The hype was right, you guys. This book is as phenomenal as everyone has been saying it is and I love this book so much. Do yourself a favor and pick it up now. If you’re one of those people that haven’t heard anything about this book, get hold of a copy (if you can, of course) and read it now. You will have no regrets.
Girls of Paper and Fire follows Lei, a 17-year-old girl who has been selected as a Paper Girl (which is essentially a concubine and a sex slave) for the Demon King, the ruler of Ikhara, and her meeting and falling in love with another Paper Girl.
In the world of Ikhara, society is divided into three castes: paper, the lowest caste, who are regular humans, steel, who are half-demon, half-human (the middle caste) and moon, who are fully demon and rule this society.
In fact, Ikhara is an Asian-inspired fantasy world, more specifically, with many homages to Malaysia. As a Malaysian-Chinese teen, I have never read any book, let alone any fantasy, like this, and I would love to see more of it. Reading slang I’m used to hearing and terms that I myself have used in a YA fantasy by a major publishing house made me beyond happy. Something else that made me ecstatic was the inclusion of Malaysian food and how casually and subtly the aspects of Asian and Malaysian culture was weaved in into this book. It just made my little
cold heart so happy.
Ngan’s writing was absolutely electrifying. It was simple yet beautiful, but also so compulsively readable. I read this book in one sitting and could not stop because it was just so binge-able and enrapturing. Like, I started this at 10pm and finished it at 2am, completely shook and physically unable to stop myself from reading
and going to bed at a normal time. It’s honestly been such a long time since I’ve read a book in one sitting. It was a reason I loved it so much. I will admit that I did take some time to get into the book for sure, as I felt like it did take some time to get straight into the palace scenes.
The character work was stunning. To be honest, Lei herself wasn’t a stand-out character by any means. However, she was still compelling and developed enough for me to like and be invested in her story, and that’s enough for me. She was a likable character, though at times I did feel like her character was very Mary Sue-esque, what with being the first ninth paper girl, made of fire, golden eyes, special snowflake etc.
Wren, the love interest, was a really interesting and three-dimensional character. I was waiting for her to make an appearance at the beginning for ages, especially since she was so hyped, and she was great. There were definitely some plot points with her that took me by surprise.
The side characters were really, really good either – I loved the relationship between all the Paper Girls in particular, and it felt so exquisite. They weren’t reduced to stereotypes, and I really appreciated how they weren’t just defined by one characteristic.
This book does deal with many heavy topics, with a heavy focus on sexual assault and rape, so do take care and take note before going in if these are topics that trigger you in any way. I personally really enjoyed these explorations and the effortless weaving of these topics into the novel.
All in all, I loved this novel with all my heart. It was a highly entertaining, fast-paced, intriguing book that I will definitely recommend. It is a love letter to Asian culture, and a beautiful love letter it is. I’m not sure whether to give it a 4 or 5-star rating yet, so I’ll settle for a tentative rating of 4.5 stars. If you feel that you can handle the topics and that this novel contains elements you personally find interesting, I wholeheartedly recommend it. I’ll remember this book as a book that I absolutely had to binge and a deeply personal book. I absolutely cannot wait for book 2.
Have you read Girls of Paper and Fire? Is it on your to be read list? Any great Asian fantasies to recommend to me?