Trigger Warnings for Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan:
rape, attempted rape, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, animal abuse/torture, death, abduction, torture, violence, loss of loved one, scenes with blood, grief depictions, food, slurs, sex/intimacy
Disclaimer: In this review, I make light of furries. In reality, I will support you whether or not you are a furry. If you are a furry, I apologise.
Before I read this book, slow burn romances and I were barely even acquaintances. I mean, sure, we awkwardly bumped into each other in our pyjamas at the grocery store, but we called each other by casual, noncommittal titles because we couldn’t remember each other’s names.
Now, we’re best friends. She was maid of honour at my wedding. I officiated her wedding after we took an online course together. We share a Netflix account. I comforted her when she had an emotional breakdown upon realising my online marriage officiating certifications were illegitimate. We named our dogs AND our children after each other. Heck, we even got matching tattoos of Lei and Wren’s official ship name, Lren.
Reading this book was a great decision. If you’re present on Goodreads or Twitter (hey, this seems like a convenient time to say I have both a GR and Twitter if you feel so obliged as to check them out), you know GoPaF is everywhere. This debut deserves the hype it’s getting.
Girls of Paper and Fire takes place in a society called Ikhara inspired by Malaysia in which there are three castes:
- the Moon caste, the order comprised of animalistic demons AKA FURRIES
- the Steel caste, the social class made up of part human/part demons
- the Paper caste, the division of humans
In Ikhara, the furr– I mean, the Moon caste is in power and views the other castes as inferior, especially the Paper caste, because they don’t have a hint of demon in them. Every year, the head of the Moon caste, the Demon King, gathers eight girls in the Paper caste to be brought to his place of residence, the Hidden Palace, as consorts. These consorts are called Paper Girls. Enter, Lei, a 17 year old girl who is yanked from her family to become a concubine.
Remember when I said each year eight girls were forced to become mistresses to the King? Well, I lied. Lei is brought to the palace as a ninth consort due her golden eyes, which are usually reserved for demons.
Lei’s heart is intent on defying her “duty” to the Demon King, because she finds herself falling in love with Wren,
my wife a fellow Paper Girl.
At its core, this book is an acute commentary on rape and sexual assault. Girls of Paper and Fire is written for survivors, and it shows in the keenly emotional, but respectful, way topics of rape and rape culture are handled. Natasha Ngan makes it clear the Demon King’s interest in the Paper Girls is not sparked by pining, but instead entitlement to his “property” and a selfish need to demonstrate and reinforce his position of power using blunt, cruel force.
GoPaF also normalises the effects sexual assault and rape have on relationships: there’s a scene in which Lei recalls her hesitance and fear to engage in intimacy, which she now associates with her trauma. Perhaps the best part of the scene is that her partner supports/understands her decision to abstain from triggering situations. I don’t want to applaud characters for doing the bare minimum, but LET’S HAVE A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR WREN.
This book also has a lot of great representation! GoPaF’s characters’ ethnicities are inspired by Southeast-Asia, East-Asia, and South-Asia. The Asian representation is #ownvoices, as well as the representation of sexual assault survivors. GoPaF features sapphic main characters too! So many people have mentioned in their reviews (which, I definitely haven’t, um, stalked when deciding whether or not to read this book) that this story has made them feel seen in the bookish community. I am not Asian, nor am I a sexual assault/abuse survivor, so I can’t personally attest to the representation, but I trust these awesome #ownvoices reviewers.
And the romance? It was so so good. Lei and Wren’s relationship was slow burn and sweet as heck. Look, I’m not saying I would die for Wren, but I would die for Wren. If you’re miraculously reading this Wren, please propose to me.
Okay, I’m going to put my undying love for Wren aside and don my objectivity goggles for a brief moment. One thing I noticed about Lren was how it focused more on empowerment of each individual rather than dependency on one another as a coping mechanism. *goggles off* I think too often we see romance used as a crutch to deal with difficult emotions and mental illness, but that’s not healthy. Our partners are there to support and cherish us, but they can’t be our therapists too. Trust me, I’m not just saying this just because I want therapists to survive in our difficult economy. What I’m trying to say is Lren is a great example of a healthy relationship. #girlfriendgoals
The friendships and relationships in this book in general are beautiful and poignant.
My only critique of this novel was that Lei’s character was a little dull. I think there is a lot of potential for character development in the upcoming book, but I personally was drawn to the more distinct and flamboyant personalities of the side characters.
Before we end, I’m just going to say it: there are furries in this book. I wasn’t prepared, but you should be. THERE ARE FURRIES. They are demons that are human shaped with animalistic traits…so FURRIES.
And you know what, I’m going to be honest. There’s a character in Girls of Paper and Fire described as being a bipedal wolf. My brain immediately flew to Animal Crossing and that one neighbour we all had…
The truth is, the furry thing is not a problem with the book. It’s a problem with us. We know too much.
In short, Girls of Paper and Fire is a hard-hitting read I’d recommend to anyone in the right headspace. Traditionally rating it, I would give GoPaF 4.5 stars.
My Goodreads review of Girls of Paper and Fire is going to discuss spoilers and possible theories for GIRLS 2, so make sure to check it out when it’s up. I’m tentatively aiming for January 1st, but you know me. I’m unreliable as heck. 👉😎👉
Thank you so much for reading this review. Was it coherent? I have no idea. Let me know down in the comments if you’ve read Girls of Paper and Fire or if you’re planning to and have a lovely day!