Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan – REVIEW
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?
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Hodderscape.
Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
“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.”
I absolutely adored Girls of Paper and Fire when I read it last year (you can read my review here) so was eager to finally read Girls of Storm and Shadow. It definitely did not disappoint, expanding the Asian-inspired world-building by exploring beyond the Hidden Palace and introducing the reader to more of its fascinating clans. The story begins only two weeks after Lei attacked the Demon King, leaving the court in disarray and the rebels on the run. Most of the action is written from Lei’s point of view but we do get a few chapters from Naja, Aoki, Kenzo and Mistress Azami which definitely enriched the wider context.
“I’m practicing my comebacks…You know, in case they invent a time machine, so I can go back and give better sass.”
Lei remains a complex character and I especially appreciated the author’s skilful handling of her trauma and the lingering effects a survivor often experiences. Trying to numb her feelings of pain and fear stemming from her rape by the Demon King, Lei finds herself using alcohol as a coping mechanism. Eventually Lei is encouraged to improve her combat skills, reclaiming some of her agency amongst a society dominated by the physically strong. Lei can be impulsive at times but she has a strong moral centre and sense of compassion that is sometimes at odds with the ruthlessness of the Hannos and Wren’s absolute commitment to her duty. Lei and Wren are in a precarious place in their relationship and I look forward to seeing how this progresses.
“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.”
One of my favourite elements was the introduction of new characters, especially Nitta, Bo and Merrin. They provided some much-needed comic relief (until they didn’t) and I quickly fell in love with Nitta and Bo’s sibling bickering and teasing. The group dynamics within the resistance movement were intriguing and with the leader Ketai Hanno we have another male character imposing his beliefs on the people under him thanks to his superior position in this patriarchal society. As the action increased, I found myself unable to put this gripping book down and was left appreciating how it set up events for the final book. If you want a richly-realised fantasy with memorable characters then I’d definitely recommend Girls of Storm and Shadow.