Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan – Book Review

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☆ ☆ ☆

What initially drew my attention to this book was its cover. The colours and artwork were stunning! As well as this, I’d read Brittany at The Book Guru’s review and knew that this had to be up next on my TBR. With a premise that promised a sapphic romance, a seedy King and darker themes of sexual abuse, Girls of Paper and Fire sounded like a gritty fantasy that would perfectly match my mood. Unfortunately, while most aspects of this book were great there were a few significant issues I had with it that severely down-graded my rating.


In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she 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.


Ngan’s writing style had a brilliant flow and pace. The dialogue seemed realistic, if only a bit too modern for the chosen setting. I really adored how she went in to depth on the other eight Paper Caste characters who were also selected to be the King’s concubines. Lei’s strength and genuine kindness as a character made the abuse she suffered so heart-wrenching to read.

The world-building in GOPAF was extensive and painted a vivid picture of an Asian-inspired culture that had been forced in to segregation of castes by a prejudiced society, mostly spurred on by the assumption that Moon’s were the strongest caste as they represented the King’s race. Ngan’s rich description of the setting and inclusion of the Kingdom’s history, associated with the events that occurred to Lei, completely immersed me in her story. I was enthralled and transported to this world in the manner that only a well-written fantasy novel can achieve.

A few of the side characters, like The Wolf and Blue really caught my attention and interest. Their pasts were clouded in mystery and added intrigue to the story. They could have been written in their designated roles as blindly loyal followers of the King but Ngan’s exploration of their motives and conflicting loyalty brought their characters to life. Despite their actions, I couldn’t help but sympathise with the hard situations they were put in. I would have liked to have seen more exploration of their futures but perhaps that will happen in the second book?


Oh boy. I knew going in to this novel that things would get dark. I mean, you don’t sign up for a book that openly states the inclusion of sexual abuse to minors and expect it to be a light read. That said, since this was classified as a YA novel I had expected quite a lot more discretion on the sensitive matter than was presented. Bearing in mind that I’m familiar with scenes like this from the adult genre, I was able to finish the story mostly intact however, youths reading the YA genre can be as young as 12 and I definitely would not recommend this book to a 12 year old. Although, maybe that’s just me.

I also had a hard time believing the chemistry between Lei and her love interest (I don’t want to spoil anything). It seemed like they went from hardly knowing one another to being in love. A few kind acts, which weren’t all that extreme considering the circumstances they were under, were suddenly enough to form a strong and long-lasting connection between them. While I would believe this to be the perfect basis for the development of a friendship, the romantic chemistry just didn’t seem there for me.

// have you read Girls of Paper and Fire? what were your thoughts on it? //


33 thoughts on “Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan – Book Review

    • The darker scenes were almost a bit too much for me but they’re few and far between in this book (thankfully). That said, I still think it should be an adult book rather than YA. The world-building is really well done. It’s worth giving the book a try and then skipping over the graphic scenes if they get to be too much. The rest of the story is pretty great! Hope you enjoy it if you give it a read 😀 Jen

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I totally get what you mean about developing a friendship and that making more sense than turning it into a romance. I kind of wish more authors would be okay with writing two characters becoming friends rather than having a romantic relationship as the end game. Thanks so much for this review and I appreciate that heads up about some of the scenes. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this to someone 12 years old or so after you saying that.

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    • I completely agree. Friendships, the true kind, are hard to come by and the development of them should be enough for a story sometimes. Even though I enjoy romance I think you’re right that stories don’t always need them as the end game! I’m glad my review informed you of the triggers. I don’t enjoy reading something and then being caught off guard with darker elements in a book 🙂 Jen

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    • I was definitely expecting it to be 5-star as I’d read so many good reviews. Unfortunately it just didn’t work that way for me but to each their own 😀 I hope it’s a 5-star for you when you read it Evelyn! ❤ Jen

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  2. I liked this book… because the magical elements. But upon reflection, I didn’t really understand the chemistry between the love interest. It just didn’t seem like that realistic to me, you know? Friendship, yes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you liked the book too Storme! I know what you mean about the love connection. They seemed to grow such a great friendship and then this was automatically equated as love. I could see the budding of attraction there but not much more. I loved the fantasy elements though! It made this story quite unique and interesting 😀 Jen

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  3. I have not read it but with your con I don’t think it would be a book for me. Anything with sexual abuse in a book is a big no for me. I also agree more books need more friendships! Not all books need a romance. Great review as always.

