“This is a language I understand. A language of pain and horror I, too, have learned. That too many girls have had to learn.”
- Girls of Paper and Fire ★★★★★
Releases 5th November, 2019 (today!)
Thank you to Julie from HBG and the publisher for letting me read an early advanced reader’s copy of this book! Forever grateful ❤
In November of 2018, I hit a milestone in my reading life – I found a book with a clear Malaysian Chinese influence, which as a Malaysian Chinese kid, I never found but was internally.
And I fell in love with it. From the court intrigue to the discussion of sexual assault and to its presentation of beautiful, fierce Asian girls, there was so much to love in it. After I had devoured it in one sitting on a school night (it was worth it), I eagerly searched up the next book and was MASSIVELY anticipating the publication of this book.
When I saw some of my friends getting ARCs of this, I decided to shoot my shot and request this book (months later), figuring I probably wouldn’t get it in anyway. And when I saw that my request had been approved, I was beyond thrilled.
Essentially, this book follows (spoilers for Girls of Paper and Fire here) Lei and Wren on a journey after fleeing from the palace at the end of the book, and them on a quest to gain allies from the different kingdoms of this world.
Ever since I began reading this series, one of my favourite parts was the world. Ikhara is so beautiful and lush, and Natasha Ngan has said that this world is based on Asian cultures, especially Malaysian culture, which made my little! Malaysian! heart! so! happy! It is so proudly and strongly Asian, which is so, so lovely to see. However, I have to note that while I do feel that the expansion of the world was great, I did want to know more about the history of each part of Ikhara, and I feel like this installment really missed that installment. There are a few Malaysian references sprinkled in the book, and it made me so happy and maybe scream (
a LOT just a little). It is such a wonderful feeling to see a part of yourself represented on the page, and it’s honestly amazing. And for that, it’s a series I’m always going to be grateful for. And for all you all that love Natasha Ngan’s writing – I’m here to say that it is still beautiful and gorgeous as always, and I genuinely feel that it has improved since Girls of Paper and Fire. And can we just talk about the banter here? Because it is truly, and absolute, perfection.
The plot …. well, frankly, was a weird one this round. I had gone into this book with considerably lowered expectations, as many of my friends had been extremely disappointed by this book, and I’m glad I did. This volume definitely took a considerably darker turn, and it was pretty great to see, honestly. All I want to say about this is that Natasha Ngan is not here to play.
I do think that while some of the plot developments here is considerably more sophisticated and great overall, there was truly very little happening in terms of plot. If I had to do a Sparknotes plot summary, I can tell you about 5 main things that happened and that’s all you would need to know, and I did feel that this fell into some of the traps of second book syndrome. This book could have easily be shortened by at least 50 pages or so, the plot DRAGGED notably *cough* too many fight sequences, *cough* which admittedly, did get boring over time, and the characters – well, I’ll get to them into a second. I was really hoping for a lot more development than we got, and I was a little disheartened at not getting that. That ending, though? I’m screeching.
So, characters. Let’s talk about them. There were a lot of new characters introduced, and I did enjoy most of them, I would say. They were very funny (shoutout to Bo! and Netta! and Lova! We love and stan!!) and I feel that they complemented our main characters well enough. However, I found it disorientating to be dropped into a book where these characters seemed that they all knew each other for years, which is particularly disorientating considering that this is a bridge book.
The themes and messages of Girls of Paper and Fire, especially in relation to sexual assault, was built on from it, especially in relation to trauma and recovery, and it hits so. hard. Seeing trauma representation, more specifically, sexual assault trauma in YA fantasy (which is in dire NEED of more diversity in general), is so needed and so important, and I am happy that these themes were not completely swept away.
BUT as much as I enjoyed a great deal in this installment, I just couldn’t give this the full 5 stars. The Lei-Wren relationship felt a little off, and it was noticeable. Like, really noticeable. I don’t know how to precisely articulate this, but I really wish they had communicated more instead of you know, not communicating, if you know what I mean? And I feel that Lei did get very annoying and did some side-eye worthy things and just like no?? Why?? But my gosh, did my love for Wren grow, though. I still love my wonderful queer Asian warrior girls a lot and I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for them.
In conclusion, though – how I can I get an early copy of the third book? Because I need it, like yesterday.
Have you read this series yet? Is it on your to be read list? Are you planning to read this any time soon? What other great Asian fantasies to recommend?