This was magical and emotional and harrowing … and woah you should read this.
It’s such a dark premise and it’s handled so well. And may I just say the amount of Asian #ownvoices fantasies coming out at the moment is incredible?! Not only is GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE #ownvoices, it also features an f/f romance, demon kings and conquered realms, rebellions and secret assassins, empowering female friendships, and dresses that hide knives (YES THANKS). Also the cover…absolutely beautiful. I can’t even.
We have been blessed here tbh.
thanks to Hachette / @dateabook for the ARC…and I also got an exclusive signed edition from the November @owlcrate box!
➸ WORLD BUILDING!
dude, this was amazing. Complex and developed, with history and lore!! The world felt huge in scope and well developed (something I crave in YA fantasy but often find wanting?!) The author’s note said she drew inspiration from her own Chinese and Malaysian background and I think that’s incredibly special too. It was so easy to tumble headfirst into descriptions of the world, the politics, the palaces, the food (I’m so hungry now wow) — it made you feel IN the story.
➸ let’s talk about the dark premise, ok?
The Demon King takes teenage girls as concubines…so the premise is Lei being taken. Yes the book is about reap and sexual abuse and violence. (It also contains a content warning at the beginning of the book, which I felt was important!) It’s not graphic, but it is talked about thoroughly. At first I was like “This isn’t YA…” But you know what? I changed my mind. It is important to talk about these things with teens.
The author’s note sums it up brilliantly, where Ngan says: “While I realise these are hard discussions, especially for teens, it is of vital important we have them. Books can be safe places to explore difficult topics. While we cannot shelter young people from being exposed to sexual violence, whether through lived experience or indirectly, we can give them a way to safely engage with and reflect upon these issues. I hope Girls provides such a space.“
I couldn’t agree more. I think I read the stats somewhere that 1 in 6 women experience sexual abuse (it’s probably higher than that) and teens need to talk about it just as much as adults. And yes, this book is harrowing and it uproots your heart and makes you feel ill at times, it handles the topic so well. I still felt gutted reading it though afjkdslad I ached for these girls and I freaking hate the Demon king so viciously.
➸ a moment for our FAV GIRLS, Lei and Wren!
I loved Lei so so much! Her little snark quips gave me life. And she’s so real. She was emotional and unsure and made messy decisions and had messy feels (a true teen!!). I loved how she was fiery and brave, but also emotional and feminine. (This is NOTHING against stoic women, I just feel like it’s important to show books where girls don’t have to be “super super tough” in order to be brave and strong.) Also Lei @ seeing her crush? The dorky CUTENESS. It was perfect. I loved the romance, not rushed and yet not too slowburn either. Wren is mysterious and drop-dead gorgeous, and super badass. She has a Secret Thing going on too. (I really hope this, being a bestseller, brings more f/f romances into epic fantasy!)
➸ honestly this was just a Good Book™
Captivating and intense! It was a bit slow at the beginning, but eh, it took time to craft the world. I admit It didn’t give me all-the-feels-of-ever — but I am a tree stump. I acknowledge that. But, hello, the cast is like 80% women, with POC and queer leads, and the story was powerful. It’s not a light.
It’s heavy and unsettling but written very very well.
I want more from this world, this author, THESE GIRLS. I’m definitely pointing to this one ➸ very recommended!
Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.
But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.
In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.