Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
Do the wlw end up together : Yes
So I know I’m quite late getting around to reading this one, but basically I’ve been on hold at my library for the last 4 months. And I’m not gonna lie, seeing a book with a main wlw couple hitting the mainstream so hard that there’s a hundred person backlog waiting to read it makes me a bit proud. And boy, was it worth the wait. We start off with some beautiful worldbuilding; Lei is a Paper caste living in world where humans exist on a range of fully humanoid (Paper) to mostly demonic in appearance (Moon). Subsequently, the more demon features one has, the higher their standing in society. Lei lost her mother in a raid on her village seven years prior, and is herself taken to be a Paper Girl, one of the Demon King’s yearly selection of concubines. She has two goals when she arrives: to find if her mother is still alive, and to stop this from happening to any more families across Ikhara. In the fantasy action sense, this book really is everything. It isn’t afraid to make its dystopian rulers actually… evil. A lot of YA fantasy/dystopian books seem to shy away from showing actual violence or class prejudice (I saw one website compare it to The Selection which was… an interesting choice to say the least). Lei’s anger at the persecution that she’s lived under and at the way she’s now treated as an accessory is raw and completely believable, and makes the end of the book all that more validating. Moving on, I do love a good romance-against-the-odds, but I do have to say that it was not one of my favorite parts of the book. Compared to the fantastic way that Ngan builds her fantasy world and fuels Lei’s motivation, there really didn’t seem to be any build-up or chemistry in the romance until it was already happening. A few genre-typical lines near the beginning of the book made it clear who the love interest would be, but they did more to establish connection than the actual character interactions. All in all, this book gracefully threads the line of creating a uniquely imaginative world but keeps all the human vulnerabilities that makes it recognizable, and I would highly recommend you all go read it (if I’m not too late already).