Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan

“Hold on to that as tightly as you can, Lei. Because war will do everything it can to take goodness from you. I think sometimes people forget there will be time after all of this-for the lucky ones, at least. And when that time comes, we’ll all have to live with what we have done.”

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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? 

I flew through this sequel to Girls of Paper and Fire. As with the first book, the impact of Natasha Ngan’s carefully crafted world-building and attention to detail was an immersive, intense reading experience.

Book two is heavily based in exposition. It is the “middle child” of a trilogy, so it was written to showcase all of the events that will come into play for the finale—including the sneaky details and foreshadowing.

There are two features I appreciated most about this sequel. The first? Following our group’s journey to unite clans against the Demon King. I adore books with journeys that involve visiting different lands. It’s always a curious experience juxtaposing other lands’ lifestyle and customs with the lifestyle and customs that our main characters know. I especially loved the journey in Girls of Storm and Shadow because the kingdoms are of the different animal “demon” castes. I loved the details about how the White Wing bird kingdom ruled compared to the lizard Czo and the Amala Lepoards.

If you don’t know: books with strong human-animal connections are one of my favorite tropes!

The other feature I was captivated by in this sequel was the progression of our main characters. As the group travel to the different kingdoms, there are obviously skirmishes that lead to loss of life. Lei begins to think critically about not only the hurt that the Demon King has caused her, but also the hurt that she and her group have caused.

“Because of me, two lives, two sets of thoughts and fears and loves and dreams and secrets and hopes were snuffed out in mere seconds. Just as I can’t comprehend that Zelle and [spoiler] could be taken from us so easily, others will we wondering the same thing about these two demons.”

Likewise, Lei beings to think more critically about Wren’s actions during this journey and starts to question if the mission at hand justifies some of her morally ambiguous decisions along the way.

“How many more murders will you commit in the name of justice until you realize you’re just as bad as those we’re meant to be fighting against?”

Overall, it feels like this middle book was composed of both exposition for the overall story and an inflection point for Lei and Wren’s relationship. Though I have my predictions based on certain details granted in this book, I am curious to see how the story will end with Girls of Fate and Fury. I wonder only if our girls will be successful in finally putting an end to the Demon King’s rein, and more importantly, if they’ll come out of it—both of them—alive.

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