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Girls of Paper and Fire

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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 demeaning. This year, there's a ninth. And instead of paper, she's made of fire.

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it's Lei they're after -- the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king's interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king's consort. There, she does the unthinkable -- she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world's entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she's willing to go for justice and revenge.

385 pages, Hardcover

First published November 6, 2018

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About the author

Natasha Ngan

6 books3,344 followers
Natasha Ngan is a writer and yoga teacher. She grew up between Malaysia, where the Chinese side of her family is from, and the UK. This multicultural upbringing continues to influence her writing, and she is passionate about bringing diverse stories to teens. Ngan studied Geography at the University of Cambridge before working as a social media consultant and fashion blogger.

She lives in France with her partner, where they recently moved from Paris to be closer to the sea. Her novel Girls of Paper and Fire was a New York Times bestseller.

She is represented by Taylor Haggerty at Root Literary. The final book in the bestselling GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE trilogy will be published in November 2021.

Follow Natasha at: http://natashangan.com or on Twitter: @girlinthelens

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 8,070 reviews
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.5k followers
July 18, 2019
We might be Paper Girls, easily torn and written upon. The very title we're given suggests that we are blank, waiting to be filled. But what the Demon King and his court do not understand is that paper is flammable.
And there is a fire catching among us.

I mean, I think I knew this had My Exact Vibes from the first time I heard of it. so perhaps it’s not the biggest shock in the world that I really, really liked this, but still - this book deserves the world, and you should DEFINITELY read it.

Mayand Juand I kept calling this the angsty gaysians book, but I feel like I should give a proper blurb. Girls of Paper and Fire follows two Chinese-Malaysian girls, Lei and Wren, who meet and fall in love while essentially working as sex slaves under a demon king.

Something that really stands out to me about this is the gorgeous setting depictions and, in general, sensuous writing . This is shockingly gorgeous. And though Girls of Paper and Fire did have occasional issues with off pacing - like there was a little more time spent on a generic Getting To The Palace beginning than I wanted - I think this book thrives so well off tension that in general it’s fairly unputdownable. With a starkly horrifying environment, it’s hard not to connect with Lei.

I like, by the way, how this book uses the existence of homophobia and misogyny as tools for developing its characters and narrative, rather than as plot devices. The focus here is on two queer women, rather than on the characters perpetrating or benefiting from this discrimination.

The main problem I’d mention for this book is that for much of the story, Lei doesn’t have a perceptible goal - she is trying to survive, but she doesn’t feel as motivated as she should. This is perhaps why the last hundred pages are so good; once that one tiny issue is fixed, the entire book gains initiative and becomes what Natasha Ngan has the talent to write - a fantastic, gripping, gorgeously written, and emotional dark fairy tale.

But then again… it’s so good. So completely badass and gorgeous.

The characters are so great!! I love Lei as a heroine - she’s struggling so much but such a good soul. I love that she’s allowed to be terrified, and desperate for escape, and desperate to do something more but also unsure if she can actually fight. And Wren is such a good love interest, supportive and caring but with her own shit to deal with. I also loved several side characters - Blue and Aiko are both excellent, and I can’t wait to see more out of them.

Oh, and the romance. Oh my god, the romance here is so delightfully angsty.
No one's paying attention to us, their focus all on the stage, and I need her right now, need the familiar warmth of her hands to ground me, to calm my already frantic heart from spiraling so far out of control that it breaks free - and me with it.

I came for a slow-burn, two girls against the world type story, and for once in my damn life I got it. There is so much tension, so much of a slow burn between these two characters, and I was living for it.

So, here we are, and I loved this, and I can’t wait for book two. I hope it’s just as starkly horrifying and beautiful. TW: sexual assault.

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Profile Image for Emily May.
1,963 reviews294k followers
November 5, 2018
We might be Paper Girls, easily torn and written upon. The very title we’re given suggests that we are blank, waiting to be filled. But what the Demon King and his court do not understand is that paper is flammable.
And there is a fire catching among us.

This was SO MUCH MORE than I expected. Girls of Paper and Fire is a lush fantasy story that goes to some extremely dark places. The light amid this darkness is the central f/f romance that evolves gradually and naturally, never overtaking the political machinations and drama.

Ngan has done a number of exciting things here. Her fantasy world is heavily-inspired by her Malaysian upbringing, and the gorgeous descriptions really bring the setting to life:
It stuns me how vast the palace is. Not just a palace really, but a city—a labyrinth of streets, courtyards, and gardens, like the veins and arteries flowing through a giant creature with the King nestled at its core, its own living, beating heart.

There's echoes of The Belles in here, though I'd argue that this is a much nastier read. In this book, girls from the Paper caste (the lowest caste and fully-human) are stolen away by the royal soldiers to become the King's consorts. They are trained in obedience and seduction, waiting every day to be called to his majesty's rooms. Lei, with her strange golden eyes, is now one of these girls.

Ngan does a great job of creating the dynamics of friendship and jealousy between the girls. They are all fascinating, diverse and very different in both background and attitude to their circumstances. Some of the girls are eager to please the King; others would do anything not to be there. Aoki is an especially interesting character and some moments with her broke my heart. Even the typical "mean girl" is developed into something more over the course of the story.

There's also some really great sex-positivity and a frank portrayal of desire and passion. In a situation where the girls' consent has never been sought, consensual unions are celebrated. The main one being the central romance between Lei and Wren, which even a cold-hearted cynic like me was able to fall in love with.

And, of course, behind it all a bigger political story is taking place. Lei and the other Paper girls get dragged into a dangerous plot that puts many lives at risk, even the lives of Lei's family. It all arrives at a dramatic, pulse-pounding climax and ends with the promise of more horrors to come. I can't wait!

Content warning for rape and multiple attempted rapes (the former happens off-page but the before and after is very disturbing), one instance of animal cruelty (non-graphic) and slavery, including sexual slavery.

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Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews153k followers
August 25, 2022
[Sappho’s voice] Sweet mother, I cannot weave, slender Aphrodite has overcome me with longing for a secret warrior-assassin-goddess and her rebel girlfriend...

Holy shit, this book. What a thorny and twisted tale of morality, anguish, and trauma. And lesbianism! Ngan takes elements of Asian mythology and her own rich imagination and infuses them into a beautifully rendered fantastical collage that has representation in sorely needed ways. Also, did I mention the sheer amount of sapphic content in this book? We won with this one.

That said, there are many others aspects of the book that I want to dwell on a bit because I think they demand deeper examination. Namely, the powerful themes of finding self-empowerment against the horrors of classism, homophobia, and the objectification of women.

In this book, Ngan delicately carves out all the subtlest ways in which the politics of power use rape as a tool. She throws the door wide open on how rapists are abetted by cultures in which women are viewed as the table scraps of men, where women's bodies are intensely politicized, where social hierarchies outrageously privilege certain members because they’re considered untouchable, and where there's always a presumption of male authority and entitlement.

Ikhara is a society where misogynist sadists flourish because misogyny is justified as tradition, maleness comes with a presumption of violence and women are perceived as public property. I appreciate how the novel invites the reader to consider rape not only through the lens of desire, depravity and shame but as a violence that is born out of power . In Girls of Paper and Fire, the Moon king uses fear as his medium and his position of power as an enabler to carry out various acts of violence against women, not because of any urges of sexual desire, but because wrenching these girls from their homes and raping them makes him feel power over them and over their castes.

The novel, heartbreakingly, demonstrates how this diseased tradition of Paper Girls has generated decades of women hurtling headlong into a violent kind of silence, because their rapists are handed license to operate and keep them quiet, ashamed and without justice. Throughout the novel, it was gratifying to read about these women learning from and teaching each other all the shades and colors of resilience and power. Their greatest feat of strength is the one they performed every day: continuing to live for the sake of themselves and their families when the world tried to convince them that it would be so much easier to stop, and it is that spirit of hope and defiance that will ultimately see them through their pain. At the heart of the novel is a focus on recovering from trauma, reclaiming one's body in the aftermath of unspeakable violence, and forging a powerful self out of the wreckage. You are not the worst thing that happened to you, insists Girls of Paper and Fire, you are whole and endlessly worthy of love. That's the message that lingers long after the novel ends, and I'm grateful for it.

“When the world denies you choices, you make your own.”

A highly, highly recommended read!
October 25, 2020

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I am so cheesed off right now that I'm having trouble putting my fury to (virtual) paper. This is CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE all over again. People were singing this book's praises for being diverse!fantasy featuring not just a heroine of color, but a heroine of color who was a lesbian. How could this be bad? I asked myself. The advance reviews were great, and almost unanimously positive. It was an F/F romance set in a fantasyscape based off Malaysia, one of the most culturally diverse places ever. It sounded so freaking good, and I could not wait for it.

