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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? //