Book: ‘Girls of Paper and Fire’ by Natasha Ngan
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books, Little Brown and Company
Length: 400 pgs.
Series or Standalone: Book #1 in a Series
I read ‘Girls of Paper and Fire’ for Asian Readathon. I didn’t think that I would be swept into this novel so quickly. YA isn’t necessarily the genre I actively lean towards, but the subject content (women finding strength among each other among a harsh, patriarchal environment) was something I was very intrigued about. It did take me a couple weeks to finish, but I have my hectic schedule to blame for that!
‘Girls of Paper and Fire’ takes place in the world of Ikhara, where humans are Paper castes, the lowest ranking citizens. They exist to serve Steel and Moon caste citizens (Part Demon/Human & Demon form, respectively), Paper caste girls’ destiny to become consorts for the Demon King. This story follows the journey of Lei, a Paper caste girl six months shy of her 18th birthday, who works in her father herb shop in the peaceful village of Xienzo. One day, the Demon King’s crew comes for Lei, ripping her from the security of her home to become a Paper Girl. For Lei’s family, they face this horror a second time, for the same group took Lei’s mother seven years prior. Lei is then swept into the Demon King’s region of Han, where she is trained to become the Ninth Paper Girl. Along the way, she learns about the hidden politics that the Demon King and his people exist with within their daily life. Lei also goes on her own personal quest to learn what became of her mother.
Before the novel begins, both James Patterson and Natasha Ngan shares with the reader a trigger warning for violence and sexual assault, and there are certainly scenes in this book that’s difficult to absorb. Lei and the other Paper Girls range between 16-19 years of age, and they must endure varying degrees of physical abuse from the Demon King, and other members of the Royal guard. Although these parts are very difficult to read, they add to the narrative of Lei gaining strength within herself to gain the upper hand over her abusers. She yearns for freedom, yet she is entangled in traditions that are centuries old, thus she finds herself leaning on the guidance of another Paper Girl to navigate through the social graces and code that women must adhere to while living in the Palace. As the plot unfolds, it is reveled that an uprising is in the making, and hidden alliances are formed. This adds into growing tension within the story that culminates into action and dramatics that flowed beautifully.
The supporting characters in ‘Girls of Paper and Fire’ share a camaraderie with Lei in the pathways that align with a YA tale, artfully written to depict the struggles these women face as they live their roles as Paper Girls: the best friend who seeks understanding from Lei as she fights to understand her emotions with the Demon King. The antagonist, set out to make Lei’s life miserable, while enduring the damaging effects of being a Paper caste woman. A blooming romance, which is a female/female relationship. Ngan detailed the growing dynamic between Lei and her partner (from acquaintances to close lovers) very beautifully. It highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of both characters involved, featuring the sacrifices each woman faced upon realizing their feelings for one another.
‘Girls of Paper and Fire’ serves to give readers a deeper understanding of women fighting for justice and empowerment, while handling the ugly face of hierarchy and assault. Natasha Ngan amazingly shares her narrative to young women, providing a strong statement to walk without shame, to understand that victims of assault are not along in their struggle, that they can rise like waves and crash over opposition.