Reviews · Summaries

Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan (Book 2)

# of Pages: 397

Time it took me to read: 3 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 57

Rating: 5 out of 5

Despite having completed her mission to kill the Bull King of Ikhara and fled to safety with Wren at her side, Lei still cannot seem to catch her breath. Hiding in the mountains with their new allies, they are simply waiting for their instructions for the difficult time to come.

When Ketai Hanno, leader of the Hanno clan and Wren’s father, arrives, it is apparent that the work is far from done. Lei and Wren must travel to three different vital clans to secure their alliance in the war that is coming – because though Lei felled the Bull King herself, the kingdom will not be remade so easily.

Given these instructions, Lei and Wren set out with Bo, Nitta, and Merrin, allies who, though demons themselves, wish to see a new era for Ikhara and the end to the oppression of papers. They are joined by Caen, Wren’s childhood sensei, and Hiro, a young but powerful shaman who will assist Wren in using magic to protect them as they travel.

But their journey will be long and difficult, especially because it seems that everyone else has a different idea of what must be sacrificed to win this war. And despite having escaped his clutches, Lei cannot help but feel that the King still hunts her, wherever she may go.

Filled with excitement, love, and betrayal, Girls of Storm and Shadow is sure to delight fans of the first installment, Girls of Paper and Fire.

Review:

Having read the first book only a few months ago, I was thrilled to get my hands on the sequel so soon. First things first, there is not nearly enough LGBTQA+ characters in YA fantasy, and I was so thrilled to get a story with a queer protagonist.

While reading the first book, it took me quite a while to adjust to the whole Moon, Steel, Paper caste thing in this world. Briefly, Moon caste people are fully “demon”, meaning they are human shaped, but present as animals. Paper caste are fully human. Steel caste are originally the byproduct of Moon and Paper caste people having children, so typically are mostly human, but may have antlers, or hooves, or patches of scales. They all speak the same language and are all sexually compatible, and while Moon caste are the ruling class and certainly more obviously powerful, it doesn’t give off a beastiality or furry vibe, which would have been horrible. Instead imagine something like BoJack Horseman or Tuca and Bertie.

Anyway, while the first book was certainly dark and deals with dark themes (trigger warning for anyone who doesn’t want to read about sexual assault), this second installment was equally as dark, but in an unexpected way. Lei and Wren both deal (very differently) with their assaults at the hands of the Bull King, and Lei finds herself using substances to deal with her feelings for a while, which I thought was a realistic reaction in a fantasy world. But the dark themes of the cost of war and rebellion are dealt with here in ways that I find are rarely explored on the protagonist side of these sorts of fantasy war stories. I really thought that each individual in this rather large (7 person) traveling group had their own way of dealing with, not dealing with, or avoiding the consequences of the upcoming war.

To wrap up the review, I don’t think anyone who loved the first book could possibly disappointed in this second one, though I do think that this one hurts a little more and cuts a little deeper (thought in different ways) than the first installment.

!!!SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Cast:

Lei – protagonist, stolen from her homeland and brought to the palace to be a Paper Girl (royal concubine) for the Bull King. With the help of Wren, her fellow paper girl and love interest, they conspire to kill the Bull King and flee the palace. Lei has unusual golden eyes, which some say give her a demon spirit, once word gets around that she killed the Bull King, people start calling her Moonchosen.

Wren – adopted daughter of the leader of the Hanno clan, last living member of the Xi warrior mage clan. Trained her whole life in secret to assassinate the Bull King, which Lei ended up doing instead. Was given as a paper girl to the Bull King in order to get close to him, and was also sexually assaulted by the King. Love interest of Lei. Powerful magic user, will do anything to end the Bull King’s reign and the oppression of paper clans.

Nitta – Moon clan, snow leopard type. She and her brother Bo are thieves that were exiled from their clan and hired by the Hannos to aid their cause. Often reigns in her brother’s antics, but is just as mischievous if not more.

Bo – Moon clan, snow leopard type. Brother of Nitta, was exiled from his clan due to being a thief. Often laughs too loud and at the wrong time. Hired by the Hannos to aid their cause. Love interest of Merrin.

Merrin – Moon clan, owl type. Rescues Wren and Lei from the palace after Lei slays the Bull King. Skeptical and practical, is often at odds with Bo, as bird and cat types are natural enemies, but their attraction soon overcomes their enmity. Love interest of Bo.

Hiro – young shaman who was taken in by the Hannos after his whole clan was slaughtered. Quiet, meditative, always eager to heal and protect along with Wren. Pays the price for his magic with his own blood, which is considered a bad practice.

Caen – warrior for the Hannos, Wren’s teacher her whole life. Stern, but stout in his defense of the group. Secret lover of Ketai Hanno, the clan leader. Unwaveringly loyal to the Hanno cause.

