Girls of Storm and Shadow (Girls of Paper & Fire #2), Natasha Ngan

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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

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.

Read my review of the first book in the series here.

* * *
3 / 5

I adored Girls of Paper and Fire and I was delighted to receive a copy of Girls of Storm and Shadow. However, whilst the first book was a mesmerising five stars, this sequel is lacklustre in comparison. Ngan’s prose remains delightful and I still adore Lei and Wren’s difficult and morally grey relationship, but the plot was distinctly uninspired.

Caring is its own kind of magic. One just as powerful as any dao I can weave

Upon reflection, I think Girls of Paper and Fire impressed me so much because it was difficult. It took the classic unwilling-courtesan trope and turned it on its head by providing a fresh perspective and a different kind of romance, and sensitively discussed unsettling topics. It was bold and enthralling and I was horrified and delighted, loving Lei and Wren and fearing for them in turn. Girls of Storm and Shadow doesn’t feel like this. Instead it is a journeying adventure novel in which Lei engages in lots of banter with Bo, Merrin, and Nitta, as the group travels to meet with different clans to gain their support against the Demon King.

There’s lots of talking and walking and scenes where Lei learns to fight. This book definitely suffers from middle book syndrome, where it has to bridge the gap between the attention-catching first novel that fans the flames of revolution, and the final book which will doubtless feature an epic showdown.

This is our time, Wren. Let’s show everyone what two human girls can do

Make no mistake, this is still a decent novel. That is why I gave it three stars. Ngan’s prose is still thought-provoking and lush, and Lei is still a complex, multi-dimensional character trying to deal with the aftermath of becoming a murderer, and what happened to her at the palace. Ngan delicately explores what might happen to such a person – Lei begins to develop a problem with alcohol, and her relationship with Wren becomes fractured and turbulent as the two girls follow their own hearts. Nothing is black and white here and it is definitely thought-provoking.

I’m definitely looking forward to the last book in this series. It’s a shame that Girls of Storm and Shadow didn’t impress me as much as the first, and I hope that Ngan can recapture that magic for her next book.

My thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for an ARC. 

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