Sunday, February 28, 2021

Novella Review: Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard

Fireheart Tiger
Aliette de Bodard
Release: February 9. 2021
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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.

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?

Fireheart Tiger was one of those novellas that I picked up completely based on the cover (Isn't it absolutely gorgeous!?!) and the fact that it was compared to Howl's Moving Castle. I've slowly making my way through Aliette de Bodard's backlist so I was intrigued by this new story of a princess given to a foreign kingdom as a hostage who has returned home.

This story is unlike anything I've ever read outside of de Bodard's stories. It's a sapphic romance that explores self-worth, colonialism, abusive relationships, and finding your place in the world. The main character Thanh is trying to figure out how she fits into her old home after traumatic experience and a stint as political hostage of nearby kingdom.

She is enlisted by her mother, the empress, as a diplomat to help with political negotiations with the kingdom to whom she was given when she sees a familiar and once (still?) dear face. This whole novella is Thanh's journey to accepting that she is someone of worth and figuring out where she belongs in a landscape of fraught international politics. Thanh's story was both heartbreaking at points and heartwarming in others and all was wrapped in this rich and kind of whimsical world.

There's a sapphic love triangle in this story and it was fantastically well done! I'm not one that usually enjoys a love triangle but I did here. I won't lie that one of the love interests kind of creeped me out from the start and I'm relieved about how the romance played out for Thanh. I also love the pieces of Vietnamese mythology in de Bodard's stories! It's a mythology I'm not as familiar with but what I want to learn more based on what I see in this author's stories.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I do wish it had been a bit longer to flesh a few things out more because I wasn't completely sold on the conflict and the "villain" felt a bit out of place for me and I spent  a good part of the novella trying it figure out motivations. I see why it has been compared to Howl's and I was completely entranced by that portion of the story. I hope the author will write more in this world. I feel like the story was left pretty open-ended because there's definitely more to tell in the story. And I totally want to see how Thanh learns to navigate her new place in the world and how her romance plays out in its entirety.

ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley.

  3.5 / 5 Stars

My reviews of other books by this author:

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