Book Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after – the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppresive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable – she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

First of all, this book comes with a trigger warning for sexual abuse and violence.

Please, don’t let that deter you! Girls of Paper and Fire is definitely the revelation of the year, with an intricate plot that weaves themes of self-love and identity with a beautiful coming of age story built in a well-crafted and very interesting fantasy world.

Girls of Paper and Fire introduces us to Lei, the member of an oppresed caste who is chosen to become a Paper Girl, or the equivalent of a sex slave to the king. Along with her, seven other girls get chosen, a ritual that happens every year and that once upon a time saw Lei’s mother taken away from her. Lei meets Wren, another Paper Girl, which in turn twists the story into a romantic adventure in the search for justice.

The setting of the world is beautiful, weaving elements from Asian mythology with original fantasy imagery. Ngan’s world is evocative, and it becomes an enchanting spell of scents and sights in which to root the story of these young girls.

Thematically, this book is dense, but only in the best of ways. It carves out a society in which women are objectified, and offers a very clear view on rape as a tool for power. The topic is difficult, but it is treated with genuine care and without being unnecessarily graphic. Thus, the book tells a powerful tale of male sexual violence used as a means of exerting domination, rather than as depravation or mere lust.

The girls in this book meet during a traumatic period in their lives, and find strenght in each other and in the reclaiming of their own selves, their minds and their bodies. The focus on recovering from trauma is beautiful, and it makes for character archs that build into three-dimensional stories of great complexity, and great hope.

I recommed Girls of Paper and Fire for fans of fantasy, lesbian romance, and well-crafted young adult novels with great characters.

Buy Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan Lo here.

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You can find this book in my list Top 10 Best Fantasy and Romance Novels

 

Queer Women in Fiction Land: Tropes

Tropes are recurring storytelling devices used by creators all over the world to construct situations that the audience will immediately recognize. They make use of common cultural ideas and conventions and can be a powerful tool when used correctly.

Tropes have certainly gotten a bad rep for being overused plot devices or simple variations on common themes. However, as urbandictionary points out: Not all tropes are bad, until Hollywood gets stuck on one.

On the contrary, tropes are older than the written language itself, and there is a reason for it. No, it isn’t that creators thrive on repetition, or that every good story has already been told and therefore only adaptation and alteration are left. Tropes are created and destroyed every day, and they exist because it is pretty much impossible to tell a story without using them.

The fun is to use them and bend them, to take the audience by the hand with the shared notion of recognizable situations and characteristics and then offer something unexpected. Or maybe not, maybe to tell a story so charming, so exciting, so well-crafted, that tropes are the last thing on the audience’s mind.

And look, let’s be honest, we are all going to watch the next Snow White adaptation that someone comes up with, and I dare you to deny it.

In the world of queer women (and the LGBT community as a whole) tropes are, of course, unavoidable. Some are good, some are bad, many are overused, and many others are only now starting to surface. In fact, for a very long time, queer women have lived their literary and cinematic lives buried in subtext, which is a perfect brewing pot for genre tropes. After all, there is no better way to identify what is being written between the lines than the use of conventions.

Here is the list of most common tropes for queer women:

The Accidental Lesbian – She swears she was drunk. Or that everyone experiments in college. Nothing wrong with a little sexperimentation.

The Ambiguously Queer Character – A female character that will usually share many of The Butch Lesbian’s characteristics, but whose sexuality will never be openly discussed. A trope used in literature in the past, and still sometimes on TV and movies and that is slowly disappearing, as the modern media is no longer as censored in depicting diverse sexuality as it used to be.

The Butch Lesbian – Sporty, conventionally un-feminine, a fan of plaid, jeans, and boots, The Butch Lesbian will often have a typically masculine job and a Lipstick Lesbian for a partner. While not necessarily a bad trope, the Butch/Lipstick Lesbian Couple has often been accused of enforcing male/female dynamics on a queer relationship.

The Depraved Bisexual – The crazies that are bisexual because, why not? There are no limits to their manipulative personality, and seduction is only one more weapon in their arsenal. Have you ever read the Marquis De Sade? Yes, those are the lunatics.

The Discount Lesbian – Speculative fiction has always been the easiest genre in which to approach LGBT material. And why not? It’s is the genre made for monsters and otherness. Thus, the aliens/beings/non-human entities that definitely look like women but aren’t actual women are born. And if they happen to make out, well, it’s not totally gay.

The If It’s You, It’s Okay Phenomenon – Look, she’s straight. Most definitely. But then there’s that one woman that just transcends sexual preference or that one woman that even inanimate objects are attracted to. Sometimes, though, the exception becomes the rule.

The Lesbian Cop – Because no one has heard that joke before, right? Check out Laurie R. King’s Kate Martinelli series for the good stuff.

