ARC Review: Girls of Paper and Fire


SERIES: Girls of Paper and Fire #1
REPRESENTATION: Set in a Malaysian-inspired world, the protagonist is in a f/f relationship



Trigger Warning: rape, violence 


Girls of Paper and Fire (Girls of Paper and Fire, #1)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.


It’s been a month since I’ve read Girls of Paper and Fire and I’ve upped and downed my rating for it about a dozen times. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and I’m tempted to 5-star it but there were a couple of things that just niggled at me and it’s gradually crept down to a four. I think part of the problem is that this was one of my top three most anticipated books of 2018, and I maybe just didn’t get the suckerpunch love I was expecting and hoping for.

What I loved.

The Paper girls. I really liked how varied the girls all were, and how — even the girls which were very different personality-wise from the protagonist — were written with a certain level of respect (e.g. the aloof and catty Blue, or sweet but gullible Aoki. As Lei grew to appreciate all the girls, I felt like we got to understand their different viewpoints and strengths. I loved that ultimately there were so many female characters supporting each other, but that there was also some strong opposition.

I thought the culture of rape and the oppression the Paper girls faced from just about every angle was incredibly well handled. Although there are a few scenes which toe the line on graphic description, the assault scenes and sexual coercion never felt played for shock value or titillation. Ngan uses what Lei is going through to hammer home her points and in ways which felt like it fitted the story she was telling.

What I disliked.

I don’t know… I just felt like most all of the characters (not so much Lei, but yes… even her occasionally) just came off as a little flat and shallow in terms of personality. I didn’t really like we really dug into them. And, as a result, I found it difficult to really care about what Lei and Wren were trying to achieve, or to really care about the plight of the Paper Caste in society.

This book did a lot of things really well — it gets massive points for creativity and for ambition — so although I didn’t adore it the way I expected to, I’m still really eager to see what Ngan has planned for the sequel.






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10 thoughts on “ARC Review: Girls of Paper and Fire”

  1. I had a similar experience with this book. That’s also why I’m putting off writing a review. I still am not fully sure what I think about it. I think I loved the idea of the book more than the actual book?
    I didn’t really care about anyone or what happened either and unfortunately, I quite disliked the ending. Which put it down to 3 Stars for me. But I agree Ngan did handle the sexual assault scenes very well and with great care.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exactly. This was so tricky to review. I considered going a little lower too, but settled on 4 stars. I think you make a really good point: the premise might have had more potential than the story ended up with. I’d be interested to see what happens in the sequel, because the ending changed a lot of what attracted me to this one.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice, balanced review! I’m keen to get hold on this one (I first saw it reviewed on Jean/BookishThoughts’ Queer Lit Readathon video) and it’s good to see you enjoyed it too. I’m excited for the f/f relationship and interested to see what I think of the characters 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I definetly think it’s a great read and a really interesting world. It’s so great to see f/f relationships popping up more in mainstream publishing and not treating it like a problem or something strange. I really hope you enjoy it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ooh dear, ooh my,….

    Lou you’ve hit on so much of what I was concerned about reading this novel that now, as I’ve read your spin on it after reading it, I think perhaps my first inclination to feel this was a story just slightly out of reach for my readerly heart was more realistic than thinking I should be reading it!! I know I’ve seen it mentioned on Twitter and have felt encouraged to say it was on my TBR but there are some key points here you’ve broached that give me a pause. I was a bit concerned initially as it was sponsored by Patterson — I mean, he’s not my cuppa to begin with so …. methinks the violent scenes you were tip-toeing round might be enough of a reason to pull out and redirect to reading a different story.

    This is why I am hoping I won’t feel this remorse after I finish “A Mortal Song”,….


    1. Hi Jorie!

      I have to say, I did really enjoy most of this story and thought it was a really good book. I wouldn’t want to put you off if you were interested! However, if you’re uncomfortable reading some pretty violent and distressing scenes,then I didn’t think it had that special spark, which would make it worth your powering through.

      Does that make sense?

      Liked by 1 person

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