But it was not good. Not even close.

Problem #1: The heroine is a raging Mary Sue.

Per the synopsis, every year, the Demon King chooses eight human girls to be his teenage concubines (gross). This year, they've decided to go with Nine: Special Specialton herself, Lei.

Lei is cast in the vein of every Mary Sue ever, although for some reason, people are adoring and forgiving her for her utter self-aggrandizing blandness in this book where they condemned Bella Swan for it. She has ~special eyes~. Even though she's fully human, she has gold eyes the color of a demon's, and if that doesn't scream, "THIS IS MY ORIGINAL CHARACTER, MOONLIGHT SONATA RAVEN EMORY RAINBOW!" at you, that's probably because you've written more than your fair share of Moonlight Sonata Raven Emory Rainbows.

She has one character flaw: she's clumsy. For the first 50% of the book she's tripping over everything. I think it's supposed to be endearing. Since when does having too many inner-ear infections as a child make you better than the rest of the human - I mean, "Paper" - race? She's also shooting her mouth off all the time, and people seem to love her for that too. And her particular brand of sarcasm is basically the teenage equivalent of a toddler stomping his foot and saying "NO!" Oh, wow, so brave! So defiant! Like, please. This dumb papery-ass little shit wouldn't know Brave if she saw it at Disney.

Her actual character flaw: she's a hypocrite. She is constantly railing against the Demon King, and yes, he's an awful guy. But then right after he nearly sexually assaults her, she immediately turns around and says "Haven't we waited long enough?" when kissing Wren and Wren asks her to wait. It's like, oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize that consent was solely a heterosexual concept. When she says WAIT, you wait, b*tch. This becomes a pattern, with love that is definitely insta and super possessive. Lei clearly considers Wren "hers" before their relationship is even consummated, and despite being a feisty, sarcastic, papery little shit, apparently this is her trademark and no one is allowed to do it, because she is mad AF when she finds out Wren is keeping secrets from her.

Lest you say, "Nenia, wait, you read bodice-rippers, and this seems kind of like cherry-picking when compared to the bodice-ripping that goes on in what you read." This is true, and I appreciate your perception and strawman reasoning. The difference between bodice-rippers and this book is that bodice-rippers don't purport to be empowering, woman-loving feminist literary masterworks, and were not advertised to me as such. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's hypocrisy. You can write garbage and I will read it gladly, but tell me it's art or classy sh*t, and I will come after you. #TheEnd

Problem #2: The writing is not good

The phrase "I grit back a glower at this" literally appeared in this book, in case you need an example of why the writing was not good. This is written in a style that I call "Basic B*tch YA." The language is simple, the dialogue wooden, and there's a few nice quotes thrown in for people to put on IG or Pinterest, and trick people like me into reading the book thinking it's going to be good. This is the literary equivalent of a movie trailer where the movie is so bad, the trailer is basically a reel of the only salvageable moments from the film because otherwise nobody would want to see it.

Also, there was so much "purring" and "shoulder-rolling" that if I didn't know better, I would have thought that Sarah J. Maas had waltzed in and seized control of the narrative. Lord knows, Bellei Swan is just as annoying as Celery Saltine-thin. The two of them should start a bowling league.

Problem #3: The world-building was not good

"Lush fantasy" my sizeable rear-end! Moon-caste, Paper-caste, Steel-caste. Despite a few made-up insults to show scorn at those beneath them, I did not feel like this caste system was really adequately displayed, especially since we didn't see much of the Steel caste at all. While reading about these anthropomorphic animal-beastmans, I kept thinking longingly of Inuyasha, which I thought did a really great job of showing just how disposable humans were, and how annoyingly superior and classist demons were. Just look at how lesser demons like Inuyasha and Naraku were treated.

Second, why is the Demon King still in charge if everyone hates him and he can't produce heirs? What was the dealio with the rebellion that led him taking the Paper castes to bed in the first place? Why weren't the Xia mentioned earlier so they didn't seem like a Deus-ex-Machxia later on? The world-building in this book was garbage, and the idea of the teenage concubines just seemed like a salacious hook to lure people in with the promise of reading something illicit (like me *cough*). The magical powers and totalitarian regime were so badly done, and made me think longingly of Avatar: The Last Airbender, where there was cohesion in the Asian-world-building, as well as the magic and culture and oppression tactics of those who were in power.

Problem #4: The hype was a lie (for me)

I'm very angry at myself for falling for the hype of this book - it's like I never learn my lesson. I really want to support PoC authors and books with PoCs, but I will never do that with a book that I, personally, think is bad. YMMV, and if this is the book to make you feel appreciated, validated, or acknowledged, then that is wonderful. But to me, it felt like just another watered-down YA fantasy.

1 to 1.5 stars
Profile Image for Melanie.
1,172 reviews98.2k followers
December 21, 2018

ARC provided by Hachette in exchange for an honest review.

“We might be Paper Girls, easily torn and written upon. The very title we're given suggests that we are blank, waiting to be filled. But what the Demon King and his court do not understand is that paper is flammable. And there is a fire catching among us.”

Once I heard that this was an ownvoices Asian inspired fantasy world where two girls, who are forced to be concubines to a demon king, try to overcome it all and fall in love, I knew this was going to be a book for me. But friends, I fell in love. Girls of Paper and Fire will make it onto my best books of 2018 list come December.

In this world, there are castes that people are born into which determine your social standing in the world:

Paper - Humans. Lowest class. They look just like you and me.
Steel - Half human, half demon. Middle class. Look mostly human but will have a little bit of an animal attribute.
Moon - Demons. Highest class. Take on animal characteristics.

“Demon men can take what they want. Our homes. Our lives. Our bodies.”

And each year, the demon King takes eight paper girls to be concubines; some willing, others completely unwillingly. And these eight girls will live an entire year in the palace, living somewhat in the life a luxury, waiting to see if the King will call one of them to his chamber every night. And the impression they leave on the king will impact how their future goes after the year is up. And no girl can afford to make a mistake, because they will be punished in unthinkable ways.

This story stars a young girl named Lei, whose mother was ripped out of her life and taken by the king seven years ago. She has since grown up in a remote village with her father. But even though Lei is Paper caste, she has golden demon eyes that make her very unforgettable. So, palace guards eventually come for her. And this year, Lei gets taken to become one of the King’s paper girls.

“But perhaps the gods have forgotten us, or grown bored with our small corner of the kingdom. Because here I am, about to share the last thing I’d ever want to offer the King. Myself.”

To me, this is a book about rape, and rape culture, and how rape survivors will reclaim their bodies in all the different ways. And how rape is always about power, never about sex. This book is about how rapists can be charming, good looking, friendly, and have the entire world at their feet. It doesn’t matter. This is a book about reclaiming your body after someone forcibly takes it. And how everyone heals differently at their own pace.

Content and trigger warnings for rape, attempted rape, sexual assault, slavery, sex trafficking, abandonment, heavy grief depictions, loss of a loved one, murder, abduction, captivity, torture, branding, violence, a forced medical/health exam, physical abuse, graphic animal death, and war themes. Please use caution, this book can get pretty dark at times. Make sure you are in the right headspace.

“Order was restored the only way the King knew how. Bloodshed.”

This book is also about finding love; for others but also for yourself. And it is about finding your worth and knowing that you are worthy of love regardless of what has happened to you in your life The world can be such an ugly place, but unconditional love still hides within it, and it’s so very beautiful. And love is always worth not only a risk, but it’s worth everything. And the f/f romance in this? One of my favorites of all time. It’s slow burn, but I say that in the best way possible. Without a question, my biggest ship of 2018 is within this book’s pages.

“Her kisses heal the parts of me that the King broke. They tell me: You are strong, Lei. You are beautiful. You are mine. And, always, most important: You are yours.”

And not only is the story amazing; Natasha Ngan’s writing is out of the world. I was completely captivated by the world and felt completely teleported into this world. And the masterpiece that she created? So damn impressive. My amazing friend, May let me in on some of Natasha’s inspirations with the paper girls and the regions they are from, and I’m just blown away. It’s so impressive the amount of work and love this author truly put into this story. This is seriously a work of art, and it just made me appreciate and love this world, characters, and book even more.

Overall, this meant so much to me. From the messages and the themes, to just me seeing queer, Asian girls falling in love against a world that wants to tear them apart, it meant everything. Yet, this book does end on a massive cliffhanger, so be warned. But it has hyped me so much to see what Natasha will do next! And book two will for sure be one of my most anticipated releases of 2019. But in the meantime, I can’t wait for the rest of the world to fall in love with the start of this amazing story.

