Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.
But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.
In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.
TW: violence and sexual abuse.
Girls of Paper and Fire was one of my most highly anticipated releases of this year, so I was over the moon when I managed to snag an ARC of it at YALC. I’m happy to say that it did not disappoint and has quickly become a favourite of mine!
Girls is an Asian inspired fantasy that follows Lei, a human girl who lives in a world controlled by the Moon caste (anthropomorthised animals). Steel (humans with animal features) are also above Paper (human) castes, the lowest of all. Every year, eight Paper girls are chosen to serve as concubines to the Moon Caste king. This year, however, rumours of Lei’s golden eyes – never seen in a Paper caste before – have reached the King, and she is taken away from her family to be the ninth girl. What follows is a story of intrigue, justice and forbidden love.
So, Girls was basically the original fantasy novel I’ve needed for a while. Not only did it feature a well fleshed out world and system/hierarchy, it also had a great f/f romance plus an amazing heroine who looks as though she’s going to be that stereotype, a girl who is overpowered without explanation, and then flipped it on its head. Lei is super relatable – she’s clumsy, struggles to fit into life at court where all the other girls have had training that she didn’t get due to being brought there at a later stage, she has complex feelings and she berates herself for feeling even the slightest bit of happiness whilst living at court. She wants to keep her family safe and remove herself from her situation, but understands she has little power to do so.
A little on the relationship (spoilers ahead!) I absolutely adored Lei and Wren together. I felt as though the build up was just right and they were just so soft. Wren is also my new fictional crush. I love how she accepted Lei’s limits but encouraged her to work on what she needed to and I’m going to stop now before I start gushing too much.
I also loved how Lei interacted with the other Paper Girls and other female characters in the book. Although there was a bit of bitchiness, this was explained and wasn’t just your typical girl-hates-girl trope. It was interesting to see how Lei and the others slowly became friends, but also how each of them reacted differently to “belonging” to the King – whereas some, like Lei, had been forced against their will, others welcomed it and even grew jealous if they believed the King favoured other girls over them. It was all very complex, very much like a toxic relationship, and very well written.
I feel like I haven’t said much about the actual book besides strong, complex women, perfect relationship, female friendships and unique fantasy storyline but frankly, what more could you want from a book? This is a story about grief, trauma, dreams, loneliness and solidarity, and finding friendship and love in the hardest of places.
Girls of Paper and Fire is out today and trust me when I say, you don’t want to miss out on this one.
lots of love,