A New Book Review
Girls of Paper and Fire
Author: Natasha Ngan
Page Count: 380
Format: B&N Exclusive Signed Hardcover
Genre: YA Fantasy
Keywords: LGBTQ+, Concubines, Magic
Kid Appropriate: Teens, but trigger warning for sexual assault
***Please note that this book is getting much higher ratings from the majority of other readers. My low rating is definitely in the minority. If you’re curious I recommend reading other reviews along with mine to see if it is something you are still interested in checking it out***
First, this book is physically gorgeous. The dust jacket is beautifully colored and the foil detail catches the light nicely. Under the dust jacket is a beautiful red cover with gold detailing. Bonus, my copy happened to be one of the signed editions available at Barnes & Noble around the holidays. Because of the book’s aesthetics, I am pleased to have it in my book collection. Unfortunately, that’s where the positivity ends.
I picked this up for three reasons. First, the cover is beautiful as I have discussed above. Second, it was the book club pick for the Australian based book club Name of the Book. Third, it was 50% off over the Thanksgiving weekend for Black Friday sales.
Overall, this book felt like an example of what not to do for the old adage every creative writing professor in the history of time has screamed at their students: “Show don’t tell”. The setting was oftentimes vague and seemed to rely too heavily on the reader’s ability to fill in the blanks. Apart from some descriptions on the color of their hair and eyes, I can’t even begin to guess what the eight Paper Girls looked like. Also, the absence of a map in most editions was definitely a hindrance.
There are three castes of people in this fictional world. The paper caste are the completely human individuals and the lowest in terms of standing. The steel caste are the middle with a mix of human and animal traits. Then there is the caste I had the biggest issues with, the moon caste. These are the fully demon individuals with a full animal form but are still somehow humanoid. A lot of people in the live show mentioned having difficulty picturing these individuals (which I believe has a lot to do with the lack of ‘showing’ on the part of the writing) but all I could see the entire time were Zootopia characters. Yep, that’s where my mind went. It really makes picturing the ‘evil’ characters as evil difficult.
Aside from this, we started this book immediately off with abuse towards animals. That was strike one because I hate when writers rely on killing the dog in an attempt to draw emotion from their audience but then the dog’s owner barely dwells on it. That is unrealistic and feels like a cheap shot at trying to create emotion without effort.
Then there is the issue of committing to emotions and actions with the age bracket of this book. It follows the life of eight girls that are forced into being concubines for a cruel king. There were plenty of times I wasn’t sure if it was the writer holding back just because that is her writing style or if she was holding back due to the usually younger audience of Young Adult novels. Either way, the feeling of restraint was a bit too strong in this novel and left me feeling that both the plot and characters were incredibly underdeveloped. The pacing was also incredibly slow for a YA fantasy. By the half way point I did not care what happened any more and largely skimmed the remainder of the book, bored and uninterested.
Action was absent, politics barely mentioned, magic hardly explained, the world was bland, and the romance was lackluster. This book was a let down and I have no intentions to continue on in the series, nor can I really recommend it.