“Our kingdom believes words have power. That the characters of our language can bless or curse a life.”

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Dude read with Em at Runaway with Dream Thieves! ❤
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews113k followers
June 19, 2019
Update: The more I think about this book, the more I think an accurate rating would be 3 stars, considering that I don't feel enticed enough to read the sequel. This is another case of the concept and subversion of tropes are great, but the characters and relationships are not developed well enough for me to be attached.


What I appreciate most about this book is that it takes the standard YA fantasy narrative of an ordinary yet “special” girl being wed to a powerful king and makes it a story about female empowerment instead. These plots often romanticize the relationship between the girl and the king, but Ngan makes his abuse and problematic behavior clear and integral to the conflict of the story, while highlighting a F/F relationship as the one you should be rooting for. The writing is descriptive and lovely, the pacing is good, and the world building is a unique blend of Malaysian and Chinese culture that mirrors Ngan’s biracial identity. Despite the F/F relationship being underdeveloped and instalovey, and the main character being a generic ordinary-girl-turned-special protagonist, these other aspects make it a standout from other YA fantasy books and worth boosting.
Profile Image for may ➹.
481 reviews1,951 followers
April 11, 2020
I don’t want an easy life. I want a meaningful one.

I don’t think I can ever describe just how much this book means to me, but as soon as I’d heard that this book actually existed, I knew I needed it in my life. And I’m so happy that it’s getting all the hype, because this book is gorgeous and beautiful and a story we all need to read and listen to.

In this world called Ikhara, there are three castes, and a Demon King who rules them all. There’s Paper: the lowest caste, fully human, with no animal-demon features; Steel: humans with partial animal-demon features; and finally Moon: the highest caste, fully demon, with complete animal-demon features. Each year, the Demon King rips eight Paper girls from their homes and takes them to be his concubines. Everyone tells the girls it is an honor to be chosen for this life; some believe that, some do not. But no one has ever stood up to the King before without facing cruel punishment.

Lei has everything to fear in going to the palace. Her mother was taken similarly years ago, and no matter the amount of people saying that it’s a privilege to be chosen as a Paper girl and she should be grateful for it, she still dreads meeting the King, living in his palace, and leaving behind her father. Still, she readies herself to submit in order to survive—a sad reflection of what happens too often in today’s world—until she meets another Paper girl named Wren, who gives her hope of a better life.

Lei’s story takes some time to build up in the beginning at first, since her motivations and goals as a character aren’t quite clear yet. I’ll completely admit that I wasn’t as engaged in the beginning as I wish I could’ve been. But once that drive was initiated and the plot got moving, it was so easy to get into the book and be swept up in this unforgettably brutal yet beautiful story.

“Our lives here are defined by others, every decision made for us, every turn of fate pushed by the hands of others. But you stood up and said no. Even though you knew what it would cost you.”

One of the most beautiful things about this book is the way it tackles oppression. It’s a story all about oppression, in social castes/classes, appearance, and most of all, sexual abuse and rape. It is so accurately portrayed that rape is about power, and control, and entitlement, and never about sex or desire. The Demon King feels entitled to the girls he seizes, and what he takes from them he takes because it makes him feel power over them. It’s not hard to believe and scary how closely resembling this is to our world today.

But it’s not only a story of oppression, but about overcoming it too. One of the most powerful things a survivor can do is to step up and tell their truth, and this is a story of survivors finding the voice to speak up for themselves. It’s about knowing your worth and reclaiming it when someone forces you to think you have none. It’s about knowing that you are worth more than the beliefs of people who follow power without recognizing or choosing to see its horrors. It’s about knowing that no matter what, you are worth everything—the fight, the right to your own self, and the love.

And speaking of love, the love that Lei and Wren have for each other is so beautiful and so pure and so delightfully sapphic. It’s slow-burn, soft, and everything I wanted. Their relationship means so much to me, as a sapphic Asian myself, but even more, these two queer Asian girls fall in love in a world that will do anything to wrench them apart. Seeing them fight for each other, reclaim themselves with each other, and become stronger because of each other—it means the world.

Her kisses heal the part of me that the King broke. They tell me: You are strong, Lei. You are beautiful. And, always, most important, you are yours.

Of course, the themes and messages and romance have a huge hand in how beautiful this book is, but there’s also the fact that this writing is just gorgeous, and the world that Ngan has crafted is absolutely stunning. Reading this was like reading a love letter to Asian culture—the food, the clothing, the people. It was like returning to home, to a place of comfort, to family in Thailand and all the best Thai food.

Though this book is a beautiful must-read in my eyes, it is absolutely necessary that you be prepared for the heavy content. Huge huge content/trigger warning for rape, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence in general. It’s a quite heavy book to get through, and I can recall at least one scene that was graphic and very difficult for me to read. I recommend this book with my whole heart but please make sure you are in the right headspace! [More content warnings at the end of this review.]

Also, if you’re reading the ARC, content warning for aro/acephobic language. The author has confirmed it will be removed from the final copy (which is great!), but it is still in the ARC so take care!

When the world denies you choices, you make your own.

Despite the heaviness of this novel, and the slightly slow start, this is without a doubt one of my favorite books of the year and a book I will never cease to stop recommending. The story of two queer Asian girls unwilling to let anything get in between them means the world and more to me, and the book as a whole is a gorgeous voice for all Asians, queer girls, and those who keep fighting even when everyone tries to push them down.

:: rep :: entirely Asian cast (including Southeast-Asian-inspired, East-Asian-inspired, and South-Asian-inspired ethnicities), sapphic Asian female MC, sapphic Asian female LI || ownvoices for Asian, queer, and sexual abuse survivor rep

:: content warnings :: rape, attempted rape, sexual abuse, physical abuse, death, abduction, torture, violence, loss of loved one, scenes with blood, grief depictions

// buddy read with my least gayvorite person

Thank you to Jimmy Patterson Books for sending me an advance copy in exchange for an honest review! This did not affect my opinions in any way.

All quotes were taken from an unfinished copy and may differ in final publication.
Profile Image for Natasha Ngan.
Author 6 books3,344 followers
February 23, 2023
Yes, I'm totally biased. But friends, this really is the book of my heart. As I say in my author note:

The story within these pages is a work of fiction, but also a work of love. The world I created in Ikhara has been heavily inspired by my experiences growing up in Malaysia, a country with a dense mix of cultures, and also as a person of mixed ethnicity. As such, it’s a bit of a hybrid—like me. I feel extremely lucky to come from a multicultural home, and it has shaped-and will forever continue to shape-my influences and perspectives.

The conception of this story also comes from a personal, deep yearning for more diverse novels, particularly in YA. I believe it’s important for everyone, but especially young people, to see themselves in the stories they consume—to feel acceptance and kinship. To be inspired for their own stories, real and imagined. Even magical worlds have their roots in our own, and I would love to see more books reflecting the rich variety of our individual realities.

Set in an Asian-inspired fantasy world where a Demon King takes human girls for concubines, this is the story of the forbidden love between two of the girls and how far they are willing to fight for their freedom - and each other. It is a story about love and friendship, about trauma and despair. It is a story about finding hope in the most hopeless of times. More than anything, it is a story about female oppression and empowerment. The girls in the book each discover their own forms of power and expression in a world that would give them none, and I am so proud of their strength. I cannot wait for you to meet them! <3
Profile Image for Vibur (hiatus).
42 reviews231 followers
February 17, 2023
We might be Paper Girls, easily torn and written upon. The very title we're given suggests that we are blank, waiting to be filled. But what the Demon King and his court do not understand is that paper is flammable.
And there is a fire catching among us.

Well, I'd be more than happy to light this protagonist's flimsy, highly flammable, paper-y ass on fire.
(Rant alert. But after putting myself through the agony of reading and re-reading this, I am feeling decidedly grouchy.)

Girls of Paper and Fire was wholly, solidly mired in mediocrity and worse. I was re-reading it, and you know what? The writing was not good. It was amateurish, painfully uninspired and at times, off-putting. Weirdly stilted dialogue, a nauseating amount of telling, and all those absurdly dressed-up, subtle-am-I-not descriptions: "twin currents of anger and fear twine through my voice, and they seem so much like the same thing now—hot, bright, defiant", "leaving only the burn of anger, hatred, darkest, deepest pain".
The feelings are spelled out so very plainly, so very specifically on paper that all that's left to do, surely, is put them in spaced-out all-caps. I mean. What about postures, positions and poses? What about the tone and atmosphere? Writing "anger"—and all sorts of useless, fanciful fluff around it as an afterthought—does not create anger in the reader nor the writing.
On top of that, the writing was unapologetically repetitious. All that humdrum rehashing of the same stupid, tired descriptors! All that 'purring' and 'growling', argh! I get that this is furbait I signed up for, but it becomes utterly, unabashedly infuriating to read after the thirtieth time.
And the plot.

