I’m not normally a huge reader of fantasy but so far this year I’ve dug into Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi and now Girls of Paper and Fire by Nastasha Ngan – both of which I have loved! GOPAF was our Book Club pick for April and I truly adored it. I was unsure how I’d feel but I was so into it and I loved talking about it at Book Club (which I’ll upload a post about on Monday). I read most of this whilst sat in the wonderful weather over the Easter weekend – there’s no better way of spending a hot, sunny day than going for walks in beautiful places and sitting reading a good book outdoors! On with the review…
GOPAF is a YA fantasy book following Lei, a paper caste (meaning human) girl from a small village. She is taken away to the King’s Palace to be a Paper Girl, something which is seen as an honour but is an awful thing which the girls have no choice in. We see her surviving life at the Palace, learning how she is expected to act as a Paper Girl and discovering secrets about the Palace and the people within. Along with paper caste, there are also steel caste and moon caste forms – steel are part human with some demon features and moon are full demon (humanoid but heavy demon features).
I want to start by saying that the world of the book is so vivid and stunning, particularly the grounds of the King’s Palace (which are HUGE by the way – there are so many areas and a really lovely map at the beginning of the book). Most of the story is set here and although we don’t see all of the areas, we do get an idea of just how vast it is yet how trapped everyone is within the walls. The Women’s Court in particular is really well fleshed out, I can honestly imagine that area so well in my head, especially Paper House.
One thing that has to be mentioned is that the story does deal with some very difficult themes. Natasha Ngan addresses this with a trigger warning on both the dust jacket and one of the first pages. There is also an author’s note at the beginning of the book, explaining why she wrote this and the various situations in it. It seemed to be really well thought out and it did not show explicit scenes of rape or sexual abuse. She also didn’t use these themes as plot devices or as a shock factor or entertainment value – it wasn’t exploitative in any way. It was (in my opinion) handled super well and with care whilst also not shying away from harsh realities.
The characters are so complex and varied in personalities. Lei has very strong opinions and feelings against the King yet still feels shame when she is labelled as a traitor and when she is not called on by the King. Even though she can’t stand the thought of having to see him, she is made to feel like she isn’t good enough. Her best friend throughout, Aoki, is very naive and wants to believe in everything being good and for the best even if she does feel uneasy about a situation. Other girls have varying emotions towards what’s happening; some don’t explain this to Lei but we get implications of how they feel from her observations.
If you know about our Book Club then you’ll know it’s an LGBTQ+ one. So of course, this has some gay representation in it! I’ll talk about this more in the Book Club round up post but I will say now that it felt very naturally introduced and the few conversations about sexuality were really interesting, especially in context of the story world.
I highly recommend this book – it is truly wonderful in terms of story, characters, world building – everything! Just make sure to read the trigger warnings and author’s note if the themes may affect you.