“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…” (via Goodreads)
The Paper Girls
- Lei – a girl taken from her home and forced to serve the Demon King
- Wren – a girl Lei becomes close with
- Aoki – another girl Lei is closest to
- Zhen and Zhin – a pair of twins
- Blue – father is a high official who forced her to become a paper girl
- Mariko – Blue’s “side-kick” friend
- Chenna – (not too much is known yet)
The Caste System
- Paper – Lowest caste. Humans.
- Steel – Part human and part demon, some animal attributes
- Moon – Highest caste. Demons. Most animal-like.
My initial thoughts going into this was that this reminded me of The Belles meets Red Queen (though I haven’t read the latter). There’s a lush world full of beauty and looks and a caste system. I read an interesting thread by the author that indicates that this book has already been compared to The Hunger Games. She disputes this by pointing out that a “selection of girls to become a ruler’s concubine is rooted in real-life history.” I thought this historical background offers important context. This just goes to show how unaware many of us are of non-Western history and issues.
“…but here is the evidence before me, in ugly brushstrokes of destruction and scarred earth.”
This book was incredibly empowering. I loved that the author managed to put a group of girls together without too much girl hate. Sure, a few girls are more competitive than others but for the most part Lei bonds quickly with most of the other paper girls. Before I forget, allow me to mention that this book is #ownvoices for both Asian culture and sexual assault survival. It also features a main f/f romance!
I thought the writing was immersive and beautiful. The author has a strong affinity for poetic prose. Something I thought was interesting was the conflicting morals in the story. The girls are forced to be with the Demon King but you start to notice that some of the girls actually grow to like the Demon King. I don’t know if it’s because they are too naive to know better or because we’re supposed to feel sympathetic toward the Demon King. For the record, I despise the Demon King with every fiber of my being.
“I like to think there’s some good behind even the darkest sins. That death can be warranted if it paves the way for hope.”
An interesting aspect of this novel is the meaning of choice. None of the girls choose to be there, but were forced into the situation for different reasons. Lei was forced to become a Paper Girl because one of the King’s officials wants to come into favor with the court. Another girl was forced because her own father made her. Other girls, while not given a choice, begin to like being a Paper Girl and believe it’s better than poverty or a harder life. There are conflicting desires and moral reasonings among each of the girls that makes the story and relationships feel more complex.
“You would think seven years would have dulled my wound. But still they burn inside me, a fire too bright to extinguish.”
One minor issue I had with the story is the ending. While there is cliffhanger, it didn’t do much to compel me. Not because I don’t plan to read the sequel, but because the very last pages were okay. Don’t get me wrong—there was plenty of climax and excitement! I just didn’t understand the importance of the special word that is finally revealed on her birthday. Maybe I felt like the ending was wrapped up too neatly.
I’m looking forward to the next installment and I want to see how the author explores the power of choice and fighting back against the system. I’m also curious to see how the roles change for each girl as the stakes increase. Girls of Paper and Fire has a strong message of feminism, sisterhood, and love. I’m ready to see these girls kick some more ass!!!
“But what the Demon King and his court do not understand is that paper is flammable. And there is fire catching among us.”
Content Warning: sexual assault, rape, violence, abuse
Have you read Girls of Paper and Fire? What did you think?