The Lesbian Jock – Loves sports, and also the ladies. Because women sports are really, really gay.

The Lesbian Vampire – Perhaps the oldest one in the books, this lady will seduce, hypnotize and possibly kill unsuspecting innocent human females. Her earliest representation is Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872). Accepted early on by virtue of their monster condition and their mystical abilities for glamoring and stealing women’s wills away, the lesbian or bisexual vampire is even now the default setting for most female vampires.

The Lipstick Lesbian – She’s conventionally feminine, and sometimes, even more so than straight women. She likes all the girly stuff, too. And all the girly bits. A contrasting counterpart to The Butch Lesbian.

The Magical Queer Woman – Who has all the wisdom in the world and will play the part of the advisor, generally in gay male fiction (for heterosexual fiction, The Magical Queer will usually be a gay man). Not unlike the Magical Negro trope, it can usually take a turn for the offensively patronizing. Tread with caution.

The Man-Hating Lesbian – Also known as the feminazi or the straw feminist. Usually played for laughs or contrast.

The Psycho Lesbian – A trope often used in the past to make lesbians into unstable, jealous and violent individuals, and to give the narrative a proper excuse to kill them. Go straight or go crazy was the motto, an instant go-to-jail card into villainy. This trope goes as back as Diderot’s The Nun (1796).

The Romantic Two-Girl Friendship – The bosom buddies, the gal pals, the no-but-really-they-are-just-friends. And they are just friends, or at the very least only very subtextual lesbians. Very common in western literature until the late 1800s.

The Schoolgirl Lesbian – Two young girls in high school uniforms who seem so close that – oh, oh, are they dating? Fiction land is filled with these, possibly because this trope is also a common male fantasy (and yes, guys being into girl-on-girl action is, indeed, another trope). Often used in plots that involve all-girls schools, with themes of budding sexual awakening and societal norms. Often times, The Schoolgirl Lesbian will grow out of her attraction to women.

The Situational Lesbian – An all-girls private school, or prison, or a planet with an all-female race, or a pirate ship with an only-female crew. The other choice is repressing all sexuality, so…

The Sudden Lesbian – When a character is suddenly shown to change sexuality without any previous notion of their apparent attraction to the same gender. Misused, it can easily become fanservice. If it is well-done, however, it can challenge the subconscious notion of the audience that any character is automatically straight unless stated otherwise.

The Two Mommies – Usually walking the line between best friends and lovers, these two ladies will choose to raise a kid together via adoption, donor, spell-casting, you name it. Defying the concept of the traditional family, they create their own beautiful and special family unit.

The Token Lesbian – The lesbian that is there so that not all the characters are gay men. Because see? The work is all-inclusive now!

The Unknown Bisexual – By the way, it just so happens I’m attracted to more than one gender. Just saying. Why, aren’t you? Outing bisexual characters is always hard in fiction, and something that media still struggles with, but keeping it cool and not making a fuss is a good trick.

Did I miss something? Sound off in the comments!

And stay tuned for feature articles on each trope, its origins, and book recommendations for your reading pleasure.

Book Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Melissa Bashardoust’s acclaimed debut novel Girls Made of Snow and Glass is “Snow White as it’s never been told before…a feminist fantasy fairy tale not to be missed” (BookPage)!

“Utterly superb.” —ALA Booklist, starred review
“Dark, fantastical, hauntingly evocative.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“An empowering and progressive original retelling.” —SLJ, starred review

Sixteen-year-old Mina is motherless, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

 

Girls Made of Snow and Glass starts its narrative as a retelling of Snow White, and soon turns itself into something completely different. Devoid of the classic take on jealousy and female competition, Bashardoust gives the tale of these two women shades of emotional complexity, coming-of-age narrative, female agency and conflicting feelings.

A character-driven story, Girls Made of Snow and Glass focuses on two main characters, Mina and Lynet, the would-be evil queen and her step-daughter. Told through flashbacks and their two different points of view, it weaves a story of both powerful betrayal and hope.

Mina, trapped by her own idea that love will forever elude her, grows hungry for power and pushes everyone away. Calculating and obssesed with power, one can’t help but sympathise with her loneliness and her longing for that which she believes herself uncapable of.

Lynet, living under the shadow of her own mother, whose memory her father is obssesed with, struggles to find her own identity, and can’t help but find a role model in her step-mother Mina. Her coming-of-age story rings believable and heartfelt as she figures herself out and tries to free herself of the ghost of her mother, all the while handling her relationship with Mina, the only mother she has ever known.

Ultimately, this book is about the complex relationship between these two women, which takes on the theme of mother/daughter dynamics with dexerity and great detail. Refusing to follow the core ideas of the classic Snow White fairytale, Girls Made of Snow Glass brings the two characters together in unexpected ways, creating something completely new and filled with surprising emotion.

