ARC Review // Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

ARC Review // Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

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.
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Review // Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones

Review // Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones

“Perhaps I loved the monstrous because I was a monster. Josef, the Goblin King, and me. We were grotesques in the world above, too different, too odd, too talented, too much. We were all too much.”
– S. Jae Jones, Shadowsong

“I can only live, either altogether with you or not at all.”
– Ludwig Van Beethoven, The Immortal Beloved Letters

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Review // The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Review // The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

“I am going to keep on defying you. I am going to shame you with my defiance. You remind me that I am a mere mortal and you are a prince of Faerie. Well, let me remind you that means you have much to lose and I have nothing. You may win in the end, you may ensorcell me and hurt me and humiliate me, but I will make sure you lose everything I can take from you on the way down. I promise you this” —I throw his own words back at him—“this is the least of what I can do.”

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The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

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“Bad fates do not always follow those who deserve them.”

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Angharad’s Thoughts
I have never been one for fairytale stories. I spent my childhood years reading both the Goosebumps series (seriously what happened to those books??) and any crime thriller that my mother brought home from the library and because of this, my knowledge of them is shaky. I just know majority of them take place in the woods. However, when I found out that my favourite author was writing a collection of fairytales with the ‘dark’ edge only Leigh Bardugo can create and they take place in the Grishaverse, I preordered the hell out of it. I was not disappointed.

The collection is split into six tales and each is paired with its own beautiful, amazing illustrations – both as page decorations and a final art spread at the end of each story. Despite loving them all, my favourite would have to be a tie between Ayama and the Thorn WoodWhen Water Sang Fire and my least favourite was Little Knife. Like Leigh states in her author’s note, these stories are loosely based on the fairytales that we all know but despite their dark tones, they are more realistic – the idea that the prince isn’t always the good guy and what makes a monster a monster? Another theme that I found to be very strong throughout these tales was Leigh’s feminist beliefs. This book was full of so many diverse and complex female characters and female friendships. Classic tales such as The Little Mermaid and The Nutcracker are turned on their heads and reimagined in new and spectacular ways and despite being short stories, they were still full of twists and turns and you never knew who was going to be the hero or villain of the story. What was constant, however, was the message that each story contained. You can just imagine our beloved Grisha characters reading these stories as children and growing up with their messages instilled.

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Overall, I think I never fell in love with fairytales because they never seemed real enough – even to my young mind. As we all unfortunately learn, life isn’t a fairytale, the bad guy isn’t always the bad guy and the hero isn’t always what they seem and this little collection that I will cherish for years to come just shows that. These stories cater to the people who look just that bit deeper into these stories and see the darkness that peeks from within. What if the children didn’t wander from the path and find danger but actually find solace? What if the monster was actually the victim and the prince only thought of his greed? What happened to the girls who chose their own destiny over those that were decided for them? All of these questions are answered within the pages of The Language of Thorns and they are all brought to life by Sara Kipin’s illustrations. Truly a full five stars from me.

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Becky’s Thoughts
Unlike Angharad, I have always absolutely adored fairytales (although, especially these days, I do tend to root for the villain – even when I know what’s going to happen to them). Leigh states in her author’s note that the six stories in The Language of Thorns are inspired by fairytales that are known around the world, but turned on their heads – and I have to say, I was way more invested in Leigh’s versions of these classic tales.
My favourites were also Amaya and the Thorn Wood – a story which took inspiration from Beauty and the Beast and to an extent, A Thousand and One Nights, it focused on the ideas behind what makes someone a monster; and When Water Sang Fire, an absolutely enchanting story inspired by The Little Mermaid (and also a sort of origin story for one of my favourite villains – and featuring another of my favourite villains, but I won’t say any more on that). I also really liked The Too Clever Fox and The Witch of Duva (a retelling of Hansel and Gretel) which both included clever twists that I definitely didn’t anticipate.

I would say that the underlying theme throughout all six stories is definitely the idea of what makes a villain evil, what makes them monstrous, and it was definitely all about looking beyond outward appearances to the monster hidden beneath the princely face or the seemingly caring father figure. The stories in The Language of Thorns are how fairytales should be written in a feminist world that understands that happy endings aren’t all that they seem, that the hero of the story isn’t always beautiful, and that those who are called monstrous are often not the ones you need to fear. I absolutely adored this anthology of fairytales set in one of my favourite fictional worlds, and honestly would opt to read these to my future children over the classics that they’re based around.

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What did you think of this collection?
Let us know in the comments!
Love,
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Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popović

Huge thank you to Harper360 for sending me a copy of Wicked Like a Wildfire!

This book has been on my TBR for a loooong time – sibling dynamics, witches that can manipulate beauty, a family curse and set in the Balkans (plus, I have to say, that cover), what’s not to love? I’m glad to say that Wicked Like a Wildfire did not disappoint!

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WLAW follows twins, Iris and Malina, living with their mother in old town Cattaro (Kotor) in Montenegro. Their family passes down a gleam –  a way of manipulating magic – which manifests differently in each woman. Iris can manipulate flowers into fractals, Malina senses moods through song, and their mother Jasmina can bake memories into flavours. Since the girls were young, Jasmina has told them that the three of them are the last of their family, and that it’s not only important to keep their magic a secret, but also vital that they never fall in love. However, when Jasmina is attacked the day after a mysterious stranger who shares their light grey eyes visits their bakery, Iris and Malina must uncover Jasmina’s secrets, and unravel the family curse that they stumble upon when discovering that Jasmina may not have been entirely truthful about her origins.

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First off, I have to say, I absolutely flew through this book! I’ve been in quite a big reading slump over the past few weeks, and WLAW was such a magical, refreshing read, I couldn’t put it down. I adored the setting – having visited some Balkan countries before, I was really interested to read more about folklore from the area, and frankly, I now really want to go to Montenegro at some point! Popović’s choice to include aspects from her Serbian heritage definitely made this book for me, and Montenegro was the perfect magical setting for such a story.

Alongside the setting and world building, I adored the characters. I definitely felt more connected to Iris, since the book was written from her point of view, but I loved reading how different the two girls were – Iris’s tough exterior compared to Malina’s softer personality really complemented each other, and Iris’s constant need to protect Malina fit perfectly with the rest of the book. I have to say, one thing that really stood out to me was Iris’s openness when talking about sex – this is something that I found really refreshing, especially in a YA book. I think it’s so important that talking about sex without the sense of shame or taboo is normalised in YA. However, I don’t think the low key slut shaming that Jasmina often directed towards Iris, in terms of her dress sense and her casual way with guys, was necessary.

Anyway, I absolutely love sister-stories (probably because I got stuck with two brothers) and as much as I loved Iris, I’m definitely hoping for book two to be from Malina’s POV!

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I have to say, I’m a huge wimp when it comes to anything even slightly scary, and parts of this book definitely creeped me out a bit, but as with everything else, this just added to the overall mysticism of the story. The way the family curse tied in with the local folklore tales worked so well, and I definitely didn’t expect that ending at all! I can’t say much else without revealing huge spoilers, but I’m in desperate need of book two right now – I have to know what happens next.

Overall, for me, Wicked Like a Wildfire was made by the relationships throughout it – not only Iris and Malina’s sisterly bond, but also Iris and Jasmina’s strained relationship which is a key focus that’s constantly developing throughout the entire book, the bonds of family members throughout generations, and there’s also a really cute f/f relationship! This was the perfect magical sisterhood book, and I am so excited to read Fierce Like a Firestorm after that plot twist filled ending. I’d definitely recommend picking up this book!

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Love Becky @
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