Wait, what plot?
Almost nothing happened, aside from those, you know, scenes of hot, breathy sweet nothings and barely, barely toe-warming passion.
The rare smatterings of politics and plots are all lost in the same ol' unremitting stream of dramatically petty angst and you-lied-to-me-Wren. I was plodding through pages of pointless, nonsensical crap, and getting no more than pitiful scraps of plot progression for it.
And no lie, what little did happen was all for nothing (ah, plot device at its finest!).

But I'd rather good characters than a good plot, so… let's talk about how the characters were literal stale, flaccid doughsticks. There was no depth to them, nope, nada. On top of that, the antagonist's personality was scripted to the point of cartoonish, nonsensically comical playacting. And props to him 'cause he made me laugh, and that has to count for something, at least.
But the protagonist, holy rice. Was she stubbornly obtuse and insanely Wren-obsessed. Because of her my insides shriveled up, resignedly and deliberately, bit by bit as I read, until there was nothing but blissful oblivion between me and the first-person narrative.

And the depiction of relationship abuse in the novel irritated me, because I felt as if it more or less devalued the courage of endurance and personal sacrifice. Lei was praised for her 'courage' because she defied orders, refusing to be raped (and putting her father's life in danger, the idiot), but what about those who didn't, couldn't, do the same? Victims don't choose to become trapped in an abusive relationship, nor is stopping the abuse a matter of them choosing to oppose it.
And you know what? There is strength in enduring—in enduring because there is no other choice. And while Lei was courageous (read: idiotic) for resisting and acting as she did, the others were no less courageous for not doing the same.

Profile Image for Virginia Ronan ♥ Herondale ♥.
532 reviews34.5k followers
February 6, 2022
I’m on BookTube now! =)

”They can take and steal and break all they want, but there is one thing they have no control over. Our emotions,” she says at my nonplussed look. “Our feelings. Our thoughts. None of them will ever be able to control the way we feel. Our minds and hearts are our own. That is our power, Nine. Never forget it.”

Trigger warnings:

Sooo... where to begin? I had high expectations for this book and even though I enjoyed reading “Girls of Paper and Fire” most of those expectations weren’t met. I guess that’s always the problem with extremely hyped books, though. Either they live up to your expectations or they don’t. In this particular case I wasn’t really disappointed but I wasn’t all over the moon either, if that makes sense? It’s really hard to pinpoint my issues with this book but I think I’ll just talk about it and figure it out along the way.

”It’s all right, Lei,” she says. “Go.” As her eyes meet mine, a spark of heat stirs in my chest. It takes me a moment to realize it’s the first time she’s spoken my name. My single syllable is surprisingly soft on her tongue, light, like a drop of rain.

Let’s just start with the things I really liked and take it from there! ;-) The first thing that comes to mind is the relationship between Lei and Wren. I totally loved that this was such a slow burn and that for a long time they were intrigued by each other but didn’t do anything to explore their feelings. There were a lot of brief moments, tender gestures, softly spoken words and meaningful glances and as you probably all know by now, I live and breathe for scenes like that. XD On that front the book totally delivered and I loved their slowly growing bond.

”Whenever she makes a movement – even something as small as brushing a speck of dust from her hair or adjusting her sash – my eyes instinctively cut her way, and I wonder if she’s noticing it, too, this tether, this pull between us.”

Another thing I liked were all the friendships Lei formed during her stay at the palace. Her maid Lill was really sweet and I also liked Mistress Eira. In her own way she did everything she could to make it easier for her girls and to protect them as good as possible. Unfortunately she couldn’t protect them from the Demon King and I liked how this aspect was shown. I mean Mistress Eira has influence in the palace, she’s a former Paper Girl as well and she uses the little power she has in order to make the lives of her charges easier. She always plays by the rules though and never flat out revolts against the system. So in some way her doing her job as good as possible is actually contributing to the injustice and the cruel rule of the Demon King. You might say she accepted her role and that the system won’t change. Mistress Eira gave up and I think that’s even worse than openly supporting the king. The people that allow injustice to happen and never speak up against it contribute to the system at least as much as the ones that enforce the rules. Considering all this Mistress Eira’s character was probably one of the most complex ones in the entire book and I really appreciated that. ;-)

”I’m sorry, Lei,” she whispers. “There’s nothing I can do. You’ll have to find a way to bear it – and I know you will. You are stronger than most of the girls who come here.”

As for the Demon King and Madame Himura: I loathed them both. Their arrogance to believe that everything revolves around them and that they are superior because they have special abilities and are demons made me sick to my stomach. The way the king was cruel to the ones who defied him and rewarded the ones that let him have his way... it was sickening. Alone how he treated Aoki vs. how he hurt Lei. The difference between those two couldn’t have been even more pronounced. I’m kind of relieved we never got any graphic details of the violence and rape that happened in here or at least not much...

”Take my brothers, for example. They were one, two years older than me. But at the age of seven I already understood more than they about what makes a strong ruler. I knew that if I took their lives, it would prove to the heavenly rulers and the court that I was infinitely more capable of taking over my dying father’s rule than either of them. They were put on this earth to give, while I was destined to take.”

And take he does! And he even has the insolence to feel misunderstood. Oh what a tough life he must have. So hard to be a king. *notice the sarcasm* Anyway! Let’s get back to the topic at hand and talk about the things that caused me to give this book 3,5 stars rounded up to four. For one thing I missed an elaborate world building. The entire book plays in the palace and we never get a good glimpse at the world outside of it. Sure, Lei is living in the palace and is kept away from the outside world but I still think it wouldn’t have hurt to give some pointers about how the kingdom looked like and where they might find allies. Plenty of clans and places were mentioned casually but there never were any details.

Also since the entire book was built on court intrigues I just wanted more info?! At times it felt like we were only fed the most necessary details so that we didn’t lose the red thread and maybe that’s okay if you just accept being in Lei’s head. For me as someone who loves a good intrigue and likes to be able to follow it, to be constantly kept in the dark was kind of frustrating. I mean Lei is the MC and we see everything through her POV, yet Wren played a very important part too and I think if we’d have gotten a Wren POV it would have been better. Just my opinion though.

”Where the King’s touch closed me, shut me down, Wren’s opens me up. When I’m with her, every part of me is weightless and free, a soaring rush igniting my veins with desire as bright as sunlight. Her kisses heal the parts of me that the King broke.”

Plus I really would have liked to find out more about the other girls. I mean Lei is spending all her time with those Paper Girls but at the end of the book I had the feeling that I didn’t know them at all. The twins were reduced to being twins, Blue was the mean girl that caused trouble among the Paper Girls, Aoki was the soft and gullible one, and the other two girls were so unremarkable that I don’t even remember their names. I think one of them was named Mariko?! I dunno. *shrugs*

In addition to that the topic of rape which should have been a strong topic in here, because of the existence of the Paper Girls alone wasn’t addressed enough. I mean all of those 8 girls don’t want to sleep with the king and are forced to be with him and whenever one of them is summoned to his chamber they get prepared and when they return none of them says a word. They just keep it in and then continue to live like nothing ever happened. Even when it’s Wren’s or Lei’s turn they never speak of it afterwards. I understand why rape victims shut down and won’t speak about what happened to them, but considering the strong relationship between Wren and Lei, I found it kind of odd that they never addressed the issue. And especially in a book like this, where about 50% of the plot revolves around the fact that the king is basically raping 8 new girls each year, the message that his victims endure it silently and don’t even cry or rage or show any emotions after it, feels kind of unhealthy?!
Maybe the author’s intention was to show the bravery of the girls that endure, but for me it would have been braver if they would have spoken about it and not bottled it up. I’m probably a bean counter once again but this just didn’t sit well with me.


All told, “Girls of Paper and Fire” was a good book. The author kept me invested in the story and the writing style was easy to read. The ending was pretty mean though and I’m very curious what will happen in the next book. I can’t help but wonder if the world building will be explored more now that they are out of the palace walls. Guess I’ll have to find out by reading “Girls of Storm and Shadow”. ;-)

In my My December TBR video I let people vote what book I should read as a third book in December and the majority voted for “Girls of Paper and Fire”.
(First it was a tie and then it won by one vote. *lol*)
Since I’m a snail I’m only getting to it now, but I’m already very curious about the story!
I heard so many different opinions and I guess it’s about time to make my own.

Have you already read this one?

Find me on my Blog and Instagram! ;-)


I already have 301 books on my TBR


this sounds so damn intriguing.

An f/f romance,
at a palace,
nine girls that get trained as consorts?
Forbidden love?

*closes eyes and presses the "want to read" button*

Oooops! *facepalm*
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,468 reviews9,629 followers
January 2, 2019
Just No! Doesn’t matter why! I liked Wren, that’s about it. Almost everyone else can kiss my arse! It would have to be my beautiful pink sprayed edges book!!!!


October Fairyloot! Pink Sprayed Edges! Yessss!! Although, I think it's next month that the US and Canada are not getting sprayed edges. Only other countries and of course that made me mad because y'all know I'm addicted to sprayed edges! =D Click on link below the pic to see the goods!


This was also the Owlcrate November book. I'm tired of getting the same books from both boxes. I love the Fairyloot book better with the pink edges. But here is a link to the goodies that were in the Owlcrate box with it.

Profile Image for l..
491 reviews2,073 followers
January 5, 2022
My full review is now up on my blog! Also, this happened … no big deal.

“I know what it means to dream about the past.
To dream about things you have loved, and lost.”

Some books entrance you with their devastatingly gorgeous, lush, and magical prose, transporting you to a whole new world with the magnificent imagery they weave, leaving you spellbound, and speechless.

Some books draw you in with characters so full of heart and soul that you feel as if you’re living their stories, leaving you helpless to do anything else but fall in love with them irrevocably.

And very seldom, but every once in a while, all the stars line up, and you find a book that does both—and it’s as if a small piece of your heart that you’ve always felt was missing finds its way to you, cloaked in feelings that can’t quite be articulated, but are experienced all the more deeply.

Girls of Paper and Fire is a book that gradually wound its way into my heart, and has since nestled itself snugly in a corner, radiating light and happiness, whenever I find myself reminiscing about it, even despite the heavy subject matters it incloses.

“Remember, even that which seems impossible at first can be overcome by strength of mind and heart.”

It tells a story of girls who are chosen as concubines for a powerful king, some more, and some less willing to serve him, some with ulterior motives, and some merely acquiescing in their servitude to preserve their lives, and that of their loved ones.

And at the heart of it all, two girls who find themselves slowly falling in love with each other, as they navigate their way through a world wrought with distrust and suspicion, and faced with the impossible question—what are they willing to sacrifice for their love, and just how much are they willing to endure before they fight back?

The characters in this novel are so intricately crafted, and their layers, as well as their motives, are masterfully unveiled, bit by bit—and even though the plot unfolds at an at times tantalizingly slow pace, something special about it always managed to pull me back in.

I found myself pausing after every few paragraphs just to savor the startlingly beautiful prose that tastes like warm honey, sweetly melting on your tongue.

“Understanding arrives then the way twilight falls: instantaneously. Just a blink, a skip in time, leaving only the before and the after, and the inescapable ripples of change.”

Girls of Paper and Fire touches upon so many important themes, examines all-too familiar issues with sharp wit and sensitivity, and stands out with its powerful examination of identity, self-empowerment, and faith—in yourself, as well as others.

It’s a portrait illustrating the importance of love, and friendship, and showing us that it’s possible to reclaim your power, and offer opposition to oppression.

“When the world denies you choices, you make your own.”

Even while I was reading it, I was filled with a deep-seated, glowing happiness that made my heart warm, and with the knowledge that, no matter how hard I try, my words simply won’t be able to capture all the ways in which merely thinking of it makes me feel lighter, and all my surroundings appear just a little brighter.

Out of the two-hundred and twenty-three books I’ve read this year, Girls of Paper and Fire will be remembered by me as one of the most beautifully written ones—and the one that will stay with me for a very long time.

“(…) I don’t want an easy life. I want a meaningful one.”

The quotes above were taken from an ARC, and are subject to change upon publication.


This is one of my most anticipated releases of 2018, and I have an actual, physical ARC in my hands—I’m not crying, you are!!
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,659 reviews5,139 followers
August 15, 2019
In this fantasy world, every year, the violent and oppressive Demon King—the strongest of a caste of people marked by their animal-like appearances—takes eight Paper Girls (of the plain, human Paper caste) to become his concubines. Lei never expected to become one of those girls, but even more shocking was the twist of fate she met upon her arrival at the palace—her unstoppable and desperate fall into a forbidden love with another Paper Girl.

When I first heard the synopsis for this book, I was sold in an instant. An own-voice Asian fantasy story with queer girls, demons and half-demons, strong women overcoming forced slavery, and did I mention queer girls—this immediately shot to the top of my “most anticipated releases of 2018” list.

→ L I K E S :
Perhaps the gods have forgotten us, or grown bored with our small corner of the kingdom. Because here I am, about to share the last thing I’d ever want to offer the King.

There’s a lot to love in Girls! First, there’s the fantasy world and the classes of demons and humans, which were so fascinating. I know this isn’t the popular opinion on this note, but I was a teen right in the middle of the internet’s “anthro” phase and had so many positive memories of that time, so when I realized the demon or “Moon” caste were basically humanized forms of animals (as in people with horns, furred skin, etc.), I was flooded with nostalgia in the best way.

The word itself—home—is a blade in my gut. It’s a call, a song. One I can’t answer anymore.

I was also impressed by how in-depth much of the world-building is: we’re given a substantial amount of back story throughout the novel, and rather than dumping it all on us in the beginning, there’s constantly more to learn, even 300+ pages in. This story has a level of complexity that you don’t see often in debut authors, and I enjoyed that so much.

“When the world denies you choices, you make your own.”

The last major positive I want to mention is the entire character design of Wren, one of the other Paper Girls. Despite not being the main character, she was the star of the show for me; she felt the most complex and three-dimensional, and I consistently enjoyed every single scene she was present for.

→ D I S L I K E S :
I’m cast in the shadow of that night with the King. The memory of it hovers close, a constant presence at the edge of my consciousness, like moon-shimmer on the surface of a lake.

Unfortunately, there were also a few things that caused Girls to not live up to the hype I’d created for it in my own head. First, while the world-building is great, the narrative voice didn’t click well with me. I found it very difficult to immerse myself in any of the scenes, and thought the descriptions of most characters and settings were too general.

It doesn’t matter how beautiful the cage is. It’s still a prison.

I also struggled with most of the characters, especially Lei. Wren is the only character who felt truly complex to me, but everyone else struck me as predictable, and all of the Paper Girls besides Wren and Aoki felt over-simplified and predictable. There are a handful of lesser characters in the story that I enjoyed fine, like Zelle and Kenzo, but the amount of time we get to spend with them is practically nothing at all.

I don’t want an easy life. I want a meaningful one.

Finally—and this is probably more of a “me” issue than the book, so I’m not really counting off points for it—no matter how much I wanted to root for the romance or the plotting of revenge and justice, I never could find it in myself to really care very much. I’m usually one of the most emotional readers you could ever meet, but the writing simply wasn’t capable of evoking any genuine feelings in me most of the time, so when I finished it, I found myself feeling a little empty and not particularly concerned over what would happen in the coming sequel.


All in all, Girls of Paper and Fire is a difficult book for me to rate and review. My enjoyment of the book puts it at a 3, but the important issues tackled and the depth of world-building make it a solid 4.5—ultimately, I settled on 4/5 stars. I’m not entirely certain right now that I’ll be eagerly awaiting the sequel, but Natasha Ngan showed so much promise in this—especially with it being her first novel—that I’m definitely very keen on seeing how she improves and where she goes next in her career. UPDATE: For some reason, I thought this was her debut! It's not, which actually makes me a bit less optimistic about the sequel, but we'll see how it goes.


If you’re a fantasy reader who enjoys high fantasy and beautifully done queer rep, I absolutely recommend picking up a copy of Girls of Paper and Fire. Despite the fact that it wasn’t a perfect 10/10 for me, I know it’s the kind of story I will be recommending to friends for years to come because I think this book did so many things right at the end of the day.

Content warnings for rape, abuse, murder, oppression, slut-shaming, violence

All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Jimmy Patterson Books for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
Profile Image for elena ❀.
259 reviews2,875 followers
April 3, 2021
We might be Paper Girls, easily torn and written upon. The very title we're given suggests that we are blank, waiting to be filled. But what the Demon King and his court do not understand is that paper is flammable. And there is a fire catching among us.

