Natasha Ngan – Girls of Paper and Fire (4 stars)

Natasha Ngan – Girls of Paper and Fire

Astonishing page-turner brings much needed diversity to the fantasy genre

Ngan is no stranger to writing for a young audience: with two Young Adult novels under her belt, Girls of Paper and Fire marks her first foray into fantasy. Her newest protagonist is Lei, a young girl with golden eyes who wishes for nothing more than the busy life her father's herb shop provides, but who is thrust into the group of Paper Girls that are chosen yearly to serve as the Demon King's concubines.

No Paper Girl is allowed to take lovers other than the King, a rule that doesn't stop Lei from finding love and stoking the fire that might just burn the court to ashes.

The world of Ikhara is one that easily incites wonder. Ngan masterfully paints a layered society with detailed, beautiful, but also harsh brush strokes. The balance between the peaceful, self-contained remote village of Lei's birth and the chaos and injustice living just outside its boundaries makes for an enveloping read, where parallels to our own demon-free world are easily drawn.

At a time when 'strong female protagonist' is an easy classifier to attach to any woman with a sword, Lei embodies just what that should mean. Her empowering character growth is unlike most in the genre, and the step outside of the heteronormative frame is a breath of fresh air.

Out Tue 6 Nov (Hodder & Stoughton).

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