Uncover a riveting story of palace intrigue set in a sumptuous Asian-inspired fantasy world in the breakout YA novel that Publisher’s Weekly calls “elegant and adrenaline-soaked.”
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 learn 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.
Amazon Link: Girls of Paper and Fire (Girls of Paper and Fire #1)
Author: Natasha Ngan
Genre: YA Epic Fantasy
Rating: 5/5 stars
This story was hard to read at times because of the rape and violence. (Minor spoiler, but in one of the first scenes, the main character’s dog is killed brutally in front of her. That made it very clear what kind of story this was early on.) But it was a very impactful and emotional story. When you hear “concubines” it can sound like a romanticized idea, but this book shows the harsh reality of sexual slavery and the aftermath of trauma.
I also liked the slow development of Lei’s relationship with Wren as they built up their rebellion. Lei’s first friend is Aoki and she needed that friendship just to survive in this harsh world, but Wren is her true love even though they clash at first. There was also very interesting world-building of the different races (Moon is full demon, Steel is half-human and half-demon, and Paper is human, so the lowest in the hierarchy) and how they interacted. The world of Ikhara is inspired by many Asian cultures but it also had some unique ideas with the demon blood.
I can’t wait to see how this develops in future books and I hope that all the girls get their revenge on the horrible Demon King who abuses them so much. (Spoiler: I was disappointed that he survived the first attack, but I guess it couldn’t be that easy.)
I recommend this to fans of Asian-inspired fantasy and anime, and anyone who likes to see victims of trauma get back at their abusers. This is a young adult novel but I would warn anyone who is sensitive to sexual violence to think carefully about trying this book. I read it alternating with other stories to get through some of the tougher parts.
LGBTQ+ representation: lesbian romance.
Trigger warnings: death, torture, rape, sexual slavery, pet/animal death.
Here is the book in my reading journal: