Book Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Posted December 22, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 2 Comments

Girls of Paper and Fire

Girls of Paper and Fire

by Natasha Ngan

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton on November 6, 2018
Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIAP+
Target Age Group: New Adult, Young Adult
Rating: ★★★★½

Check out this book on Goodreads

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king.
It's the highest honour they could hope for...
And the most demeaning.

This year, there's a ninth girl.
And instead of paper,
She’s made of fire.

Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class in Ikhara. Ten years ago, her mother was snatched by the royal guards, and her fate remains unknown. Now, the guards are back, and this time it's Lei they're after — the girl whose golden eyes, whose rumoured beauty has 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. There, Lei 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 and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she's willing to go for justice and revenge.

Please be aware that this contains scenes of violence and sexual assault.


If I had to attach a single emotion on to Girls of Paper and Fire, I would call it angry.  This book is rife with twisted customs, greed, selfishness, and corruption and it was so good.  But it was also heartbreaking and enraging.

The introduction of Girls of Paper and Fire gives readers just enough time to become acquainted with Lei’s life before she is torn away from it.  We feel some level of her anger and fear and disgust as the world of the Paper Girls unfurls around her.  There are lessons and rules and not once does Natasha Ngan glorify any of it.  In books similar to this – The Selection comes to mind, though the consequences are much different – the pageantry and the “becoming a woman” are polished and presented with sparkle and glamor.  Ngan does no such thing, and I’m glad for it.  You can hide the situation behind love and bribery and refining and opportunity – but at the end, being a Paper Girl still means being kidnapped, enslaved, and raped.

Because of how typical tropes have taught me to think, I kept expecting Lei to give in, for the king to actually be decent.  That’s the story we usually get, right?  You’ll have to read for yourself to see if that’s Lei’s path.  For me, I was constantly surprised… and if I’m honest, relieved by the choices Ngan made in this book.  The line has been drawn between disturbing and fairytale.  I hope to see other authors acknowledge it.

While we get the best feel for Lei in the early pages, so much of Girls of Paper and Fire is spent by unfolding the plot and the greater world.  There is a little character development in other venues, but it is quick and just a foundation.  We hear a bit more about Wren and her backstory, and there’s a really beautiful scene between her and Lei about halfway through the book, but lot of Wren’s story is through dialogue.  This is a personal pet peeve.  I understand why Ngan chose to deliver information this way, but as a reader, I prefer to have information inferred rather than dumped in dialogue.  Aoki and Blue had more opportunity for growth as well.  I believe a lot of supporting character development was sacrificed for relationship development.

As a whole, the plot pushes forward so smoothly that I didn’t really realize the gaps in development until I had finished the book and was thinking about it later.  Natasha Ngan does an incredible job of wrapping the reader up in the present.  The world building was interesting and Girls of Paper and Fire has the type of story and world and stakes that are screaming for a mini-series or an anime adaptation.

Girls of Paper and Fire is well worth reading.  The way this book refuses to bow to harem or pageantry tropes is marvelous, and Ngan wrote in some excellent twists.  While I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s perfect, I think that the rest of the series has time to make up for my few nitpicks.  I know I’m late to the party on this one, but if you haven’t read Girls of Paper and Fire yet, I recommend it.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★ 1/2
Writing: ★★★★ 1/2
Pacing: ★★★★ 1/2
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★★

4.5 stars overall rating


Girls of Paper and Fire Stays on the Shelf

First of all, I have the most beautiful edition of this book.  It’s a rainbow overlay dust jacket, and it has pink sprayed edges.  It is, quite frankly, one of the prettiest editions of any book I own.  Thanks, Fairyloot!

So, knowing that, imagine my relief at loving this book.  Okay, well, to be honest, I never doubted I would?  I’ve heard nothing but good things about it since publication.  It was a bit angrier than I expected, but that fury was so good.  Of course I’m keeping this copy.  I don’t know when I’ll reread it exactly, but I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy it even more the second time around.


What books have you read that take problematic tropes and tear them apart?  I’d love your recommendations, so hit me up with them in the comments!

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2 responses to “Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

    • Amber

      Thank you! It was on my TBR for the longest time as well, but certainly worth the wait! I hope you like it as much as I did when you get to it!