In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have 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. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.
TW: violence and sexual abuse.
This is a book that I heard so many good things about. Just to let you know that there is a really graphic rape scene in the book for trigger warning.
It is set in world in which some women are seen as concubines to the demon king, and eight girls are chosen to do so. Lei, a member of the paper caste is one of the eight chosen. She is also dealing with some trauma at the start of the book. For one being in a the paper caste which is one of the lowest caste also when she was young her mother was taken by royal guards.
Once the demon king takes the young girls they are sent to live in the palace for a year and having a “sort of” life of luxury, and their role is the serve the demon king and do anything he asks them. A lot of the young girls was very well developed. My favorites were Wren and Zelle.
A lot of the first half of the book is introducing Lei, to the world of the palace, and also meeting the other girls who serve the demon king as well as learning a lot of the rules of the courts.
What I loved about the story is that very rich world building. It is an own voices Asian inspired fantasy, which gave a good amount of back story without feeling like info dumping. The caste system I thought added a lot more weight into the world especially when seeing a lot of the higher castes mainly the Steele caste who are half human and half demon and the Moon caste which is entirely of demons.
The romance was another highlight of the book. While it does deal with a forbidden f/f romance I like the fact that there are stakes involved with the romance and how Lei begins to bond with her and fall in love. Knowing that there are future books I want to see how the romance flourishes. It shows that a romance can be so well developed and you want to root for the happy couple.
One of the main themes of the book, is the theme of trauma and how it affects people. Especially with the issue of sexual assault and male “ownership” of a woman’s body. It also draws on themes of trauma and PTSD, and trying to survive in a dark and messed up world, and having someone you love helping you against the world.
In the end, Girls of Paper and Fire, was a fantastic debut fantasy novel. It introduces you to lust fantasy world, with great characters and a loving romance. It should be a start to a great series.