Review of “Girls of Paper and Fire” by Natasha Ngan

Ngan, Natasha. Girls of Paper and Fire. New York: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown and Company, 2018.

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316561365 | 385 pages | YA Fantasy

3 stars

Girls of Paper and Fire received a lot of buzz since its release, but unfortunately this is one of those books I put off for no real reason. Now, with the Asian Readathon going on in May on YouTube and Twitter, I decided to pick this one up to fulfill one of the challenges, especially since I love finding the rare f/f romance, especially if it’s also historical or fantasy.

In regards of fulfilling what it was pitched as — a feminist story where the concubines fight back against an oppressive Demon-King — I feel like it did pretty well. You won’t find a lot of intricacy to the magic system, but I don’t think it needs it. One of the major pluses for me regarding the world was marveling in Ngan’s influences and how they shaped the world in different ways.

The story feels reasonably fast-paced, making it a quick, if rather intense read, and I very much appreciate the trigger warning at the beginning, but even so, I found myself a little taken aback by the scenes of sexual abuse. But Ngan handles it delicately in a way that isn’t too dark, at least in my opinion. I have heard from at least one other reviewer that the book felt a little intense for their taste.

My one gripe is with the way the romance developed, with a culminating moment that struck me as unbelievable in the midst of trauma. For the most part, I thought I would enjoy it, especially given the way the chemistry was developed for majority of the book. But when the moment finally comes where the Demon King assaults Lei, it’s brief but clearly traumatic, yet almost immediately she’s getting hot and heavy with Wren, and it’s Wren who expresses her lack of interest in continuing, while Lei presses her to continue. It seemed so off-putting and contradictory to the message Ngan was trying to convey.

This book as a whole was good, but unfortunately, the one moment did sour my opinion on a key story element for me. Nonetheless, I feel like this book is an important addition to the conversation around sexual assault, not to mention the steadily growing pool of diverse fantasy. I recommend this to other fans of diverse YA fantasy.

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