An own-voices queer characters story about two sapphic girls who fall in love while experiencing violence and abuse as they are held as concubines to the Demon King? I was sold.

Girls of Paper and Fire is about Lei, a 17-year-old made of fire and not paper who will not let herself be held by the Demon King.

Lei was born to two Paper members of the caste, the lowest and most oppressed in her world of Ikhara. She helps her father and lives in a small village where she can't forget the traumatic events of her mother being snatched and taken from her. The royals she saw, the royals she wants to forget, they're back, but this time, they're here for her, the Paper with golden eyes who have caught the attention of the Demon King. Lei knows the story of the Demon King, knows what he does and who he is. He sends his guards to take eight girls born under Paper castes and turns them to Paper Girls who serve him, become his concubines and wives of many wives. Some families and girls think of this as an advantage, a fortunate fate, but Lei holds nothing but hatred, and she can't possibly let herself be controlled by her worst nightmare.

During the weeks and months of training, Lei needs to meet requirements she has no plan on learning and during the process, she not only learns more about her mother, the Demon King, and herself, but she learns about what it is to let go, to let herself make her choices, to say no, and she learns about forbidden love. During the process, she also has to realize if it was worth going as far as she could for everything she sacrificed herself for.

Girls of Paper and Fire is about what it means to say no to what you don’t want. It is about self-love, acceptance, and what it means to set yourself free. It is about power, control, violence, and what advantage one can hold. It is about rape, abuse, friendship, and love and how one choice can make a difference.

Trigger/content warnings for sexual violence, abuse, rape, and an animal death.

In my village, the story of the Paper Girls is told in whispers behind closed doors. We lost too much in the raid seven years ago to want to share anything more with the court.

Natasha Ngan paints a beautiful world inspired by Asian elements from her own experience of being biracial, specifically Malaysian-Chinese, and she brings her vivid imagination into this world of Ikhara where you can imagine the world of it with the elements of it from drinks to food, buildings to clothes, houses to camps, its as if the whole world is in front of you. Ngan gives us many different yet common fantasy elements we see in fantasy, including the beautiful atmosphere she has crafted for us to visualize with its Asian mythology playing big roles. Natasha also talks about her own story in the end and how she encourages women, especially young girls, into speaking about their experience and providing us their stories about their survival of sexual violence, because that is what this story is about.

Sexual violence is a big issue and topic in this book and it makes you hate boys and love girls more than you already do, but Ngan also makes sure to provide us happiness, love, friendships, and hope in this. There are survivors, like her and many others, in this and the provide more hope and faith. It is about rape culture and the trauma and grief it leaves you with. It is also about what it is like to overcome this fear, this control you don't want to hold, and what it means to say No to your oppressor, to the person taking advantage of you because of who you are. The message in this is descriptively beautiful and heavy, but it fills you in with light.

Not only is it about being held, but it is about not letting this fear consume you and make you feel worthless. Ngan gives us a character that can bring light into us while reading this because of what she overcame, what she achieved. Lei is a character who did not allow herself to be let down, held down by the Demon King who made her feel like she was not worth everything that she was made of. But Lei found herself valuable, in herself and in others. Lei was able to make a difference in her life and in others, being a first of firsts. She was a character who was broken, wounded, and left with anguish she will never forget and want to experience again. But Lei was a different kind of character, and everything that she did was beyond beautiful as if she was the one painting her world for you to see it for what it really is.

Aside from Lei, Wren was my favorite. I mean, a rebellious, young and sapphic assassin warrior who will do everything she can to protect her family but also her sapphic lover because she can't stand the fact that her girlfriend is being tortured by the Demon King, a bastard who has nothing but power and control over girls and treats them as toys and objects because that is his enjoyment? Wren is also broken, but with the help of Lei, she heals from her, through her, and she shows Lei what love and friendship is, but healing through love is, and the slow-burn romance that Ngan gives us in this is truly one of the most beautiful in YA fantasy. Not only is Wren helping Lei, but she is helping herself. She has her story of anguish, of fear and loss, of abandonment, and it is heartbreaking to read about but it is also full of hope and strength. I really hope we get more beautiful moments of them together that actually have me living because there were not enough in this one.

Her kisses heal the parts of me that the King broke. They tell me: You are strong, Lei. You are beautiful. You are mine. And, always, most important: You are yours.

The world of Ikhara is misery and a society of misogyny. Women are treated as slaves, toys, objects, as people they are not but are wanted for. These Paper Girls are taken from their family to serve the King, to serve him with his many other wives and Paper Girls he does not love but use for himself. It is a society that is slavery and enforcement, attempted rape and abuse, wrecking and leaving torturous trauma into the minds and bodies placed into this.

It is cultural and a tradition for Demons in this world to be objectifying women as if they are nothing because, for them, they are nothing. It's as if they were a treat for themselves, given to them when they are obedient. Not only is there prejudice and discrimination, but there is also classification. Girls are taken depending on what they have to offer, and then they are forced into improving their classification to offer it to the King because they need to win his heart. One thing many of these girls who think they are fortunate enough don't realize is that the Moon King does not like them for who they are, he is simply materializing and using them as tools, for his comfort and amusement, and there is no self-discovery in these girls who are misplaced, obscured and assuming this is all a blessing, as if being married to a King who has multiples wives in his bed is a fortune.

Aside from everything I cherished, one thing that points to the 4 stars and not 5 is how Ngan decided to leave the plots ending until the end, even though we were given hints of what was to come. What I am trying to point out is that nothing blew me away because I knew what was gonna happen. One thing I hate about YA fantasy is that the author always gives everything away, not allowing and letting the reader experience it for themselves. It really blows the whole story away for me when the author decides to spoil the ending for us in ways they probably thought they didn't. Although the ending does end with a cliffhanger, it didn't feel enough.

Girls of Paper and Fire is about overcoming the shyness a girl can hold as she is experiencing one of her most traumatic experiences to date. It is about making a difference for yourself and your own little world and how beautiful it is to find someone who will accept and love you for who you are and not for what you have. It is about learning, accepting, and loving.

Demon men can take what they want. Our homes. Our lives. Our bodies.
Profile Image for Korrina  (OwlCrate).
193 reviews4,557 followers
March 16, 2018
Wow wow wow. This book was so intense and amazing. I’m still processing how I feel about it. I absolutely loved it though.
Profile Image for Kaylin (The Re-Read Queen).
422 reviews1,629 followers
November 6, 2018
4.5 Stars

”We might be Paper Girls, easily torn and written upon. The very title we’re given suggests that we are blank, waiting to be filled. But what the Demon King and his court do not understand is that paper is flammable. And there is a fire catching among us.

You know that special pain that comes when a book with an amazing premise fails to live up to expectations?

Now imagine the exact opposite. THAT was this book for me. That special kind of joy when a book with high expectations delivers

Lei lives in a world dominated by a magical caste system. Those with demon blood, (Moon) those with human blood, (Paper) and those with both (Steel.) This caste system quickly opens a dialogue about the nature of oppression. Especially when Lei is chosen as one of the Moon King’s concubines or “Paper Girls.”

At its core, this book is about sexual assault and girls reclaiming themselves. The story doesn’t shy away from discussing the nature of rape or the many faces abusers may wear, but it also focuses on the process of healing. This extremely personal and varied activity was reflected in the large cast of girls, each with their own form of processing. The cast is predominantly female, and seeing this focus on female support and friendship was amazing. The varied character dynamics were all nuanced— and really show how much more room there is to explore when there’s more than two token women.

Even more, this slow-burn, beautiful romance is delightfully sapphic. The relationship isn’t over sexualized, but their femininity is beautifully expressed and celebrated. Lei’s journey with herself and her feelings was constantly contrasted with the views of those around her. It’s when she begins to challenge these expectations that the romance really flourishes and so it feels like a natural character progression instead of gimmick.

As a whole, this book offers so much representation for identities often excluded. It’s fierce Asian girls in love, and while I can’t speak for the representation as a whole, I know how much it matters.

The writing is actually so beautiful and it’s astounding that this is a debut? There’s this almost-resplendent quality as the world builds around this lush, devious kingdom. While there’s little use of magic itself, the writing still holds a magical quality.

My only complaints are that I found the caste system a bit gimmicky? I loved the discussion it opened, but the actual demon magic and animal appearance seemed almost irrelevant to the story? And that Lei is hard to connect with until she finds her drive in the second half. At first she’s understandably distraught and disoriented, but once her goals are established she became a much more dynamic and interesting character.

This subject matter is really intense, and I recommend making sure you’re in the right head space first, but this really lives up to expectations.