The lesbian relationship in the story is subtle, and while not the main subject of the book, it rounds the narrative along many other themes, such as gender roles, growing up, femininity and sense of self.

I highly recommend Girls Made of Snow and Glass to fans of fairytale retellings and dark fantasy populated by complex female characters. The dash of lesbian romance is only a bonus that adds to the beautifully rendered female relationships, the fairy tale twists, and the nods to the original Snow White.

 

Buy Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust here.

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You can find this book in my list Top 10 Best Fantasy and Romance Novels

Book Review: Ash by Malinda Lo

In the world of ASH, fairies are an older race of people who walk the line between life and death, reality and magic. As orphaned Ash grows up, a servant in her stepmother’s home, she begans to realise that her beloved mother, Elinor, was very much in tune with these underworld folk, and that she herself has the power to see them too.

Against the sheer misery of her stepmother’s cruelty, greed and ambition in preparing her two charmless daughters for presentation at court, and hopefully royal or aristocratic marriage, Ash befriends one of these fairies – a mysterious, handsome man – who grants her wishes and restores hope to Ash’s existence, even though she knows there will be a price to pay. But most important of all, she also meets Kaisa, a huntress employed by the king, and it is Kaisa who truly awakens Ash’s desires for both love and self-respect …

ASH is a fairy tale about possibility and recognizing the opportunities for change. From the deepest grief comes the chance for transformation.

 

The easiest way to describe Malinda Lo’s Ash is to say “queer Cinderella for Young Adults”. However, such a simple statement is a disservice to the deeply engaging world Lo creates for her protagonist.

I like to think of Ash as a wonderful departure from tradition, even when its world is firmly rooted in classic fairytales. Yes, there is a ball to attend that the fierceless protagonist must abandon before midnight, there is a prince, and there is, of course, a wicked step-mother. However, the story doesn’t enslave itself to the Cinderella that we already know, and instead creates its own unique path.

To recap quickly: Ash’s mother passes away and her father remarries, bringing into his household a step-mother and two step-sisters for Ash. When Ash’s father dies, she becomes a servant to her own step-family. Sound familiar? Indeed it is up until that point. However, soon Ash starts seeing a strange man that belongs to the fairy race, and who substitutes the fairy godmother character (with a lot less bibbidi bobbidi booing). Ash longs to go with him, unless until she meets the head of the royal hunt.

The world-building of the novel is fantastic, mixing a Celtic style of fairy folklore with a classic Disney-like approach, thus treating the reader to dark fantasy at its best. Fairies appear as a magic race that humans deal with at their own peril, and whose favors always come with a price.  The writing style, too, makes the story feel both traditional and new, honoring folktales while playing around with more modern social notions.

The lesbian love story isn’t treated as controversial, which is always a nice surprise, since the conflict comes instead from a very classic coming-of-age narrative, as well as from class difference. The relationship between the two characters isn’t overtly romantic until maybe halfway through the book, and it’s quite innocent as well, but satisfying in its akwardness and friendship that grows into something more.

The best thing about the book is definetely its well thought-out characters. Three-dimensional and engaging, Ash is an easy favorite for a YA protagonist, likeable, coregeous and spirited. Her struggle with the fairy world is well-supported by her grief over the death of her mother, and her choices are understandable.

Kaisa, Ash’s love interest, is a completely original creation to the Cinderella story, and works as a sympathetic and strong presence within the narrative, making it easy to understand why Ash’s final choice is between the magic world of fairies and the human world where she has found love.

Lo has crafted here a beautiful and dark tale, where the protagonist must decide between a dangerous flirtation that offers her a reprieve from her sadness, and finding salvation on her own terms. Ash will conquer fans of LGBT YA books, but I reccommend it for any fan of well-built fantasy worlds, fairytale retellings, romance and great female protagonists.

Buy Ash by Malinda Lo here.

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You can find this book in my list Top 10 Best Fantasy and Romance Novels

 

A Queen Rises, Now Available for preorder!

A tale full of romance, betrayal, and tragedy, inspired by classic fairy tales. Perfect for fans of Girls Made of Snow and Glass, Princess of Dorsa, and the cult TV Show Once Upon a Time.

A TERRIBLE BETRAYAL. A TOUCH OF FAIRY MAGIC. A HEART BEATING FOR REVENGE.

Marcela, her mother tells her, doesn’t know how good she has it. Of noble birth, wealthy, and all but guaranteed a life of luxury, Marcela has only to learn how a real lady behaves — but that proves to be more difficult than it sounds. Chastised again and again, Marcela spends whole days locked in the cellar, going without food and shrouded in darkness. There, she dreams of the faraway lands of her father’s stories and wonders about her mother’s grim and mysterious past.