Ketai Hanno – paper clan leader of the Hannos, the most powerful paper clan in Ikhara. Adopted father of Wren, mastermind behind the whole plan of toppling the Bull King and ending the oppression of papers. Willing to do whatever it takes to win the war.

Lova – clan leader and general of the Amala cat clan. Moon clan, lion type. Former lover of Wren, wants her back. Powerful fighter and brilliant strategist. Likes Lei and is generally kind to her, but with that snide mentality of someone who is sure she can win back Wren.

Aoki – paper girl and best friend of Lei. Sweet and naive, convinced she loves the Bull King and he loves her back. Her whole family is killed during a raid of their lands, but Aoki likely doesn’t know. Despite her love of the Bull King, she is loyal to her friend Lei and hopes she’s safe.

Summary:

Act 1

Wren and Lei have escaped the castle and believe that the Bull King is dead. They are hiding in the mountains with their allies waiting for her father, clan leader Ketai Hanno, to arrive with updates from the capital. When he does arrive, he confirms the rumors that the Bull King was slain by Lei, who they are calling the Moonchosen. The Court is trying to project strength, and publicly they say the king still lives. But Ketai Hanno says they are vulnerable, and now is the time for Lei, Wren, and their allies to go around to three powerful Moon clan leaders to convince them to fight with the Hannos against the current crown.

Ketai brings with him Sensei Caen, Wren’s teacher from her childhood, the man who taught her to be a warrior, and when Ketai leaves, he sends Caen with the group as further protection. All in all, by the time Lei and Wren set off for the White Wing clan, they are joined by siblings Bo and Nitta, Moon clan snow leopards who were exiled from their clan for being thieves and are now loyal to the Hannos, Merrin, the Moon clan owl who saved Wren and Lei from the palace, and Hiro, the quiet young shaman who’s whole family was slaughtered by the crown in a raid.

Caen starts teaching Lei to fight in the mornings before they set off each day with a special dagger that was gifted to her by Ketai that is imbued with magic that is specific to her. Despite believing that he is dead, Lei is always having to look over her shoulder because she believes the King (or at least his ghost) is hunting her.

After a long and difficult journey, they reach the White Wing, the first clan. Though they had a plan, that all goes out the window when they are literally plucked off of the ground by the members of the White Wing and flown to the palace as prisoners. They are granted an audience with the Lady of the clan, Dunya, who does not seem particularly inclined to help them, but after a passionate speech from Lei, the White Wing agrees to ally with the Hannos against the crown. At dinner that night, Lei speaks with the eldest daughter of Lady Dunya, who wants to fight for the betterment of Ikhara, but thinks that allying with the Hannos is a mistake because she does not trust Ketai Hanno. Lei gets drunk and tells Wren later that evening about how the eldest White Wing daughter doesn’t agree with the rebellion. Wren tries to soothe her that the alliance is already set and it doesn’t matter.

The next morning they wake to find that the second eldest daughter of the clan Lady had been murdered, and it appears that the Bull King had done it. It is revealed that the Bull King does in fact still live. Lady Dunya, though she mourns her daughter, says that the alliance is still on, but hustles the group out of their palace and onto their next destination.

Act 2

The group is traveling down the mountain to the next clan, where they would have to travel to the far south, when they pass a settlement that appeared to have been raided by the crown. Lei insists that they stop and hunt for survivors, but there aren’t any, all the people there are dead. It’s at that point that Lei realizes where they are, and that the dead farmers are her friend Aoki’s family, and Lei gets very upset.

That night, they camp nearby, and when Lei gets up to use the bathroom, she’s nabbed by Naja, the King’s right hand soldier, but Lei uses her newfound training to fight her off pretty handily, but Naja had already set their carriages and the surrounding fields on fire. They are able to pin Naja down and leave her to her fate and flee.

Once they reach the coast, the group is worn down, but they have to steal a boat, since the town where the White Wing was supposed to have a boat for them has been raided and taken over by the crown. There are a bunch of Papers that are hanged, bloody and beaten, in the town square. Lei wants to cut them down and fight back, but they’ll be outnumbered if they’re caught.

Right as they’re about to get in the boat, Lei notices that one of the hanging men is still alive. Before anyone can stop her, she runs back and cuts the man down. They’re being chased, Nitta is dragging her back to the boat, Lei jumps, but Nitta doesn’t make it and can’t swim, so Merrin has to dive in and save her. This cements things in place for Bo, who admits his feelings for Merrin.

They set sail through the ocean, and the group has time to recover. Wren and Hiro have both been having a harder time drawing on their magic due to the Sickness that is in the land, that no one knows why the magic is harder to access.