I received an Arc in exchange for my honest opinion, thanks to Jimmy Patterson Books!
Profile Image for Trina (Between Chapters).
858 reviews3,760 followers
February 24, 2019
I am very impressed. The thing that stands out to me the most is that the writing was both beautiful and engaging. I enjoyed the main character's arc, the f/f romance, the rebellion aspect, and the class politics. The ending and epilogue were great! Felt like a movie.

Audiobook: Above average, highly recommend!

tw: I would especially caution readers about the focus on sexual assault. The main character is forced into life as a courtesan that she wants no part of. To the best of my knowledge, here are the specific chapters to be cautious of...
Chapter 7 - forced nudity and an implied invasive medical exam
Chapter 14 - Forced nudity and sensuality
Chapter 15 - attempted rape
Chapter 16 - beating/violence
Chapter 29 - rape (not described but led up to)
Chapter 35 - beating, violence, drowning, eye trauma
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
May 28, 2019
Final thoughts

Sorry, book club, I am not going to get through this. I tried two times, and I just can't. This story has been written better by other, more talented, writers. James Patterson doesn't know what he is talking about.

Do yourself a favor read this instead:

Original hot take

I am curious, did Natasha Ngan, Tomi Adeyemi, Megan Bennett, Renee Ahdieh go to the same creative writing class? They sound exactly the same, they have the same narrators and the same write-by-numbers plots and worlds. I am sure there are more authors that would fall into this category, but I am only one reader with a very limited patience for the same old. To be fair, Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince can be accused of similar sins, but I found it so much more entertaining though. Is she better at writing conflicts or characters or dialog? I can’t objectively tell.

As always, my cranky recs. For concubine/harem scenario - Naondel and A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnson are better. For rape culture exploration in fantasy setting - Tess of the Road, Damsel.

I am planning to come back to this one later, closer to my book club date, to get a better grip on the details of the plot. For now, I have no will to continue. It doesn't look like this novel will dazzle me with its brilliance and originality.
Profile Image for Kayla Dawn.
291 reviews896 followers
March 22, 2019
I really enjoyed the writing style, especially descriptions of clothes and the setting were done very nicely (even though some parts were a little cheesy and overdone, but I can deal with that if it's not too excessive).

The characters were fine but I think they could've gotten more depth to them and I feel like our protagonist didn't really change much throughout the whole story. Would've loved to see some growth in her (There was a little bit, but also not really u know?).
I hope we're going to see more of all the other girls in the sequel, especially Aoki and Channa (ugh I hope that was her name lol) had potential.

I'm not so sure what I think about the world building.
I like the "Caste System" even though the idea behind it isn't really original. But the descriptions of the Moon Castes were always really nice and I could picture them very well in my head.
But we didn't get a lot of information on the world itself other than the typical "oh there was a war and now the population is divided and blablabla".
So, I hope to see more development in the sequel for that as well!

Now.. the ending? So predictable. And unoriginal. I really wish things would've been done differently.

Overall, a decent YA fantasy and I'm really looking forward to the sequel.
Profile Image for Samantha.
417 reviews16.7k followers
January 17, 2020
DNF’d because I found myself not caring about the story or characters. The brutality of the world was not offset by me caring about the plot or characters. Nothing is happening and reading reviews from people who have read it, I don’t think this will improve for me.
Profile Image for Yusra  ✨.
249 reviews508 followers
August 1, 2018


wow, this is EVEN MORE BEAUTIFUL IN REAL LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Profile Image for Cesar.
355 reviews235 followers
November 24, 2018
4.5 stars

*heavenly choir*

Oh my God, I love this book so much! This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2018 and it did not disappoint. I fulfilled all of my needs and paid off in the end. I cannot describe how much I enjoyed my time reading Girls of Paper and Fire.


This may be a fantasy story, but the messages behind it are so prevalent in our time. A lot of my friends have said that the book is about rape culture, how rape is about power, and I agree with them. There are so many good messages in the story about reclaiming your body and life after rape and the bonds people make who can help support each other. It was fantastic. 😁😁

CW: Rape (happens off-page but is still horrific), attempted rape, abuse, sexual assault, animal death.

Girls of Paper and Fire is an Asian inspired fantasy story where there are three castes in which people are separated in.

Paper - Humans.
Steel - Half human half demon. They look almost human but have some sort of animal characteristic.
Moon - Full fledged demons who are fully animal.

Lei, our main protagonist, is a paper girl helping out her father at their herbal shop. One day, Lei is forcefully taken away from her home to be a Paper Girl. Each year, the demon king takes eight paper girls from around the country and make them his concubines. Lei is actually the ninth paper girl because of her unusual golden demon eyes, which is what got her kidnapped. Her mother got taken years ago to be a paper girl and now it's her turn.

From the moment I read the first sentence of the story, I knew I was going to fall in love with it. Ngan wrote such a unique story set in an Asian world dealing with sex trafficking. The world is both beautiful yet horrific. When a fantasy world does that, it makes me all the more interested in the world building and the characters.

Being that this is an Asian inspired novel, I was fascinated by how much work Ngan put into creating it. From the clothes to the architect of the buildings, it was done well. This is an ownvoices story and I absolutely loved it. Though the story does take place in one setting for a good chunk of the book, there are hints that more of the world will be explored and I am eagerly waiting for it.

The character of Lei is one I really liked. She is a character who is adamant about wanting to escape being the king's concubine. She has a lot of self-worth in herself as a human and isn't afraid to say or do something if it means protecting herself, her family, and even a few of the paper girls. When she gets thrown to the ground, she gets back up. When it seems like the odds are not in her favor, she still fights on.

This is a f/f story and I like the slow burn of it. It is also a forbidden romance which is usually a hit or miss. A hit if it's done right, a miss if there is unnecessary drama. Thankfully this was a hit. The developing love between Lei and Wren was cute.

The one major gripe I have would have to be the villain, the demon king. Villains are complex characters because they didn't start off as villains. What happened to them becoming a villain is what makes them a complex character. The demon king, while evil, wasn't fleshed out. He was sort of one-dimensional.


I very much enjoyed Girls of Paper and Fire. I had high hopes for it and it paid off well. I'm looking forward to reading the next book.


Thanks for reading my review!

Profile Image for Acqua.
536 reviews190 followers
June 11, 2019
I'm so glad this book, an f/f book about an Asian girl who is a survivor of sexual abuse, is a NYT bestseller.

Girls of Paper and Fire is a beautiful, necessary book. It's also very dark by YA fantasy standards. It's worth reading, but I think one should keep in mind that it contains sexual assault, animal violence/death of a pet, death of a parent, and outing.

Girls of Paper and Fire follows Lei, a queer girl living in a fantasy world inspired by Malaysia, which is ruled by a demon king who takes eight human concubines every year. Lei is forced to become one of those concubines, a "Paper Girl", against her will.
I usually don't like books in which there's a lot of violence against women, because in fantasy it's often used as a plot device. Not here. Girls of Paper and Fire is a book about what it's like to be victim of sexual violence, specifically as a queer teenager of color. A story about finding strength again when so much has been taken from you against your will. There are so many important messages in here.

This book is a really multilayered portrayal of the ways women react to sexual abuse. The main character is a girl who never stops fighting back, but I also found really interesting reading about the other Paper Girls' reactions. There are girls who try to cope by convincing themselves they enjoyed what happened - it's especially heartbreaking the story of Aoki, the youngest of the Paper Girls, who is basically being groomed - and there are girls who, since they feel like all the power has been taken from them, turn against the other girls and try to hurt them with the very few means they have.

Girls of Paper and Fire is the kind of book that gets that victims aren't perfect, that they can also be bad people, and them being bad doesn't make them any less of a victim. People often mistake this kind of portrayal of victims for meaningless "girl hate", but that's the way reality is. Women often side with their oppressors. Women often turn against women who are less privileged than them when they're hurt - in this case, it's a woman of color outing two queer girls of color, but it could be white women turning against women of color or women bullying women they perceive as different because they're mentally ill - and let's be honest, this is so much more than just "girl hate".

And even if this is a book about sexual assault, it's sex-positive, portrays courtesans in a way that is more layered than just "they're being assaulted" with the character of Zelle, and says some things about attraction that are really important. I think reading that first scene in which Zelle and Lei meet would have helped me a lot a few years ago.

Girls of Paper and Fire shows so many things I needed to see when I was in high school. Its portrayal of what it's like to navigate women's spaces as a queer woman, the way Lei learns how attraction feels like - all of this. I'm not sure I would have been able to read this book at the time, however. Reading this often felt like trying to eat chestnuts with the burr, which is one of the things I'm not sure how I feel about - the people who need this book, are they going to be able to read it?