When the queen dies, all the noble families of the kingdom flock to attend a ball thrown to honor the king’s search for a new wife. There, Marcela finds herself seduced by a duchess’s daughter in-law and attracts the devoted attention of Princess Primrose, who Marcela rescues from the dark, fae woods beyond the manor and who now wants Marcela for a mother.

But those woods hide worse things than beasts. The faeries whisper in Marcela’s ears, and as she grows closer to the crown and further from her abusive mother, she discovers power beyond anything she’d ever dreamed of. And power, Marcela soon learns, will always corrupt.

For fans of fantasy epics and fairy tales… with an LGBT twist!

Preorder here!

Top 10 Lesbian Fantasy and Romance Novels

Love fantasy? Love knights and queens and fairy tales? Love lesbian and bisexual ladies struggling in a world filled with magic, strange creatures and royal duties? These novels have everything you’re looking for!

Ash by Malinda Lo

ASh

In the world of Ash, fairies are an older race of people who walk the line between life and death, reality and magic. As orphaned Ash grows up, a servant in her stepmother’s home, she begans to realise that her beloved mother, Elinor, was very much in tune with these underworld folk, and that she herself has the power to see them too.

Ash is a fairy tale about possibility and recognizing the opportunities for change. From the deepest grief comes the chance for transformation.

Read full review here.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Girls Made of Snow and Glass

Melissa Bashardoust’s acclaimed debut novel Girls Made of Snow and Glass is “Snow White as it’s never been told before…a feminist fantasy fairy tale not to be missed” (BookPage)!

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

Read full review here.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Girls of Paper and Fire

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

Read full review here.

Gretel: A Fairy Tale Retold by Niamh Murphy

Gretel

Once in a while love gives us a fairy tale…

Will sibling bonds override the lure of a newfound love?

Find out in this exciting adult fairy tale full of action, adventure, and romance.

Gretel: A Fairytale Retold’ is a thrilling adaptation of a classic fairytale for fans of Angela Carter’s ‘Bloody Chamber‘ and Malinda Lo’s modern classic, ‘Ash‘.

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Of fire and stars

An atmospheric and romantic debut fantasy perfect for fans of Ash and The Winner’s Curse.

Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

Princess of Dorsa (The Chronicles of Dorsa Book 1) by Eliza Andrews

Princess of Dorsia

The fate of an empire lies in the hands of one untested princess.

Can Tasia rise to the occasion? Will she be the leader her father believes her to be? Or is the Empire doomed to fall?

For fans of epic fantasy… with an LGBTQ twist.

The Queen of Ieflaria (Tales of Inthya Book 1) by Effie Calvin

Queen of Ieflaria

Princess Esofi of Rhodia and Crown Prince Albion of Ieflaria have been betrothed since they were children but have never met. At age seventeen, Esofi’s journey to Ieflaria is not for the wedding she always expected but instead to offer condolences on the death of her would-be husband.

But Ieflaria is desperately in need of help from Rhodia for their dragon problem, so Esofi is offered a new betrothal to Prince Albion’s younger sister, the new Crown Princess Adale. But Adale has no plans of taking the throne, leaving Esofi with more to battle than fire-breathing beasts.

The Queen’s Curse (A Novel of Epic Spiritual Fantasy Adventure and Lesbian Romance Book 1) by Natasja Hellenthal

The Queen's Curse

When Commander Tirsa Lathabris finds out about her younger brother’s death sentence she is determined to face the mysterious Queen Artride who is as much feared for her immoral actions as she is admired for her beauty.

But Tirsa’s attack has an unexpected outcome. Instead of being imprisoned she is chosen to be Artride’s only bodyguard on a perilous mission.

Their country and its law-system, she soon learns, is cursed.

The Second Sister (Amendyr Book 1) by Rae D. Magdon

the second sister

ELEANOR OF SANDLEFORD’S entire world is shaken when her father marries the mysterious, reclusive Lady Kingsclere to gain her noble title. Ripped away from the only home she has ever known, Ellie is forced to live at Baxstresse Manor with her two new stepsisters, Luciana and Belladonna. Luciana is sadistic, but Belladonna is the woman who truly haunts her. When her father dies and her new stepmother goes suddenly mad, Ellie is cheated out of her inheritance and forced to become a servant.

The Sting of Victory: A Dark Fantasy Lesbian Romance (Fallen Gods Book 1) by SD Simper

The Sting of Victory

When Flowridia, a witch granted power by an unknown demon, deceives an alluring foreign diplomat, she is promoted to a position of power to conceal her falsehood. Thrust into a world of politics and murderous ambition, she has her gentle heart and her Familiar to guide her – as well as a drunk Celestial with a penchant for illusion.

 

Have any other lesbian romance and fantasy stories that you love? Post them in the comments!