Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Girls of Paper and Fire is a love story between concubines to the Demon King, dealing with genocide, sexual assault, and murder. It's also strong, tender, funny, sensual, and focused, knowing exactly how much horror to show and what to leave unsaid.

This book deals repeatedly with the aftermath of sexual assault, and it definitely needed the cw from the start of the book (cw for sexual assault and violence). It may be a difficult read for survivors of violence (sexual or otherwise), but it does not dwell on those scenes. It does a good job of depicting the aftermath of trauma, and how not everyone has the same reaction, and it feels like a lot of care was taken in the text.

The social hierarchy is interesting (Moon Caste are visually mostly demon, Paper Caste are fully human, and Steel Caste are in-between). None of the groups are monoliths, the caste system at first seems to indicate both relative levels of status and oppression, but as the story continue and Lei learns more, she finds out that what matters more than people's skins are the whims of the Demon King. I like the slow unraveling of her assumptions, since they become nuanced as she gains information. It doesn't feel like an unreliable narrator, but one who is doing the best she can with whatever information she possesses.

The romance is tender and sweet, I'm very excited to see how it plays out in the next book. I'm very grateful that the most descriptive scenes were saved for the contact Lei wants with her (eventual) lover, rather than her forced contact with the Demon King (there is no romance for Lei there).

A girl with golden eyes stares forwards as her long hair crosses her face

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