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Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan

Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan

‘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?’

Girls of Paper and Fire is one of my all-time favourite books and I was both desperate to read and terrified of reading Girls of Storm and Shadow, fearing I would get my heart broken by something terrible happening to Lei and Wren, and while I can’t say whether or not that came to pass without too many spoilers, what I will say is that I think I loved Girls of Storm and Shadow even more than the first book. I love books with the exploration of ethics, morality and politics that its plot allows and I enjoyed the wider view of the world (though I feel that we have much of it left to see in the third novel).

Wren and Lei’s relationship is one of quiet affection, support and an understanding of pieces of each other that have been shaped by their shared experiences in Girls of Paper and Fire. While they both make every effort to not let these experiences take hold of them when they are in public, or even with those that they trust, when they’re alone they give each other the safe space to fall apart and help put each other back together again. Both are understandably suffering from their own forms of post traumatic stress, though seem to attempt to deal with it in different ways: Wren by throwing herself ever more dangerously into her mission and Lei by first learning how to fight and defend herself so that can know she is proficient, all the while haunted by her memories of the Demon King and the assaults she has suffered at his hand, both physical and otherwise. That their trauma is not seen as a plot device to be ‘got over’ is such an important part of the narrative, both in Girls of Paper and Fire and this instalment, and I wish there were more books that handled this subject in the emotionally sensitive manner that Ngan does.

Romantic without being needlessly and overtly sexualised, their relationship is often formed of little moments of simple physical contact and embraces. There are some potentially worrying moments where Lei continues to believe that Wren is all that is good and right in the world (which is understandable, given what she knows of her at these points), her beauty and strength something that she often lingers on in thinking of her, inching her admiration a little towards towards the grateful variety of infatuation one might form for someone who has done as Wren has for her (though this is not to say that Lei was not key to securing their freedom). As the story unfolds and Wren begins to become more and more willing to make unsettling sacrifices for the ‘greater good’, experiencing Lei slowly reaching the conclusion that she actually knows very little of all that Wren is and what she is determined to do, seemingly no matter the cost, is almost painful. Though what she witnesses doesn’t ultimately shake her love for her, what she believes and thinks of Wren take a dramatic shift as she finds herself unable to reconcile the price that she and others are willing to pay – and her own unwitting part in threads that others have drawn on.

Lei’s role in Girls of Storm and Shadow is an interesting one, in that, while she is attempting to rid herself of the control of a man who has dominated, exploited and assaulted her, she is simultaneously being used by another as a figurehead and a reason for people to rebel and take up arms against the king. That she is uncomfortable with her title and isn’t quite sure what she can do about the situation she now finds herself in is most evident when she directly interacts with Wren’s father, and while she clearly wants freedom for the Papers and to rid the world of the king’s grasp, being elevated to the position of the Moonchosen and admired for what she has done seems to sit very ill with her.

There is so much I want to write about Aoki, but I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll have to settle for saying I was internally yelling for much of her appearance. I both love her and am terrified for her.

One of minor detriments to my enjoyment at the novel was primarily at its beginning, when Bo’s humour often seems rather out of place and his continuous jokes can be a little jarring and irritating. This isn’t to say that I disliked him as a character – I’m actually half-convinced that he is meant to be slightly irritating at the beginning of the novel to give room for him to become endeared to the reader, as my opinion of him had changed quite drastically and I was rather attached to him by the middle of the book.

Girls of Storm and Shadow is a beautifully written and enchanting read and is out today!