Title: Girls of Paper and Fire
Author: Natasha Ngan
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger Warning for sexual assault.
Girls of Paper and Fire is an antidote to the poison that is on the daily news. It’s a testament to the resilience of survivors, filled with fire and fury and hope. If you are in the mood for a read that will set the patriarchy alight, this is definitely one to grab.
There is a lot to unpack about this stunner of a debut novel. The experience of reading Girls is intensely personal, as the book draws intimately from the Natasha Ngan’s experiences. From the cultural flourishes to the Paper Girls’ shared trauma, every detail within the book is carefully considered to create an emotionally immersive experience. I confess this novel left me in a daze after I finished it, so do approach with caution considering the heavy content within.
The world building in Girls is rich and expansive, helped by Natasha Ngan’s beautiful descriptive writing. Characters within this world are divided into three groups – with the powerless humans of the Paper caste oppressed by the demons in the Steel and Moon castes. There is mythology and founding legend deeply rooted in the fabric of this world, re-purposed by the ruling class to reinforce their reign at the top. I loved the political tension between the different caste and the various provinces of the Demon King’s vast empire. As the world is based in Malaysia, it’s as rich in cultural diversity as its real-life counterpart.
Lei is a Paper Girl, one among a group of nine selected to be concubine to the Demon King. Born to a world where women are routinely robbed of their agency, Lei emerges from the page simmering in anger yet plagued by insecurities and self-doubt. Her character arc is an exploration of self-empowerment and reclaiming of identity in a deeply flawed and misogynistic system. I appreciated that the book presented a multitude of ways in which these women coped, and does not pass judgement on any methods.
The romantic love story within this book is the slow burn F/F fantasy romance readers everywhere have been waiting for. It’s satisfying watching two women learn of each other’s flaws and strengths, empowering one another, and falling in love along the way. It’s so easy to root for these ladies and cheer on their battle against the world.
If you only pick one debut novel to read in 2018, make it this one.