OMG, y’all! I have finally read the sequel to Girls of Paper and Fire! Girls of Storm and Shadow follows on from where the first book left off – and I have a lot of thoughts.
There will be minor spoilers in this review. I will also be assuming that you have read the first book.
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?
Trigger warnings: blood, self harm, graphic descriptions of war and violence, death, references to rape and sexual assault, unhealthy relationship with alcohol
First of all, I want to say that I liked this book a lot. I think it did suffer a little from being the sequel to such a popular first novel, but overall I thought it was an interesting follow-up. Natasha Ngan did really well in expanding the world of the first book by taking us to different places, from mountaintops to the desert. Now, please keep in mind that I don’t read fantasy regularly. I generally don’t care too much about learning the specific politics of each new place. Some more regular fantasy readers might find this world-building a little shallow, which I think is totally fair. I’m more interested in character development and things like that, so it didn’t bother me personally.
The real heart of the book for me was seeing the way that both Wren and Lei developed. It was fascinating to me to see two characters who were striving for the same goal, and how they would go entirely different ways to get there. A real theme of the book is doing bad things for a good cause, and Wren definitely goes there. It really made me realise that although I loved Wren in the first book, I didn’t really know too much about her. In this book we really delve into how she has been trained for this fight her entire life, and how that has shaped her moral code. It was also fascinating to see how Lei develops as a character. She is definitely suffering from the trauma that she experienced in her time with the Demon King. She develops an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, which she uses as a way to forget everything that has happened to her. She also generally becomes more savvy, which I found extremely rewarding to read.
Girls of Storm and Shadow also amped up the violence from the first book. In quite a few instances, Lei has to fight, and we get a lot of really graphic descriptions of these skirmishes and battles. I think that it really fit the even darker tone of this novel, and it was pretty great to see Lei being able to fight back physically as well as mentally/spiritually. However, I would warn you that these descriptions are really very graphic. I’m not usually bothered by that sort of thing, but there were a couple of times that I had to put the book down and do something else for a bit.
However, I think it says something that the most interesting part of the book to me was not the political stuff with the Demon King, but when we meet Wren’s ex-girlfriend!! This was a twist that I absolutely did not see coming, and I was HERE FOR IT. I thought that it was another great way to test Wren and Lei’s relationship as it becomes increasingly fractured. It was also another way to explore Lei’s character, and how she responds to encountering someone who loves Wren in the exact same way that she does.
In all, Girls of Storm and Shadow was a book that I really enjoyed. The plot is pretty fast-moving, and there were some genuine twists in it that I didn’t expect. The high point of the novel for me though was seeing how Wren and Lei develop as characters, and how that affects their relationship. I don’t think it’s quite as good as Girls of Paper and Fire, but I thought that it was a worthy sequel.