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Hi, friends! I know I have only posted a couple of times so far this month, but I’ve been super overwhelmed with everything lately and book blogging is the one thing not required of me right now, so I’ve been giving myself a little extra room to breath by only worrying with posting when I have the time for it. I’ve been attempting to at least maintain posting once a week until things settle down a bit, and I’ll try to get in extra posts here or there when I can! I’ve got tons of reviews to write for you all so hopefully I can get some of those done soon! Alright, let’s get into this one!
Content/Trigger Warnings: Classism, Violence, Animal Cruelty, Sexual Slavery/Assault/Rape, Forced Prostitution, Bestiality (Kind of??)
I am so in love with how beautiful this cover is! Purple is my favorite color and this cover is just so perfect. Ugh.
To be frank with you all, this is not the type of book that I would usually bother to read at all. Fantasy is one of the genres I enjoy the least, but going into this, I wasn’t sure just how revolved around fantasy and magic this would be. I picked it up for two reasons: 1) the hype, and 2) the rumored f/f romance. I quickly discovered just how fantastical this read was going to be.
Inside Girls of Paper and Fire, there are three castes of beings:
- ‘Paper’ – 100% human
- ‘Steel’ – human with fairly minimal demonic characteristics
- ‘Moon’ – Demon
In this story, paper castes are considered the lowest because they possess no demonic characteristics, and therefore hold no power. The three castes live among each other throughout different villages, but steel and moon castes look down on paper castes. Among the moon caste is the Demon King who takes the shape of a human-like bull. After a war that placed him (and his past family lineage) in control of the Ikhara, he takes 8 paper caste girls each year as his concubines. Some paper families who are slightly higher up the societal ladder view being the King’s Paper Girl as an honor, and they prepare their daughters to hopefully be picked from the time they are born. Others, however, like Lei and her family, view this as no more than an imprisonment, especially after her mother was taken by the King’s men some years ago.
Due to some unforeseen circumstances, Lei is taken to the palace to be the 9th Paper Girl– an unheard of thing. Though her beauty is sometimes described as more simple compared to some of the other girls, her eyes shine a beautiful, deep gold color, which ultimately ensures her spot in among the Paper Girls. While Lei does not want to be there, her family’s safety is threatened if she doesn’t comply, so she takes on the role.
Being a Paper Girl essentially means spending a year being a sexual partner to the Demon King, and then remaining in the palace afterwards to take on some other role suitable for paper women. However, many of the girls are not fully prepared for what this entails (and really, who could be?).
Though this book was so far from something I would normally enjoy and took me completely by surprise with it’s plot and content, I found myself really invested in Lei’s story from the very beginning. Natasha Ngan has a beautiful writing style that offers you beautifully detailed descriptions and dialogue with great syntax. I genuinely believe that my interest in the story would’ve been lost early on had the writing not pulled me into Lei’s journey the way that it did.
To be honest, a lot of the content in this book was extremely unsettling. Sex is a huge part of this story, and Ngan uses it to show how power is viewed in this society. Consent is hardly a variable for the Paper Girls, which is a huge part of Lei’s personal story. In this, beautiful, young human girls in Ikhara are valuable for nothing more than the Demon King’s sexual pleasure. It was honestly a hard thing for me to read about at times.
With that being said, reading from Lei’s POV gives you hope as a reader.
“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.”
Since this book is a series and very easy to spoil, I don’t want to go too in depth into the action of the plot. However, I felt like the pacing and sequence of events was done very nicely, and I was rooting for Lei 100% of the time.
In addition to her resilience, her f/f love interest was a huge part of why I enjoyed the book so much. I hate that this isn’t actually advertised as sapphic book because I feel like it is such an important part of the story. While Lei’s situation is still dire and mixed with sexual violence, the added romance adds a little light to the story (though there are certainly times when it also raised the stakes).
I also really enjoyed getting to read another Asian Own Voices novel. I read this book right after reading the first Crazy Rich Asians installment, so I still felt very pulled into the culture and language.
Overall, this was a really worthwhile read. I feel weird calling it enjoyable because it was such a hard and unsettling novel at times, but it was written in a way that still makes it such a good book. I am really looking forward to seeing how the f/f relationship progresses and where the characters all are after the actions at the end of the story. If you enjoy high fantasy, f/f relationships, strong & resilient characters, and tackling hard topics, I’d definitely recommend this for you!