Hello everyone! I hope you are having a splendid day. I know I am. I had a big debate on which books to put out for you all today. I decided to finish my reviews from last month, and to give you a new one from this month. Stay tuned for next week, where you will get Cruel Prince and Wicked King.
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
That being said… Spoilers ahead.
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
Synopsis From The Book
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.
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
Here we go. I got this book, because I wanted the candle stamp that came in the book box that it was in. Does that make me a horrible person? I’m not sure. After reading the synopsis, I feel as if I have made a terribly amazing choice. This book sounds amazing from the synopsis. We will see how it goes!
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
NOOOOO, but also YESSSSSS. I loved this. Truly did. There was so much about it to love, if I’m being honest. I also wasn’t expecting much out of it, considering I knew nothing about it. The sequel comes out in November (around the same time as Queen of Nothing). I look forward to it.
Lei lives in a remote village, once raided by the king — her mother taken from them. One day the King’s guard return to take her, for the eyes she was born with are gold as the New Year’s Moon. She is taken from her family to be a Paper Girl, not much without her fighting. Her family is threatened and she is forced to become a courtesan for the King: one of his Paper Girls.
In this world there are three castes: paper, steel, and moon. Moon caste are for the demons: anamorphic like humans — more animal than human most times. Steel for half demon half humans. Paper for humans. Paper Girls are girls of the paper caste that are taken for the king to be his concubines (and later courtesans for the court). Eight each year. They never return to their families.
Lei is brought to become one, and it is here that she meets Wren, a girl from a famous paper caste family. They learn, and do their best to impress the King — Lei landing on her face the first time she meets him. The king calls them all up one by one. Each time a girl returns she is sullen, saddened, hurt. Lei is not called, until last.
When Lei is called, she is sent to a master of nightly pleasures Zelle. It is here that Lei realizes that after all this time of waiting and learning she has begun to grow an attraction for Wren. That night she discovers just how much she fears this demon king, and how much she hates him. When he tries to force himself on her, she refuses him and tries to flee. He knocks her out, and gives her one more chance.
There is an assassination attempt on the king, and Lei learns that Wren is from one of the ancient dead clans: Xia — a clan of warriors. She learns of Wren’s family, and ultimately of Wren’s mission to kill the king. The two admit their feelings for each other, and begin a secret tryst. The next time the King calls upon Lei, she takes poisons with her and tries to hurt him. Instead she ends up bloody to the point where she can not walk, the king having gotten what he wanted.
The day of Lei’s 18th birthday approaches, as does the day to kill the king, when Wren disappears due to her mother’s death. It is up to Lei to kill the king. Blue, one of the other girls, tells the King that Wren and Lei are in an affair. The night of the festival, Lei realizes the king has brought her family there to torment her — and to watch as he kills her for having another lover. (There was another one of the paper girls before who had a lover, and he was disposed of, and she was marked with the word “rotten” on her forehead.) Lei convinces the king to walk with her, and tries to kill him but fails. As he is killing her, Zelle comes to the rescue and stabs the king.
The king’s personal guard kills Zelle, as Lei takes Zelle’s blade and kills the king. Lei is saved by Wren and another soldier, and Wren and Lei escape. It is revealed at the end that the King did not die.
What I Liked:
Lei; Lei is introduced as a normal girl, normal being a girl living in anything but the aristocracy, taken from her home. She is a fighter and I love her for it.
Wren; I knew she was going to love Lei the moment we got eyes of her. For all her secrets, she is beautiful. Less like an onion more like a rose, who blooms the more you grow close to her.
Lei and Wren; I knew they were going to be in love the moment that Lei started thinking and noticing Wren more than the other girls. I wanted it, and needed it. I had feared that she would fall for the King (as the synopsis says she falls in love) so when we got that Lei realized she was falling for Wren, I was nearly screaming. They are so perfect with each other. I need them to be happy.
Other Characters; For as much as they are explained, learning about them is really nice. Zelle is brilliant and seductive. Aoki is kind. I want to know more about the stories of those who survived.
The King; I hate him. I absolutely despise him. He may be beautiful, but he is an atrocious being who should drown in his own blood. I suppose it is for that reason that I think that he is fantastic — fantastically written. I admire those authors who do not shy away from horrible monsters. You learn more about the monsters when they do things to our main characters directly, and he has. So I hate him, and that’s a good thing.
Chinese Lore; It was the first thing I noticed, names specifically giving it away. Then we got the line: “My parents named me Lei, with a soft rising tone.” Perhaps this got me to understand the pronunciation better as well. I loved the Chinese influence that was throughout the entirety of the novel: gods, words, concepts. We get qi, and yin and yang, for example. I haven’t read many stories, fantasy stories, written for the … this age group for a while.
Use of courtesans/concubines; I hesitate to call this a YA novel, with how much sex is talked about in it. I’m not sure what the rules are these days regarding it, but it seems to be a lot for what publishers would say is children or YA. I say this and I love that it does it anyway. It talks about attraction, lust, love, seduction. We see the beauty of being a courtesan, but also the horror of it (especially in this case). Our girls are loved by some and they are called whores by others. I like this plot in general, because it teaches a lot about how one views the world. Some of the girls were forced there, and yet they are hated for what they are forced to do by those who force them. Is that not sick? And yet, there are others take pride in their work, and I salute them for that. I like that the topic is touched, discussed, and reviewed over the course of the book. Our girls are brilliant, and many of them are tools.
The world building; We get clans, politics, history, gods, magic system, and all of it tightly wrapped up in less than four hundred pages. I need more of it, yes, but I love that we get so much of it.
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
I would have liked to know a bit more about the other court girls.
Time Taken To Read
mostly as I wait for the second book.
“Lei… am I always to find you face first on the floor?” – The King, pg 137
“None of them will ever be able to control the way we feel. Our minds and hearts are our own. That is our power, Nine. Never forget it.” – Zelle, pg 151
“What is the point of a god whose people know nothing about him? Whose followers cannot call upon him by his own name? … It’s like worshipping a ghost.” – The King pg 157
” ‘What happened to your older brothers?’ I ask tentatively.
The King licks his lips. ‘I killed them so I could take the throne.’ ” – King and Lei, pg 157
“I don’t want an easy life. I want a meaningful one.” – Wren pg 233