Review: “Fireheart Tiger” by Aliette de Bodard

Release Date:  February 9, 2021
Publisher: Tor.com Publishing
Genre: Fantasy

Description

“Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace.

Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions.

Can Thanh find the freedom to shape her country’s fate–and her own?

My Thoughts

FireheartTiger-cover

An unexpected proposal, a mercurial fire elemental, a domineering mother, a condescending warrior, and a petty love interest come to life in this remarkable story.

Thanh’s mother sent her to live with the Ephterians as a child as a sort of diplomatic exchange. Ephterian weapons and precious metals for the daughter of the Bình Hải empress. After a devastating fire nearly destroyed the palace, Thanh was sent home, away from the people who took her in and the pale-skinned princess who seduced her, back to the family who she could never appease. But Thanh did not return alone. A fire elemental, Giang, freed from her prison, attaches herself to Thanh, seeking a connection just like her princess does.

Thanh and the Empress are locked in an unbalanced relationship with the more powerful nation Ephteria. Much of the story involves them trying to find ways to keep the Ephterians happy so they neither renege on their trade deals or demand more than Bình Hải is willing to provide. This feeds into Thanh’s unhealthy relationship with Eldris. With the reveal of Giang, Thanh ends up in a sort of f/f/f love triangle, torn between a chaotic creature who can barely contain her urge to burn and a princess who sees her lover as a jewel in her crown.

Fireheart Tiger is a nearly perfect novella. Short yet dense with worldbuilding, simple yet lush and evocative. It’s absolutely gorgeous, in text, in characters, in plot, in tone. Aliette de Bodard has created a historical Vietnam-inspired fantasy world where colonialism and white supremacy are present but not centered. This isn’t a story about fighting oppression, although that does take place. Instead, this is a story about a young woman who must learn to stand instead of cower, and in doing so, sets her sights on securing her country back from would-be colonizers.

Buy this book at bookshop.org (affiliate link)

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy.

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