Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
In Ikhara there are three castes, Paper, Steel and Moon. Each year the Moon caste demon king takes eight paper girls as concubines. For many families, it is seen as an honour if their daughter is chosen, but in reality the girls are slaves, forced to entertain the king whenever he pleases.
When the world denies you choices… you make your own.
The Paper Girls had already been chosen when the royal guards came to Lei’s village. Lei is Paper but her fiery eyes make her a worthy present for the king. Torn from her family, just as her mother was years before, Lei is taken to the palace to join the Paper Girls.
Girls of Paper and Fire does not gloss over what a concubine is. They appear in so many stories, but in reality they are beautiful young women kept as slaves, with no option to say no when their master wants sex. Natasha Ngan starts with a foreword clearly stating this book contains rape, it is not romanticised, despite one of the girls’ possible Stockholm syndrome.
The Paper Girls are kept separate in the court, only visited by their teachers to train them to be suitable companions to the king. Lei dreads seeing her name chosen, and she tries to deny him. Whilst they are living in close quarters, some of the girls become friends and Lei finds herself attracted to Wren, daughter of the Hannos, the only Paper tribe to have allied with the demon king.
They can take and steal and break all they want, but there is one thing they have no control over. Our emotions. Our feelings. Our thoughts. None of them will ever be able to control the way we feel. Our minds and our hearts are our own. That is our power.
I’m not sure I particularly enjoy reading books where the characters are so clearly doing something they’ll get into trouble for, and not doing a very good job of being secret. The walls of the girl’s rooms are described as being thin from the start, privacy is an illusion.
I liked the idea of exploring what it meant to be a concubine in this Asian inspired fantasy setting, but I never really got sucked in. There is the political situation in Ikhara, the romance and the minutiae of life as a Paper Girl. The focus was taken away from this horrible concept of someone in power keeping teenage girls as sex slaves. At least the romance is not with the abuser. The single first person narrative was slightly limiting, I would have loved to have got inside the heads of the other girls and know why they did what they did.
I would have liked this more as a standalone. The very ending is such a trope, thrown in when you think a story has concluded and I wish it had finished one page earlier.
Girls of Paper and Fire is published by Hodder and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. The paperback will be out on 11th July 2019. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
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