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    • I love great friendships in books! I mean take HP (for the majority of the books at least) it was pretty much a story of friendship, growing up, loyalty and good vs. evil. You don’t get better than that when it’s written well 😀 Thanks Joanna!

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    • That’s such a great idea! I think a stand alone would have been a great idea for this book. Make it a bit longer, add in some deeper character and romance development and then have a hopeful/bittersweet ending. I’d have loved that! 😀 Thank you for commenting!


  4. I agree that I wouldn’t think this would necessarily be appropriate for younger YA readers, but I think a lot of work has been done in the design and positioning to ensure that it is unlikely to be picked up by or for readers much younger than 15. I also really admire the amount of work that was put in by the publisher and author to ensure there were obvious content warnings – two on the cover, and a larger written preface with information and resources as well.

    In comparison, I read The Surface Breaks, and I felt the cover of that had a much broader age appeal but the content was just as dark as Girls of Paper and Fire. It also lacked any warnings on the book whatsoever, although some booksellers had made notes on their websites that it contained content unsuitable for younger readers. Putting this onus on the bookseller seemed a bit unwise though as it wouldn’t provide consistent advice and relied on the bookseller doing this.

    I’m looking forward to the sequel for this book coming out later this year, I think it will definitely bulk out areas of the story which felt thinner, simply because the entire novel basically took place in a single place with a restricted view of the world.

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    • I haven’t read The Surface Breaks but I’ll check it out. The GOPAF book that I received from the library only had a small trigger warning on the back of the novel in very small writing? There is a lot of information in the preface though so you’re definitely right that it stands as a good warning. I do think this cover would be appealing to younger people though because of its colours. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to the sequel 🙂 Hope you enjoy it too! Jen


      • Oh that’s strange! The one I got had one on the back, one on the inside flap beneath the blurb, and then the preface. It was the hard cover with the dust jacket, I wonder if they’ve done the same with paperback releases.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve held this book in my hands so many times over the past few months & always put it back because I’ve seen such mixed reviews about it! I want to love it so badly because we need more own voices books with Asian leads but…I don’t know if that’s enough to entice me at this stage 😬

    Awesome review as always! ☺️

    💛 Ngoc

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ngoc! The world-building and Asian influence was quite present in this book. If you’ve considered reading it for that then you’ll most likely enjoy that aspect of it 🙂 I have to note though that it has a very broad asian influence and there have been some reviews that aren’t happy she appropriated Asian cultures other than her own, so that’s something to bear in mind depending on your view points on this? 🙂 I hope you enjoy it if you decide to give it a try ❤ Jen

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      • Oooh thank you, that’s definitely something I hadn’t realised about the book! I might give it a miss for now – there are so many better books with Asian rep out there, it doesn’t sound like I’ll be missing out on anything with this one 😉

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  6. Yay, I’m so happy to read your review! The writing and world building were some of my favorite things about this as well, and I honestly understand everything you stated in the cons! The way that the sexual abuse was handled was not very discreet and I had nooo idea that the book even contained any of that when I originally decided to read it. I think just turned out to be one of those books that I really enjoyed even though I might normally not have?? If that even makes any sense??? 😅 I COMPLETELY agree that no 12 year old should be reading this. I don’t think I personally would’ve been comfortable reading it at alllll before 17-18 (but I know there are younger readers picking it up so that’s just me, I guess, lol). I’m sorry that it wasn’t as great of a read for you! :/ But I really enjoyed your review and feel like you did such a great job explaining why!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Brittany! I think with subjects like these we all read them quite differently and have quite different ratings on them. I’m really glad you enjoyed GOPAF though 🙂 Jen


  7. Great review, Jen! I think I ended up rating this the same as you and for me it was mostly because of the character development. I thought it was frustratingly weak and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t love Lei’s character. I found her so… passive? Even towards the end when all the “action” was happening! I also totally felt the same re. the romance. I think I’d still be interested in picking up the sequel but I’m really hoping it gets better otherwise I don’t think I’ll continue on if there’s more than two books?

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    • Lei was really passive, wasn’t she? I thought that too but didn’t write it in my review. The romance definitely didn’t have the sparks I was hoping for. I think this probably should have been a stand alone book and just developed more character, romance and conclusion wise. I think it would have felt like a much stronger book that way: intense, heart-breaking and then a hopeful/bittersweet ending. But that’s just me 😛 I’ll try the second book though, too, and see how it goes. Fingers crossed it improves in some areas! Jen


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