In this mesmerising 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?
Read my review of the first book in the series, Girls of Paper and Fire!
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Thank you very much to Hachette Australia for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Girl. Such a simple title. One I’ve been labeled all my life. But nowhere was I called it more than at the Hidden Palace: spat from the beaked mouth of Madam Himura, hissed with contempt by Naja, thrown with derision by General Yu. But in the Cloud Palace … I feel for one of the first times the hidden power contained within its single modest syllable. Because this is what I am. Not a Paper Girl anymore, just “girl.”
Girls of Storm and Shadow is one of 2019’s most highly anticipated YA sequels and one I was desperate to get my hands on. Reading this book felt like I was going on this journey with the characters: following in their footsteps, laughing at their jokes, and experiencing their hardships and trauma. Ngan has crafted a beautiful, haunting sequel that has made me even more excited (and terrified) for the third and final book in the series.
The novel picks up a few weeks after the conclusion of Girls of Paper and Fire, which Lei and Wren on the run from the Demon King’s assassins, after killing the king … or so they think. Lei and Wren have joined up with Wren’s father’s army and are given the incredibly important task of traveling through Ikhara and convincing powerful Demon clans to join the humans’ rebellion. Together with some new friends, Lei and Wren set off on this journey, but realise very quickly that war is far different than either girl had imagined.
Girls of Storm and Shadow is a novel about journeys in two different ways: one is Lei and Wren’s arduous journey through the country, fighting assassins and demons along the way; while the other is an emotional journey, as Lei and Wren together learn to process the trauma they suffered at the hands of the king and begin to recover. Ngan perfectly encapsulates both elements of these journeys in the novel, with equal page time given to the action, the hard discussions, and the sweetness.
While Girls of Paper and Fire was already a dark novel, Girls of Storm and Shadow is somehow darker, making the characters question what lengths they would go to for the greater good. In wartime, there are no good guys and bad guys, even when it seems as though there is, and Lei has a very hard time understanding that in reference to her lover, Wren. Wren makes some hard decisions in this novel, in the belief that doing bad things in the name of a good cause is worthy, which Lei cannot accept. It is heartbreaking to see them fight, especially after what they endured, but I also really enjoyed these scenes. So often when characters get together, that’s it — they’re forever happy, even in the midst of war. But Wren and Lei, despite being desperately in love, struggle with understanding one another’s viewpoints on war, death and sacrifice.
Lei’s character development was beautifully done and so incredibly inspiring too. She suffers from PTSD throughout the novel, dreaming about the Demon King and believing that he’s coming after her. As such, she decides to take her safety into her own hands, which is something that wasn’t possible during her time at the Demon King’s Court, by learning hand to hand combat. This is just one way that Lei begins to regain her sense of agency, as she acknowledges that the patriarchal world she lives in is a dangerous one for women. Part of this is Lei’s time in the Cloud Palace, a matriarchal society run by bird demons, where Lei sees a place where women can be free.
Despite the action scenes, Girls of Storm and Shadow is quite a slow book and that’s because not much actually happens, plot-wise. Much of the book is Lei’s group traveling to persuade clans to join their cause, but they only actually visit two. A slow book has never bothered me, but I do believe that some readers might become frustrated as nothing is actually resolved in this novel. Many issues and questions were raised but none answered, with some character and their plot lines appearing for a single chapter and then never returned to. This book very much feels like everything is leading up to the final book in the series, where all the characters and open plot lines will come to a head.
That being said, if you are a fan of character-driven books (as I am), you will love this book. While the plot is placed on the backend here, the characters of the book really shine: from Lei and Wren’s romance and recovery, to Bo and Nitta’s humour, to the sweet romance between Merrin and a certain someone. The characters absorbed me into this book and kept me glued to the page, even with the minimal action.
Girls of Storm and Shadow is a powerful novel about recovery and survival, and taking your destiny into your hands. It’s about how sometimes you have to do horrible things for the greater good, but how that might actually mean you’re just as evil as the person you’re trying to defeat. Most of all, this is a love story between two incredible badass women who will do anything to protect the other, and to fight for their freedom.
About the author
Natasha Ngan is a NYT bestselling author and yoga teacher. She grew up between Malaysia, where the Chinese side of her family is from, and the UK. This multicultural upbringing continues to influence her writing, and she is passionate about bringing diverse stories to teens. Natasha studied Geography at the University of Cambridge before working as a social media consultant and fashion blogger.
She recently moved to Paris, where she likes to imagine she drifts stylishly from brasserie to brasserie, notepad in one hand, wineglass in the other. In reality, she spends most of her time getting lost on the metro and confusing locals with her French.
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