Wednesday, October 31, 2018

ARC Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Title: Girls of Paper and Fire
Author: Natasha Ngan
Publication Date: November 6, 2018
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books
Pages: 336
Add to Goodreads

//I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review//
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.

Girls of Paper and Fire was one of my most anticipated reads of the year! I got my copy way back in April and immediately dug in, but I quickly realized that it was not going to work for me. While there are some really interesting aspects of this book, there were just too many issues for it to be really enjoyable.

Lei is the protagonist of this story and she's from the lowest caste in her world, which is unfortunate to her since it makes her easy pickings for the king's Paper Girls. Paper Girls, in case you're wondering, are concubines and this book does not shy away from the sexual aspects.

While I'm open to sexual content when done tastefully (even in YA) I was honestly shocked by the content. There was sexual assault and rape constantly throughout this book. In my original thoughts I compared this to The Handmaid's Tale, but while The Handmaid's Tale had a point to make, I'm not sure what the point is here. Maybe I'm just missing something. In any case, there were no content warnings on the ARC, but maybe there will be on the finished copy. There definitely should.

Lei herself is an interesting character, but I didn't find her to be particularly compelling or interesting. Wren was honestly more interesting and I'd love to have known more about her! Their romance was sweet and one of my favorite parts of the book. I really wish there had been a way to write this story but in a different setting with different circumstances.

The thing I really did appreciate about Girls of Paper and Fire was the mythology and worldbuilding. I don't know much about Malaysian culture, but Natasha Ngan definitely painted a vivid picture! The demon and human races were fascinating in their diversity. The writing was lush and I couldn't help but keep turning pages despite my issues.

I think a lot of people will enjoy this book, especially if they understand what the content is before they start reading. I don't particularly like reading about sexual assault, so that put a huge damper on my enjoyment. I will definitely be giving this author another try based on her world building and writing, though.