I follow a local bookseller on TikTok who gained a following on BookTok for her shortlist of two things she looks for in a book – it’s gay and it slaps. I’m jealous because she’s used this more than once to advertise that she’s a lucky duck with an ARC of Casey McQuiston’s upcoming One Last Stop but also her recommendations broadly are amazing. I’ve read easily more than half of them and she’s not wrong, they are gay and they do slap. Girls of Paper and Fire popped up a couple of times and then it was immediately available at the library and I was in a bit of a slump so here we are.
The book covers the beats we’ve become accustomed to in young adult dystopian fiction. Tough teenager (white, usually female) from the lowest rungs of society (with/without magic, could go either way) is selected for/must participate in the big To Do where instead she breaks the rules, falls in love, and Things Change. Girls of Paper and Fire is pretty much letter perfect here with two exceptions here – it’s sapphic and it’s rooted in a broadly Asian world, rather than the white western European world the other 99 in 100 books will give you.
Story: Lei is a full human girl in a world of demons and demon-human hybrids (demons/Moon Caste at the top, hybrids/Steel Caste in the middle, humans/Paper Caste at the bottom). She’s stolen from her home by a Moon general to join the Paper Girls harem for the Demon King, 8 Paper girls chosen each year to serve as concubines to the king and show that he care about their caste. Not sure how that logical leap gets made but w/e. Everything is terrible but she finds friendship and love and revolution.
And it’s a helluva zippy read. This was about a three-session go, I spent a weekend just lying in bed reading the first few hours of the day (highly recommend). As a warning, sexual assault is kind of built into the book (