, I eagerly devoured Natasha Ngan’s beautiful descriptions. Food descriptions are something that I absolutely adore in a book, and these were no exception – every delicacy that the paper girls got to eat sounded so delicious I wish I could reach into the book and have a taste for myself!
Natasha Ngan’s writing was, of course, excellent and I was constantly on the edge of my seat while reading the book, even though it was not my first read. Although it was quite difficult to read at times – there are a whole host of trigger warnings, including rape and sexual assault – I definitely think it was a necessary read, particularly as an own voices novel. The representation in this book was also done phenomenally and, when I first read it, was one of the first f/f fantasy novels I had read, and so for that alone it holds a special place in my heart. I cannot recommend this book enough!
Title: Girls of Storm and Shadow
Author: Natasha Ngan
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBT
Rating: 5/5 Stars – 9.14 CAWPILE rating
Synopsis: In this mesmerizing sequel to the New York Times bestselling Girls of Paper and Fire, Lei and Wren have escaped their oppressive lives in the Hidden Palace, but soon learn that freedom comes with a terrible cost.
Lei, the naive country girl who became a royal courtesan, is now known as the Moonchosen, the commoner who managed to do what no one else could. But slaying the cruel Demon King wasn’t the end of the plan—it’s just the beginning. Now Lei and her warrior love Wren must travel the kingdom to gain support from the far-flung rebel clans. The journey is made even more treacherous thanks to a heavy bounty on Lei’s head, as well as insidious doubts that threaten to tear Lei and Wren apart from within.
Meanwhile, an evil plot to eliminate the rebel uprising is taking shape, fueled by dark magic and vengeance. Will Lei succeed in her quest to overthrow the monarchy and protect her love for Wren, or will she fall victim to the sinister magic that seeks to destroy her?
Review: Wow! So I have just finished reading the book as I am writing this and I am absolutely blown away! First of all, the characters. We’re introduced to a new band of characters that we briefly meet at the end of the first novel who become another almost found family for Lei – Nitta and Bo, a brother and sister and both cat demons; Hiro, a shaman and the last of his clan; Merrin, a bird demon; and Shifu Caen, advisor to the head of the Hanno clan. I adored the dynamic between the group, particularly the sibling bond between Nitta and Bo and the playful back and forth banter between Merrin and Bo. We also get a couple of chapters from other character’s perspectives who are still inside the palace, including Naja, and it was so interesting to see the rebel forces working within, though I do wish we had got to see more of the other paper girls. Aside from this, we see so many new faces, including some from Wren’s past, and they’re all morally grey and just so human, and Natasha Ngan really broke my heart on several occasions! We also see Lei and Wren dealing with their trauma and what happened in the previous book, which I think was very important and a very necessary part of the book.
At times, I did feel the plot was slightly lacking – a large part of the book was the main group of characters travelling – but the action scenes and the parts that took place, for example, at other palaces more than made up for it! As they were travelling we did get to see a lot more of the world and learned a lot more about the different clans which was another highlight for me, and something I felt was a little lacking from the first book (although understandably so)! There was also so much intrigue and back-stabbing which, once again, kept me on the edge of my seat, and also reminded me of another Asian-inspired fantasy which I adore, The Poppy War. So much was revealed about certain characters and relationships were tested (and broke my heart!) – the last 100 or so pages had so many twists and turns I just didn’t want to take my eyes off the page!
Overall, this sequel really exceeded my expectations, after seeing so many mixed reviews. The ending has absolutely destroyed me and I’ve only just stopped tearing up! I need the next book now, I don’t want to wait until November!!
I hope you enjoyed this review and that maybe it was the final push you needed to pick up these amazing books! I cannot wait to read the final book, Girls of Fate and Fury when it is released at the end of this year! As always, stay safe!