#7 Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. Ten years ago, her mother was snatched by the royal guards, and her fate remains unknown. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after – the girl with the golden eyes, whose rumoured beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, Lei does the unthinkable – she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

Kindle | 401 pages

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (6th November 2018)

So, I’m reading this on Kindle and I’m currently 16% through, so I’m taking this opportunity to pause and reflect. I don’t often read fantasy books anymore. My tastes have changed so dramatically that I’m more at home with a thriller than a YA fantasy book. I find now that I’m hard to please and usually don’t get on well with the YA fantasy genre.

At 16% I’ve read enough to know that some elements of this book are new and interesting. There are some elements that I haven’t come across before and they’re presented in a way that filled the reader with curiosity and a need to gain answers.

However, I’ve also noticed some similarities between the base plot and other books I have read. The idea of a select group of women/girl’s battling out in a game to win, is something I’ve read countless times in books ranging from good to terrible. After a while the storyline becomes too repetitive to be enjoyable.  

Now on 35% and the similarities between this book and ‘The Selection’ series by Kiera Cass. It’s irritating me and now I can’t see the book without noticing those similarities.

I’m trying really hard to keep myself open and positive about this story, but I think I’m just confirming to myself why I stay clear of this genre.

56% & I feel a little sick. Intense anxiety is flowing through me and I’m not sure if I can continue reading.

It has been easy to read this in terms of structure and language, but it has been hard to read in terms of plot and characters. I’m on the fence with this.

Lei. I didn’t know whether her character would be one I’d enjoy. I didn’t know what she would become as the story progressed and I didn’t know if I would be able to relate to her or connect to her in any way. I came in with a lot of apprehensions, but I have been pleasantly surprised by Lei’s character and the way she has handled herself through the course of the book.

That fire, the essence of her character, charges like a raging animal through most of the book and it’s a kind of intensity that makes you want to keep reading. When I was 56% through the book, I was talking to my friend about all that had happened and what had annoyed/angered me, and she asked me why I was still reading it. At first, I couldn’t answer because I hadn’t paused to think why but when I did, I realized that I wanted to keep reading to see how Lei’s story ended. I needed to see where her journey took her and not just learn the ending of the book but to see if there was any hope within all the anxiety that this book caused me to have.

The Demon King is like an insect bite that you can’t help but itch. However, much you want that bite to go, it won’t till the course is run and that’s how I came to view the Demon King. I haven’t felt such intense hatred for a character in a long while, and I’m not entirely sure why the hate was so instant here. The Demon King’s behavior really got to me and his actions triggered me heavily. I didn’t enjoy the presence of this here.

Aoki’s character also made me shiver in a bad way. The change of her character through the book did not sit right with me in any way.

I can read the darkest of thrillers or the most shocking psychological thrillers and not bat an eyelid. I am most happy reading about murder and mystery but put me in a YA fantasy novel and I will always experience intense anxiety, sick feelings, and anger to specific actions within the book.

This was easy to visualize; the characters were individual enough to have their own strong voices and there weren’t too many scenes to make it confusing.

There were many aspects of this book that I was uncomfortable with. I didn’t like the harsh depiction of violence laid out by the Demon King or generally anything to do with his behavior. It goes beyond dislike for the character, I became a closed off version of myself when I had to read parts with his character. It completely rubbed me the wrong way and filled me with anger and anxiety.

It is alright to have an evil character with redeeming qualities, those are the sort of characters a reader can root for. I don’t have any of those feelings for this character and have constantly asked myself ‘why am I reading this’ as the story progressed.

Having come to the end of the book I feel that it redeemed itself. I was seriously considering not finishing it at one point and yet it managed to convince me otherwise and pull out an ending that almost felt unique and worthy of being read.

My heart was beating fast as I came to the end of the book. There were some aspects of it that I expected but some moments that I didn’t and  that were a joy to read.

I loved the LGBT representation in the book, it was the one aspect that saved the story for me and allowed me to read with some level of enjoyment.

Right, so, enjoyment. I enjoyed every part with the characters, Lei and Wren. I enjoyed the intense pace of the book and the unexpected twists and turns. The ending was a good summary for me and my experience reading.

I didn’t like the character of the Demon King, that much is very obvious from my comments above. I didn’t like the portrayal of violence or the acts the ‘paper girls’ were told to participate in.

Will I read the second book? Probably because I’m invested in Lei’s character and want to see her journey continue.

Am I surprised by the book? Yes and no. Some bits were predicable and as I stated in my first impressions, some parts of the base plot I have seen done too often not to be irritated by it. Yet at the same time, there were elements of this book that were bold and brave and stood out as something different and something to be discovered.

Do I think this book deserves all the hype surrounding it? In my opinion, no. That is not to say it isn’t a good book. I just didn’t mesh well with it, at all.

I do also feel that this book should have come with some trigger warnings.

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