One of the main reasons this book was hard to read for me was that it brought to the surface a lot of memories. It even reminded me of my years at an Italian Catholic school as an atheist, and it made me understand just how much forced penance affected me. If you've ever been forced to do things that made you feel violated or humilated, this book will remind you of that, so be careful.

And yet, I was able to finish this book. That's because - unlike many other fantasy novels, especially dark adult ones - this book understands the point of balance. You know something awful is going to happen, but not all the scenes are full of despair, there are even some fun ones. It also takes place in a beautiful palace, and the descriptions almost make you want to be there with the characters, when you very much don't. This world is so colorful and magical and vibrant, you can almost see it (and taste the food. I love food descriptions).

I loved all the characters. Lei is just an ordinary girl, without any special powers or fighting skills, and I'm amazed by her strength. I'm going to say it again, teen girls need this book. The side characters are complex and flawed, and Wren is a wonderful love interest. I loved seeing this sweet f/f romance blossom in such an awful place.

Some small things I didn't love: I struggled to get into the story at the beginning, the plot is somewhat predictable (), but it's really not formulaic by YA fantasy standards. I also often couldn't visualize how the demons looked like.
Profile Image for Lex Kent.
1,682 reviews8,715 followers
November 5, 2018
This was a good YA fantasy book. I’m a huge fantasy fan so I was excited to read this. While the pace was a tiny bit up and down at times, enough went on to keep me on my toes and to keep reading. It looks like this is going to be a start of a series which I’m happy about.

The world is split up in a three caste system with humans being the lowest and demons on top. Lei, is a human whose beauty gets her noticed and stuck in the position of being the demon kings concubine. While supposedly an honor it is not the life Lei wants. Will she do what is expected of her or find a way to rebel?

First I do have to give a trigger warning. With what the main premise is about it should not be a surprise. There are attempted rape scenes and one actually rape scene. However, the rape scene is fade to black so it’s enough for you to know it happened but the details are not there.

I’m not the biggest fan of spec-fic books where the characters are passive. Meaning everything always happens to them. While that does happen some in this book, Lei and the other main character Wren are both really strong of heart. I would not classify them as passive which I was really grateful for.

I thought the romance was really sweet. It is a PG-13 romance but you feel the bond between them. In such a horrible world something so lovely and sweet shines through. The friendship and possibility of more were some of my favorite parts of the book.

My one complaint was the epilogue. I did not care for it. I did an eye roll with an “oh come on” after it. I think there was plenty of material for a book 2 without that kind of epilogue. It didn’t ruin the book or anything; I just thought it was a tad gimmicky.

If you are a YA fantasy fan, you will probably enjoy this book. It was a good read and I will be reading the next book for sure.

An ARC was given to me for a honest review.
Profile Image for Tucker  (TuckerTheReader).
908 reviews1,597 followers
May 23, 2020

Many thanks to Jimmy Patterson for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

The Selection meets Shadow of the Fox in this amazing debut novel of love, passion and the fight for good.

Something people don't realize is how hard it is to make your own world. Sure, we see authors doing it all the time but when you think about it, it so much harder than it appears. Unfortunately, some authors don't do well with world building. This is not that case with this book. The world wasn't so overused that I got annoyed but it also gave me enough information to satisfy my curiosity.

That said, I was a bit underwhelmed with the plot. Yes, I understood how the world worked but I felt like it was not used as I hoped it would. The plot idea was clever but it took a while to build and reach the climax. I found myself losing focus.

What the plot lacked, the characters made up. I fell in love with all the characters. Especially, Wren. She is such a badass but lovable and funny at the same time. I loved her relationship with Leigh (Is that how it's spelled. I don't know because I listened to the audio so sorry if I misspell things 😆)

All in all, even though I was a bit underwhelmed, I enjoyed this debut. I look forward to more books from this author.

Bottom Line:
3.5 Stars
Age Recommendation: 14+ (Scary themes, sexual assault and harassment, slavery)
Cover: 4/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 4/5

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Profile Image for ✨    jami   ✨.
662 reviews3,888 followers
May 8, 2019
We might be Paper Girls, easily torn and written upon. The very title we're given suggests that we are blank, waiting to be filled. But what the Demon King and his court do not understand is that paper is flammable.
And there is a fire catching among us.

when someone says there's a fantasy ya book coming out with a slowburn f/f romance following a girls struggle to defy the demon king and the misogynistic societal structures he embodies by undermining his system of choosing girls to be his concubines I listen.

Girls of Paper and Fire it set in a Malaysian inspired world where society is separated into three castes: Moon the upper class comprised of demons with animal characteristics. Steel Middle class, of human demon hybrids and Paper lowest class comprised of full humans.

The world Ngan sets up here was one I really enjoyed. While many elements of the story feel familiar (I got vibes Red Queen, The Hunger Games, Throne of Glass and even Daughter of Smoke and Bone vibes) a lot of it also felt unique. Ngan masterfully weaves political intrigue into the story, examining political instability and social shifts due to the Demon Kings war a hundred years ago. The political elements became the highlight for me, and I anticipate them becoming even more important as this series progresses. Court fantasies can frustrate me when the politics becomes too insular, but Ngan balanced the court politics and the wider state politics well here, and didn't get too bogged down in court drama as some court fantasies tend to. (Red Queen/ToG) On top of that, the influence of Malaysian-Chinese culture and history on the world made so many of these tropes and scenarios feel fresh and new.

However I do think the worldbuilding was not PERFECT. We don't know a whole lot about the world outside the court beside brief glimpses and the war and various factions are quickly explained in most cases. The book does hint that it will expand on these elements in the sequels though, which I'm excited for.

Pacing wise, this book did keep me intrigued due to the slow rise of tension as more and more political elements unravel. But some parts were definitely not as well paced as others. It took a bit for this book to get moving, and the main character's motivations didn't really crystallise until later in the book. Despite all that, this book did keep me compelled to read due to the emotional gravity of the situation, and the rising tension.

“I don't want an easy life. I want a meaningful one.”

As a main character, my feelings on Lei are mixed. The first part of this book is spent in her circling thoughts but she has no real aim. The lack of character motivation was jarring, and I found her actions irritating at times. That being said, I found myself really enjoying her character by the end. I love characters that do not start off as fighters but grow in strength. Characters who's power come from their emotional resilience and fortitude are some of my favourites and we definitely see that with Lei.

The other characters were also not as developed as I felt they could have been, but enjoyable nonetheless. Although the 'mean girl', Blue's arc was compelling, and Aoki's shift was interesting. I'm hoping to see more and get more development out of the side characters in the sequel.

The romance was also sweet, and while I'm still waiting for that REAL f/f slowburn this was pretty good. The underpinnings of the relationship - that it is an open defiance of the heteronormative patriarchy the girls are forced into submitting to - was an interesting element that added thematic depth to the ship.

“Fire in, fear out”

The true strength of this book for me was in it's thematic exploration. Girls of Paper and Fire explores rape, rape culture, and narratives around abuse. And I think it was explored with nuance, depth and "love" - that being, I felt it was something you could tell the author was serious and careful about exploring. The focus on defiance and rebellion in the face of enormous oppression, and the exploration of how oppressive social structures affects EVERYONE, and in various ways, was excellent here. There was also a focus on reclaiming your own body and expressing sexuality in a healthy and empowering way which I really loved.

With that said: a warning this book goes DARK at times. I even said to myself "this is awful" at one point because some of the scenes are graphic and confronting. Strong trigger warnings apply for rape and attempted rape, written on page, as well as sexual violence and assault, murder, slavery and sexual slavery and sex trafficking, grief, a graphic branding scene, torture, graphic death of an animal, forced medical exam/inspection, execution, war themes and probably more I missed. Please be aware of this, this is probably one of the darkest and most grim YA books I've read in a while.

“Her kisses heal the parts of me that the King broke. They tell me: You are strong, Lei. You are beautiful. You are mine. And, always, most important: You are yours.”

This was such a strong debut and I fell instantly in love with it. Ngan's writing is gorgeous and teleported me straight into the world of the Paper Girls and Demon Kings. There is oh so much to like here - an empowering central f/f couple, great political intrigue, a pretty much all female cast with strong potential and thematic issues which, while tough to read at times, are dealt with so powerfully and carefully.

If you're looking for a new fantasy world to fall into, more queer books, books with political intrigue, books with familiar YA tropes that put a new spin on them, or any combination of the above, this is the BOOK FOR YOU.

And now we begin the long, painful wait for book 2
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