Cover of Girls of Paper and Fire: A girl with golden eyes and colorful hair swirling, hiding most of her face.

About the Book

Title: Girls of Paper and Fire (Girls of Paper and Fire #1)
Published: 2018
Series: Girls of Paper and Fire
Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Cover Story: Windy Big Face
BFF Charm: Eventually
Talky Talk: Memoirs Of A Geisha Paper Girl
Bonus Factors: LGBTQ+, #OwnVoices
Factors: Animal-People, Series Starter
Anti-Bonus Factor: Sexual Assault
Relationship Status: Allies

Voices: Lesbian, Asian, Able-bodied, Cis girl

Content Warning: This book does contain non-graphic mentions/depictions of forced sexual relations between the concubines and the king.

Cover Story: Windy Big Face

I really hate it when the wind blows my hair in my face, don’t you? This poor girl is just trying to give us her best smize and there that pesky wind goes, getting up to no good…

The Deal:

Lei’s eyes have betrayed her. She is Paper, the lowest caste, the ones who are completely human with none of the animal features or qualities the Steel and Moon castes revere; yet her eyes are liquid gold, seemingly touched by the Moon goddess herself. It’s those beautiful eyes that catch the notice of General Yu, an advisor to the Demon King who is looking to bolster his status after a failed campaign. Suddenly Lei is ripped away from everything she knows to become the ninth Paper Girl: a group of young women who have the distinct—and dubious—honor of being the Demon King’s consorts for a year.

Under the constant threat of her family’s safety, Lei must submit to her position that brings wealth beyond the likes of her simple village upbringing: delicious food, beautiful gardens to roam in, education in the arts of womanly pursuits, and the unwanted attention of a powerful and arrogant man. But even though her body is a prisoner, Lei’s mind and emotions are still free, and she finds herself falling for one of her own. It’s a dangerous and foolish move, but it might just be the thing that saves her life.

BFF Charm: Eventually

BFF Charm with a sweatband on

We hardly have any time to see Lei in her natural habitat (an herb shop her father owns) before she loses everything she holds dear. Palace Lei is timid and grief-stricken and lost, and while her situation was certainly sympathetic, I had some trouble connecting to her at first. I was more interested in learning about the other Paper Girls and seeing more of her world I knew so little about. But once Lei started to connect with Wren and become sure about herself and her desires, I found her to be more compelling. She has room to grow, but she’s got a good heart.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5 (And Also -100)

Lei is being forced into prostitution for the Demon King who gave the order for the raid on her village that stole her mother from her. So, EW. This arrogant ass-hat and the fact that Lei can be summoned to his bedchamber whenever he desires is definitely gross, gross, gross.

But despite this terrible situation, it’s in the Paper House with the other girls that Lei meets Wren. Beautiful, untouchable, mysterious Wren, who makes Lei get the pants-feelings she will certainly never have for the King. I enjoyed the growing attraction between them, and though I could’ve used more interaction to justify their eventual feelings, I am hopeful future books will give them a deeper connection.

Talky Talk: Memoirs Of A Geisha Paper Girl

Lei’s story isn’t the first time we’ve seen a girl forced into a sexual situation without her consent. Concubines and harems are nothing new, though every story has its own quiet horror. Ngan didn’t shy away from the grim reality these girls are facing, and she certainly held both Lei and the reader in tension-filled suspense waiting for Lei to be called to the Demon King’s side. While this is a fantasy world, the commentary on the oppression between the castes felt all too real. At times the plot felt a tad too insular, too focused around the Paper House and minutiae of Lei’s day, but as we got closer to the end, there were moments that provided glimpses into the rest of the world and its varied people, so it’s clear Ngan’s story is far from over.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ+                                                                                                   

Pride flag being waved in a parade

Lei hasn’t had much experience with men or women before she arrives at the Hidden Palace, and her exploration of her sexuality is subtle but not marginalized.

Bonus Factor: #OwnVoices

Faces of all different races, ethnicities and genders.

Natasha Ngan is from Malaysia and wanted to write a pan-Asian world where young readers could see themselves in the characters. Ikhara had a nice blend of fantasy and Asian influences that made it seem at once familiar and unique.

Factor: Animal-People

A woman's and a wolf's faces merging together

For some this may be a non-issue, but the idea of people having animal features gives me the skin-crawlies. (I am very much against those creepy pictures of dogs with human bodies playing poker and that doggy dental chew commercial where the dog has human teeth.) I didn’t want to dwell too much on the many descriptions of people covered in fur or with half arm/half wings or wet snouts.

Factor: Series Starter

Stack of YA book series

I saw the size of this book and the fact that Goodreads didn’t have it listed as “Book 1” and thought, ooh, yay, a standalone! So let me warn you now: while the end does wrap up the first part of Lei’s story, there is definitely more to come, and I finally noticed in the Goodreads Q&A area that Ngan herself said this was a trilogy.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Sexual Assault

Sticker on a pole that reads "however I dress, wherever I go, yes means yes and no means no"

It’s so pervasive, and so, so wrong. Ngan spares readers the gory details, but the injustice is still very much present.

Relationship Status: Allies

We’ve seen some things together, Book, and you’ve asked me to come along on an uncertain journey through what is sure to be more heartache. I may not be head-over-heels for you, but I respect you enough to see where this goes. Lead on.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from publisher/source. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. Girls of Paper and Fire is available now.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.