Hello Humans! It’s been a long while since we had a readalong on this blog and today I’m just feeling it – why not do a readalong that breaks my normal readalong rules.
No I haven’t ever mentioned those rules before thankyou for asking!
Normally I stick to the following:
- Readalongs are for my owned TBR
- Readalongs are not for sequels
WELL LET’S SHATTER THOSE EXPECTATIONS PALS.
I’m going to read Natasha Ngan’s Girls of Storm and Shadow (the sequel to Girls of Paper and Fire) and check in every fifty pages or so with my thoughts. I’ll do my best to keep this free of specific major spoilers but any possible spoilers will be marked!
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?
Preliminary thoughts (pre-coffee)
Thinking back to Girls of Paper and Fire I remember it being really fun to see a story that was quite tropey made queer. It was the kind of book I would have needed as a teenager. I don’t remember being blown away by the writing or the worldbuilding but neither were they bad, they just haven’t stuck with me. As far as the plot is concerned I remember it broadly but I’m aware I’ll have to do some catching up at the start of this book.
This summary seems cool! It’s always tricky to go from a story that has a clear progression and put your characters into ‘the real world’ so we’ll see how that goes.
I mean, it’s queer we can assume I will enjoy this.
First I will obtain coffee.
Chapter One – Five
Ok, thrown into the thick of it, I like it. I’d forgotten how ‘informal’ the language between the younger main characters is and I really enjoy it. I’ve been reading a lot of hefty fantasy lately in a lot of very historical settings and it’s a welcome change to have characters commenting on each other’s ‘B.O.’
We’re mostly setting up the new setting and the main players for this sequel in these chapters – which is what I expected. We’ve got some good antagonists, our protagonists are being gay and processing trauma which is, so far, well written. We’ve had some ‘meeting the parents’ moments which were a splash of the ordinary in an otherwise fantasy novel. It’s fun, and it’s not difficult to read. In some of my reading lately it’s been a struggle to stay focussed and get to the end of a page but those first 58 pages really flew by!
Let’s see how the plot develops in the next 50 or so pages.
Chapter Six – Nine
“This is our time, Wren. Let’s show everyone what two human girls can do.”
Yup, we’ve definitely started developing the plot a little more and I like where this is going! Where the first book was so focussed in on these few characters this seems to be more about building broader alliances which I here for. I just think it allows for more exploration of different cultures and details of worldbuilding when you expand your scope in a sequel. I like it a lot.
As I think most people were expecting, a lot of this book (so far) has included Lei processing her trauma (or not, as the case may be). There have been inklings of dulling the pain with substances and some moments in which Lei is triggered. While these aren’t always the easiest moments to read, I think it’s important – given how horrible the events of the first book were – to acknowledge that trauma doesn’t care if you’re at the forefront of a revolution, trauma won’t wait for you to calm down. I can’t personally speak to the accuracy of the portrayal but it certainly feels genuine.
Chapter Ten – Fourteen
Ooof this 50 page (ish) stretch was a rollercoaster! At first, I was delighted because things were very queer and happy, and then they immediately became queer and sad and I’m concerned that Lei and Wren are going to break up for a stupid reason (urgh). Then there was a murder and suddenly we’re back in the ‘this is high stakes Judith stop focussing on the romance aspect’ land and to top it all off…
I had forgotten Aoki.
For those who, like me, may have forgotten Aoki or maybe for some reason you couldn’t/didn’t read the first book in this series Aoki is one of the Paper girls from book one who believes that she is in love with the Demon King and that he loves her. Essentially it’s the ‘friend in an abusive relationship is in denial about it’ and it hurts me to my core. It is so well written and so true to life (demon aspects aside) that it makes me well up. I hope to all heaven that Aoki gets a good ending in these books…
Chapter Fifteen – Eighteen
These chapters would probably be best described as ‘our main band of heroes against the world’. There’s a lot of travelling and the classic banter which I’ve talked about at the beginning of this post, but there’s also a lot of violence and fighting and people getting the wrong end of the stick. One of our villains (no spoilers here pals) has made a sudden appearance and I’m hoping we’ll get more of them later on.
Chapter Nineteen – Twenty-two
Some more training montage which, to be honest, I’m appreciating. There are some books where I get really annoyed at how long it takes characters to get to reasonable fighting strength, while others skim over it like it’s possible to become a master sword-wielder in a week – this feels realistic in time but there’s enough else going on that it doesn’t drag.
We’ve also had a bit more of the ‘substance abuse as a coping mechanism’ addressed. It’s not the main focus of the book but, I don’t know, I appreciated them recognising that it is a messy process and it’s easy to find those unhealthy coping mechanisms.
We’re well over halfway now and I’m expecting a side character death soon…we’ve just had a battle at sea so maybe?
Chapter Twenty-three – Twenty-six
No spoilers for who but THERE IT IS.
“I loosen a breath I didn’t know I was holding.”
Firstly let us acknowledge the above quote which I’m choosing to believe is in there ironically.
Next, let’s talk about how this book has started to stomp on my heart and grind me up into the dust.
The closer we get to the end the less I can say because of spoilers but let me just say THESE CHAPTERS ARE EMOTIONAL AND DRAMATIC AS HECK.
100 pages to go (ish)
Chapter Twenty-seven – Thirty
Ok, so, I could probably have predicted where this was going (and I can’t tell you where because it would be a spoiler) but suffice to say I AM GETTING ANNOYED.
Like, it’s a great plot moment and great storytelling but IS NOTHING SACRED?
(on the one hand, I love when sequels pull apart the first book and on the other hand [redacted because of spoiler]).
Chapter Thirty-One – End
A CLIFFHANGER ENDING BUT A GOOD ONE.
I liked this a lot, I think I might even have liked it more than the first book, that could be a result of reading mood but also I think this book just had a much wider scope. It felt like the exact kind of YA I fell in love with a few years ago and it was exactly what I wanted to read to remind me that I do enjoy YA fantasy. Definitely read the first book before this one – but if you, like me, enjoy more vivid worldbuilding and action then I think you’ll like the sequel more! The writing has relaxed ease to it that just keeps everything accessible and fun even though this book will destroy you when you least expect it. I’m looking forward to the third book (as yet untitled).
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Girls of Storm and Shadow publishes November 5th!
What say you? Is this your cup of tea? Let me know in the comments below.