”They can take and steal and break all they want, but there is one thing they have no control over. Our emotions,” she says at my nonplussed look. “Our feelings. Our thoughts. None of them will ever be able to control the way we feel. Our minds and hearts are our own. That is our power, Nine. Never forget it.”
Trigger warnings: rape/attempted rape, animal death, violence, slavery, sexual assault, branding of a character, abuse
Sooo… where to begin? I had high expectations for this book and even though I enjoyed reading “Girls of Paper and Fire” most of those expectations weren’t met. I guess that’s always the problem with extremely hyped books, though. Either they live up to your expectations or they don’t. In this particular case I wasn’t really disappointed but I wasn’t all over the moon either, if that makes sense? It’s really hard to pinpoint my issues with this book but I think I’ll just talk about it and figure it out along the way.
”It’s all right, Lei,” she says. “Go.” As her eyes meet mine, a spark of heat stirs in my chest. It takes me a moment to realize it’s the first time she’s spoken my name. My single syllable is surprisingly soft on her tongue, light, like a drop of rain.
Let’s just start with the things I really liked and take it from there! 😉 The first thing that comes to mind is the relationship between Lei and Wren. I totally loved that this was such a slow burn and that for a long time they were intrigued by each other but didn’t do anything to explore their feelings. There were a lot of brief moments, tender gestures, softly spoken words and meaningful glances and as you probably all know by now, I live and breathe for scenes like that. XD On that front the book totally delivered and I loved their slowly growing bond.
”Whenever she makes a movement – even something as small as brushing a speck of dust from her hair or adjusting her sash – my eyes instinctively cut her way, and I wonder if she’s noticing it, too, this tether, this pull between us.”
Another thing I liked were all the friendships Lei formed during her stay at the palace. Her maid Lill was really sweet and I also liked Mistress Eira. In her own way she did everything she could to make it easier for her girls and to protect them as good as possible. Unfortunately she couldn’t protect them from the Demon King and I liked how this aspect was shown. I mean Mistress Eira has influence in the palace, she’s a former Paper Girl as well and she uses the little power she has in order to make the lives of her charges easier. She always plays by the rules though and never flat out revolts against the system. So in some way her doing her job as good as possible is actually contributing to the injustice and the cruel rule of the Demon King. You might say she accepted her role and that the system won’t change. Mistress Eira gave up and I think that’s even worse than openly supporting the king. The people that allow injustice to happen and never speak up against it contribute to the system at least as much as the ones that enforce the rules. Considering all this Mistress Eira’s character was probably one of the most complex ones in the entire book and I really appreciated that. 😉
”I’m sorry, Lei,” she whispers. “There’s nothing I can do. You’ll have to find a way to bear it – and I know you will. You are stronger than most of the girls who come here.”
As for the Demon King and Madame Himura: I loathed them both. Their arrogance to believe that everything revolves around them and that they are superior because they have special abilities and are demons made me sick to my stomach. The way the king was cruel to the ones who defied him and rewarded the ones that let him have his way… it was sickening. Alone how he treated Aoki vs. how he hurt Lei. The difference between those two couldn’t have been even more pronounced. I’m kind of relieved we never got any graphic details of the violence and rape that happened in here or at least not much…
”Take my brothers, for example. They were one, two years older than me. But at the age of seven I already understood more than they about what makes a strong ruler. I knew that if I took their lives, it would prove to the heavenly rulers and the court that I was infinitely more capable of taking over my dying father’s rule than either of them. They were put on this earth to give, while I was destined to take.”
And take he does! And he even has the insolence to feel misunderstood. Oh what a tough life he must have. So hard to be a king. *notice the sarcasm* Anyway! Let’s get back to the topic at hand and talk about the things that caused me to give this book 3,5 stars rounded up to four. For one thing I missed an elaborate world building. The entire book plays in the palace and we never get a good glimpse at the world outside of it. Sure, Lei is living in the palace and is kept away from the outside world but I still think it wouldn’t have hurt to give some pointers about how the kingdom looked like and where they might find allies. Plenty of clans and places were mentioned casually but there never were any details.
Also since the entire book was built on court intrigues I just wanted more info?! At times it felt like we were only fed the most necessary details so that we didn’t lose the red thread and maybe that’s okay if you just accept being in Lei’s head. For me as someone who loves a good intrigue and likes to be able to follow it, to be constantly kept in the dark was kind of frustrating. I mean Lei is the MC and we see everything through her POV, yet Wren played a very important part too and I think if we’d have gotten a Wren POV it would have been better. Just my opinion though.
”Where the King’s touch closed me, shut me down, Wren’s opens me up. When I’m with her, every part of me is weightless and free, a soaring rush igniting my veins with desire as bright as sunlight. Her kisses heal the parts of me that the King broke.”
Plus I really would have liked to find out more about the other girls. I mean Lei is spending all her time with those Paper Girls but at the end of the book I had the feeling that I didn’t know them at all. The twins were reduced to being twins, Blue was the mean girl that caused trouble among the Paper Girls, Aoki was the soft and gullible one, and the other two girls were so unremarkable that I don’t even remember their names. I think one of them was named Mariko?! I dunno. *shrugs*
In addition to that the topic of rape which should have been a strong topic in here, because of the existence of the Paper Girls alone wasn’t addressed enough. I mean all of those 8 girls don’t want to sleep with the king and are forced to be with him and whenever one of them is summoned to his chamber they get prepared and when they return none of them says a word. They just keep it in and then continue to live like nothing ever happened. Even when it’s Wren’s or Lei’s turn they never speak of it afterwards. I understand why rape victims shut down and won’t speak about what happened to them, but considering the strong relationship between Wren and Lei, I found it kind of odd that they never addressed the issue. And especially in a book like this, where about 50% of the plot revolves around the fact that the king is basically raping 8 new girls each year, the message that his victims endure it silently and don’t even cry or rage or show any emotions after it, feels kind of unhealthy?!
Maybe the author’s intention was to show the bravery of the girls that endure, but for me it would have been braver if they would have spoken about it and not bottled it up. I’m probably a bean counter once again but this just didn’t sit well with me.
All told, “Girls of Paper and Fire” was a good book. The author kept me invested in the story and the writing style was easy to read. The ending was pretty mean though and I’m very curious what will happen in the next book. I can’t help but wonder if the world building will be explored more now that they are out of the palace walls. Guess I’ll have to find out by reading “Girls of Storm and Shadow”. 😉