*I received this book from Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: Girls of Paper and Fire
Auther: Natasha Ngan
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Publication Date: November 6, 2018
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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. 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.
What an fierce beginning to what I’m sure will be an exciting series. The Girls of Paper and Fire introduces us to dynamite character, Lei. In this intricate and politically distraught world, Lei is stolen away from everything she’s ever known to become a concubine for the kind. While many view this as a blessing bestowed upon her by luck, Lei cannot believe the injustice committed against her and the other paper girls. She’s a fiery spirit who dares to pursue a hidden love–shout out for a marvelous LGBTQ character! Lei is strong, passionate, and driven character. She’s not easily broken and she fights for justice.
Her world is incredible. Ngan is an excellent world builder. The majority of the story takes place within the palace grounds, but the world they know is under great pressure from the threat of the “Sickness” and the caste/racial biases that exist were created and are enforced by war. An elite class of demons has established itself as the ruling tier while humans lie at the bottom. No one has successfully spoken out against this system and those who defy it are snuffed out. It’s incredibly tyrannical.
Fair warning, this book contains discussion of both rape and physical/sexual violence. It’s not incredibly graphic which opens the door for analysis and discussion in a more approachable manner. As well, this courtesan custom does speak to a historical truth that concubines were kept for kings and emperors which permeated so many societies of the past and that wives were simply there for the purpose for producing heirs, only celebrated once the male heir was born. Ngan introduce inspiring female and feminist characters who modernize this terrible and age-old story and brings forth a movement to fight against this violence and patriarchal world that objectifies women for their bodies, taking advantage of them despite race or class.
This book is about overcoming and inspiring hope, despite the deepest darkness that can permeate a world. It’s about fighting back against the unjust and seeking to destroy or change the system for the better. The female characters, for the most part, lift one another up, although some do fall prey to the brainwashing of those above them, perhaps out of preservation, but we’ll never really know. I can’t wait to see how these girls take this fight to the next level in book 2.