Girls of Paper and Fire #2: Girls of Storm and Shadow – Natasha Ngan

Wren and I might not be Paper Girls anymore, but we are still capable of creating fire. And now we have a whole world to set ablaze.

It’s been a couple of weeks since Lei and Wren faced off against the Demon King. Now fugitives, they are regrouping and strategising for the upcoming war, part of a disparate group consisting of both familiar and new faces. New alliances will be formed and trust will be broken as sides are chosen.

Hindered by secrets, distrust and the enormity of the task before her but determined to prevail, Lei begins training with Shifu Caen. Wren and Hiro, a shaman boy, are working together to protect the group with magic. Bo and Nitta, leopard demon siblings, add some levity to their dire situation. Bo in particular enjoys tormenting Merrin, an owl-form demon.

I know that sometimes the combination least expected can forge the strongest bonds.

I often have trouble with sequels and it took a while for me to get into this book, which surprised me given how much I loved Girls of Paper and Fire. I think part of my problem was the time initially spent travelling. I’m a bit of an ‘are we there yet?’ reader, anxious to get to the next location so I can meet new characters and enjoy the action. I only started to get into the story once the group made it to the White Wing Clan.

There are still some characters I love and those I breathed a sigh of relief over when I learned they had survived the events of the first book. Similarly, characters I loved to hate in the first book haven’t endeared themselves to me yet. At least one person I adored in the first book disappointed me greatly with their actions in this one, so much so that I’m not entirely sure who I want to win the war at this point. I experienced the same disconnect I felt in the first book between what I thought I should be feeling and what I actually felt when events impacted characters I liked, and I’m still not sure why.

Most of the story is told from Lei’s perspective, although there’s also a chapter each focusing on Naja, Aoki, Kenzo and Mistress Azami. The trauma impacts relating to what the Paper Girls were subjected to in the first book are explored in this one. Although it’s not mentioned by name it was clear to me that these experiences have resulted in PTSD, as evidence by nightmares, flashbacks, startle responses and the coping mechanisms used to manage their distress.

Not even death could take away the scars he left upon me, imprinted deep, the way history carves its marks into the very bedrock of a kingdom, forever to shape and influence its future.

The impacts of this trauma felt authentic to me and I particularly appreciated that they were present throughout the book. There is no magical recovery and the past comes back to haunt them at inconvenient and unexpected times, just like it does when it happens off the page. I loved that the characters still managed to accomplish some extraordinary feats despite their pain, which both highlighted their resilience and gave me hope. There is life after trauma but it doesn’t look the same as it did pre-trauma.

This is a language I understand. A language of pain and horror that I, too, have learned. That too many girls have had to learn.

I have a bunch of unanswered questions that I really hope will be answered in Girls of Fate and Fury. Some of my questions are spoilery so I won’t mention those but I still need to know what the deal is with Lei’s eyes and more about shamans. At this point it looks like there are two main sides in the war to come but I’m hoping against hope that a third side will emerge as I’m not sure I’ll be entirely satisfied if either of the two I currently know about succeed. The bloodshed is revealing aspects of certain characters that make it harder to like them. I’m not sure who is going to be able to live with the person they have to become in order to survive.

“It’s the fact that it isn’t easy, that we have to constantly work and work at it, make ourselves believe in our own strength even when it feels like we’re worth nothing, have nothing, can do nothing … that’s power. That’s resilience” …

“There is nothing stronger than people who endure the worst hardships in the world, and still raise their fists at the start of a new day to fight all over again.”

Content warnings include death by suicide (other readers may disagree with me and it’s called sacrifice in the book but ultimately I still read it as suicide), self harm, trauma impacts related to sexual assault and violence.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In this mesmerizing sequel to the New York Times bestselling Girls of Paper and Fire, Lei and Wren have escaped their oppressive lives in the Hidden Palace, but soon learn that freedom comes with a terrible cost.

Lei, the naive country girl who became a royal courtesan, is now known as the Moonchosen, the commoner who managed to do what no one else could. But slaying the cruel Demon King wasn’t the end of the plan – it’s just the beginning. Now Lei and her warrior love Wren must travel the kingdom to gain support from the far-flung rebel clans. The journey is made even more treacherous thanks to a heavy bounty on Lei’s head, as well as insidious doubts that threaten to tear Lei and Wren apart from within.

Meanwhile, an evil plot to eliminate the rebel uprising is taking shape, fueled by dark magic and vengeance. Will Lei succeed in her quest to overthrow the monarchy and protect her love for Wren, or will she fall victim to the sinister magic that seeks to destroy her?

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