Published by Jimmy Patterson Books on November 6th 2018
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 demeaning. This year, there's a ninth. And instead of paper, she's made of fire.
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.
I bought this years ago and never got around to reading it. Last year’s r/fantasy bingo had the perfect prompt for it: Read a book with the title ___ Of ___ And ___. So I knew this would be my pick. I heard amazing things when it just came out and the two other books in the series received the same love from people I trust.
The story is dark and talks about heavy themes like sexual abuse, slavery, and oppression. So it’s definitely not a fun book. But the way Ngan handles these topics makes it easier to read. She doesn’t shy away from the horrible things but she created characters who wanted to overcome their situation and take control back. There’s a lot of fire in this book, a passion, an urge to fight, and a longing to break down the oppression.
I’d attribute it all to Lei. If she was written weaker or differently, then the story wouldn’t have landed so well. She makes mistakes but she never acts out of character. I can’t imagine a better lead for this story. The court is dangerous and Lei, being a girl from the countryside, navigates it well enough. Her growth is astounding and I’m curious how that line will continue into the next book.
I give Girls of Paper and Fire four stars. The worldbuilding is amazing and the characters are well written. Despite the difficult topics, I’d recommend this book to any teen who needs to awaken the fire within themselves. The girls are an inspiration to fight for your rights. Do check content warnings for your own mental health before starting this one.