ARC Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

One line review: Girls of Paper and Fire is a beacon of light in the darkness.

When I first heard about Girls, I was immediately interested. As a bi Asian, I was excited to see a f/f romance with Asian girls centered in a story by a fellow bi Asian woman, Natasha Ngan. Plus, that cover is gorgeous.

LOOK AT THAT COVER. INCREDIBLE. EXCEPTIONAL. THOSE COLORS THO.

LOOK AT THAT COVER. INCREDIBLE. EXCEPTIONAL. THOSE COLORS THO.

I was so excited to get this book at BookCon, which was a whole ordeal in itself. It involved me and my friend hovering around the Hachette booth for HOURS, but hoo boy it was worth it! I may have embraced the book upon receiving it, partly due to how gorgeous the physical ARC is, but mostly due to how excited I was to read this book.

Girls of Paper and Fire is about a girl who is chosen to be one of the concubines for the demon king. However, she falls in love with another concubine. This Asian-inspired fantasy has excellent world-building and different kinds of Asian cultures represented in the world of Ikhara. The prose are gorgeous, lush, almost melodic in a sense. Girls reminds me of how music builds in a piece, like Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers. Yes, the music starts out nice and soft, but it completely envelops you by the final section. By the end of the book, I wished there was more to read because I wanted nothing more than to live in this world for even three more pages. (Luckily, it’s a trilogy!)

The content warnings include sexual assault (the first instance occurring within the first 30 pages), emotional abuse/manipulative relationship, and an animal death. While I think there are many young people who are strong enough to handle this material, it’s important to note these warnings for anyone who will be affected by reading about certain things.

That being said, if you can tolerate this kind of content, I highly recommend reading Girls. Despite the dark undertones and the political overtones of how men abuse their power, I found Girls to be an extremely hopeful book. In the face of adversity, the main character is able to find healing through love and friendships.

Meet Lei: my sweet, smol child who is strong in her own way. I see a lot of myself in Lei; while some people may see her as passive, she reminded me of my younger self. She doubts herself a lot and doesn’t appear outwardly strong at first glance. The complexity woven into her character makes her all the more relatable.

And then there’s the Wren of it all. Can I say that I’m a little in love with Wren? Okay, A LOT in love with Wren. There’s this intensity to her that immediately drew me to her, but it was ultimately her softness and ability to love deeply that made ME fall in love. Lei and Wren’s romance resonated with me on an emotional level. I felt those longing looks and gazes. I truly love all my paper girls (even you, my prickly Blue), and I deeply feel for Aoki and what she goes through (aforementioned emotional manipulation). But my heart belongs to Lei and Wren. MY SWEET, STRONG GIRLS.

On November 7, I went to the DC stop on Natasha’s tour, featuring her and Ellen Oh. I last read the book in June, so their conversation reminded me of the food in the book. If you’re like me (read: in love with food), then you’ll swoon for the descriptions of all the food. I also greatly appreciated it because food is so huge in Asian culture. (Of course I’m generalizing, as there are many different Asian cultures, but I’ve found that most Asian cultures revere food.) Don’t read this book on an empty stomach, or at least have a myriad of Asian food are your disposal; you will want to eat ALL THE FOOD.

Girls is an extremely important book, like how Natasha tackles dark issues with care. It highlights the importance of inner strength, and the ability to find hope in the worst circumstances. Yes, it’s an important book; it’s also a damn good book. From the writing to the characters, the plot and the setting, Girls of Paper and Fire is the whole package.

Samantha Tan