Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
Published by Tor.com
Official Release Date : 9th February 2021 (US)
Fire burns bright and has a long memory….
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?
ARC provided by the publisher TOR.com through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
An old flame that ran away with a princess escaping a burning castle. A dazzling short fantasy story that leaves faint kisses upon your mind; as they linger, burning a memory reclaiming one’s true identity. Fireheart Tiger is the newest novella by Aliette de Bodard, a story about a powerless princess named Thanh. Set in a pre-colonial Vietnamese inspired world, Thanh learns to break free from her trauma and prove herself to her demanding mother, the Empress.
Fireheart Tiger is a soon to be released (9th February 2021) sapphic novella by Aliette de Bodard, an award winning writer that have garnered a reputation with her multiple award winning short stories and series. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC (Advance Readers Copy) through NetGalley from the publishers and I am very much grateful as the pitch for this short story is quite interesting, as below from Tordotcom.
Award-winning author Aliette de Bodard returns with a powerful romantic fantasy that reads like The Goblin Emperor meets Howl’s Moving Castle in a pre-colonial Vietnamese-esque world. (link)
With the mention of Howl’s Moving Castle and Vietnamese being in mentioned in one sentence, I immediately picked up Fireheart Tiger. Upon reading the first few parts I am thrown into the empire of Bin Hai that is in the midst of preparing for a big negotiation with Ephteria that has long been in alliance with Bin Hai. This negotiation is especially important as the tensions are high between the two countries. In the center of the negotiations is Thanh, the youngest princess of Bin Hai and negotiator representing the Empress. Thanh is chosen by her mother specifically because of her knowledge of the Ephteria. Fireheart Tiger offers political intrigue in the dance between Thanh and the representatives of Bin Hai. Besides the already high tension of negotiations, in the midst of it all is a blossoming romance. For two years Thanh is offered as a bargaining chip by her mother to live in Yosolis castle in Ephteria. During those two years Thanh and Eldris, the princess of Ephteria, falls in love and has full on love affair. This love affair distracts Thanh as she still yearns for Eldris and is reminded constantly of their short love affair in Yosolis castle.
She slowly, deliberately sips her tea, trying not to look at Eldris-not to think of Eldris and the way that her heart still misses a beat whenever Eldris’s gaze rest on her. The liquor is green and luminous and faintly tastes of the sea.
Characters are a big part in how I enjoy a story. Thanh is a very timid and insecure character. There are many moments when she doubts herself constantly. Thanh sees herself as invaluable because of how cold her mother treats her and her mother can easily send her away. Thanh is clearly traumatized from the past incidents during her stay in Yosolis. The author did a great job in writing about her trauma and her struggles to fit into her many roles. The only way Thanh copes with her trauma is by remembering the servant girl named Giang that she met in Yosolis. Not to mention any spoilers, relationships plays a big part in pushing Thanh to break free from her shell. Personally, Thanh as a character isn’t very noteworthy as I hoped for her to be. She didn’t leave a strong impression for me to care about her. Many of her inner thoughts are repetitive because everything keeps circling back to the that specific incident when it could be explored from different angles. For side characters, one character that stood out to me most is Thanh’s mother. I grew up in an Asian household so I know how high the expectations Asian parents have for their children. And the Empress definitely reminds me a lot of the tiger moms from back when I was in elementary school.
She would have let you burn.
The romance of Fireheart Tiger is the core of plot together with the political drama. I will not mention anything about it because it might lead to spoilers. But I would like to mention that insta love is one of those tropes that I dislike if it isn’t done well. In Fireheart Tiger, the new found romance didn’t translate well to me as a reader. The relationship felt forced and it was hard for me to believe in the relationship. The stronger points about the romance is the writing. Aliette knows how to pull on your heartstrings by showing vulnerability in Thanh. The writer shows Thanh’s vulnerability in a very human and raw way. I wish the story could be longer because Thanh’s development could be fully realized and less rushed if this book got 200 pages more.
There are underlying themes in the story that stood out for me as a reader. To name a few; there are themes about abusive relationships, parental expectations, self discovery, and so much more. In this book the setting description is very prominent in the first few parts but it just slows down because everything happens mostly in a few condensed places. I had high expectations for this story. The internal debate about my stance with Fireheart Tiger is never ending. I love the charm of incomplete and open ended endings but the characters didn’t anchor me to the story. My thoughts kept floating to the surface when I hoped for it to sink deeper. I still recommend this book for anyone that is interested in a short sapphic novella with hints of magic mixed into a character driven plot definitely pick this book up. Fireheart Tiger is a story that I hoped to hit me with a wholesome sapphic romance. I am sad that this book didn’t hit me as hard as I wanted it to. But! No matter! I am planning on reading Aliette’s other notable works, especially her award winning short stories.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.