Lei continues to practice her fighting and gets more and more proficient. They are almost at the palace of the Czos, the lizard Moon clan that they must convince next to join the Hannos. Then, suddenly they are under attack from an imperial warship that comes out of nowhere. Bo is shot with an arrow. They all fight with their lives, but all hope seems lost until Lei watches Wren use her own blood to draw her magic and summon a powerful storm that allows the ship to escape. They wash up on the isle where the Czos reside, but Bo is dead. Merrin blames Hiro and Wren for not saving him, and Nitta is deep in grief. They bury Bo and Merrin goes off on his own for a while to try and cool off.

Act 3

They have to move on, so Wren and Lei go together to the palace of the Czos, where they sneak into a party to meet with the clan leader. But when they find him, he is speaking with the king’s top general, and talking about helping the crown using the supplies they mine using paper slaves, which are illegal, but it clearly doesn’t matter to the clan leader or the general. Lei wants to bail on the mission, but Wren is convinced they have to try. They follow the clan lord to where his soldiers have captured Merrin, Caen, Nitta, and Hiro, and plan to interrigate them while they search for Wren and Lei. Wren fights off the soldiers while Lei helps to free the rest of the group.

They flee the palace, but there are too many of them and they are about to be overwhelmed again. Wren seems to be willing to sacrifice herself to save the group, but Hiro tells her to “use him” instead. He willingly cuts his own wrists, offering his own blood, Wren enters her ultra powerful mode and tries to wipe out the soldiers, but it still appears that there are too many. Suddenly a ship with the Amala clan, their third target for allies, arrives on ships to save the day.

Wren nearly wipes herself out with magic, but the general of the Amalas, Lova, takes everyone away on their ship except for Hiro who sacrificed himself so they could live.

While they sail toward the Amala’s camp, Lei finds out that Lova is Wren’s ex. During the time when they’re traveling, Merrin also accuses Wren and Caen of letting Hiro sacrifice himself unnecessarily and taking advantage. He thinks the Hannos, Ketai in particular, are willing to compromise any morals to find victory in this war. He flies off away from everyone else and is gone for some time. He is clearly grieving the lose of Bo in his own way. Lei has a bad realization about Wren, that she is the one who killed Lady Dunya’s daughter, not the King. It was on her father’s orders, and Wren argued that it was a strategic move. Wren also admits that her father ordered the raid of Aoki’s village in a way to scare the White Wing into allying with them, even though they didn’t need it, but the order was already given. They get into a big fight, Lei feels very betrayed.

Right before arriving at the Amala’s camp, Merrin returns and recommits himself to the Hanno’s cause. He also exposes Caen as Ketai Hanno’s lover. When they arrive in the camp, Nitta and Merrin stay at the ship while everyone else goes to feast. Lova announces before everyone that she wants Wren back, and Lei runs back to the ship, where Merrin is trying to convince everyone to gather. Wren, Lova, and Lova’s two lietenants arrive and they see that there is a huge imperial battalion approaching, that’ll outnumber the Amala’s numbers four to one, and all of the Amalas are drunk from the feast.

The group comes up with a plan to draw the first wave to the ship, and then when they’re all aboard to blow it up from afar.

That plan works in taking out a bunch of them, and gives reinforcements the time to arrive. Lei is fighting fiercely, Wren powers up in to her Xi warrior magic mode. Lei comes face to face with the giant alligator general who is close to the King. She knows she won’t win so she runs. She finds Nitta, who tries to protect her but gets hurt. Merrin picks both of them up and carries Lei and Nitta far away from the battle, leaving behind the Amalas, Caen, and Wren. Lei screams at him to take her back, but Merrin refuses.

When they land, Merrin reveals that it was he who brought the army here. When he left them on Lova’s ship, he met with the White Wing, who had just had a coup within their ranks, with the eldest daughter dethroning her mother and wiping out the alliance with the Hannos. The White Wing promised Merrin a place in their ranks if he helped them capture Lei and their group so they could be held until the war was over. But the White Wings betrayed Merrin, they were supposed to send a small group of their own soldiers to capture them, but they’d sent an imperial battalion.

Lei, sure that Wren is going to die in battle thinking that Lei hates her, runs away from Nitta and Merrin to try and cross the desert back to the battle, but she’s injured and moves slow. The book ends with Lei walking right into the hands of Naja, who has tracked her down again and will be bringing her back to the king.

End Book 2

!!!End of Spoilers!!!

Have you read Girls of Storm and Shadow? If so, let me know how you liked it by leaving me a comment. I’m so in love with these characters, and I’m dying for the next book, which is set to release November of 2021.

If you enjoyed Girls of Storm and Shadow, try:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong

Blood Heir by Amelie Wen Zhao

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