The Upshot: Another gorgeously written romance from de Bodard, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers in SFF – though the short length of this novella does work against it.
I received an advance copy of Fireheart Tiger from NetGalley, courtesy of Macmillan-Tor/Forge, in exchange for an honest review.
Fireheart Tiger, by Aliette de Bodard Published February 9th, 2021 by Tor.com Finished Reading January 9th, 2021
Fireheart Tiger is an upcoming novella from Aliette de Bodard, whose Seven of Infinities was one of my favorite reads last year. The story concerns Thanh, a princess of Bình Hải, a country under diplomatic pressure from the nation of Ephteria. Thanh believes that she is the least important and least loved of her mother’s children, and yet she has been chosen to participate in negotiations with the Ephterian cohort – a cohort which includes, surprisingly, the princess of Ephteria, Eldris. A princess with whom Thanh had a very … close relationship.
The story primarily centers around Thanh’s desire to create a space for herself in a world that seems to deny her agency at every turn. In Eldris, she sees a glimmer of possibility for something better – but is that really what she wants? Fireheart Tiger is about self-actualization, about making choices for yourself rather than for everyone else. For finding a love that is free, and not just another cage. Thanh’s fraught relationship with her mother is only one part of this: there’s also her memories of a deadly fire, one involving a strange individual whom no one else seems to remember.
I quite enjoyed this novella. It’s very short – I read it in one sitting! – but has vivid, memorable characters. Thanh is someone I felt I could relate to – her insecurities and feelings of inadequacy lead her to accept some pretty unhealthy love, and her journey to advocating for herself was stirring. Her low self-esteem does make her a somewhat passive protagonist for much of this, which might aggravate some – but felt just right to me. Similarly, I found Eldris to be a fascinating foil, a complex character with her own motivations. And the world in which this story is set is an interesting one that I would certainly want to visit again in the future.
The only thing holding this back for me is that the relationships ultimately feel a bit shallow, a direct result, I think, of the short page count. Some developments in the back half of the story might have landed with more force if they had more room to breathe. I ultimately felt like the ending wasn’t quite earned as a result.
Still, I have to say, this is an excellent story, beautifully written with interesting characters and set in a world I’d like to see more of. Aliette de Bodard is quickly becoming a writer whose work I will automatically pick up – that’s how much I’ve enjoyed the stories I’ve read from her so far!
Next Time: Victories Greater Than Death, by Charlie Jane Anders [Advance Book Review]