**I received an ARC from the publisher through Netgalley. These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.**
Book: Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
Release Date: February 9, 2021
My Rating: 4 stars
Rep: ownvoices Vietnamese-inspired world and characters; wlw protagonist, love interest, and side character
Summary: 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?
I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book since its announcement. I mean, a pre-colonial Vietnamese-esque fantasy that’s comped to Howl’s Moving Castle? Everything I didn’t know I wanted in a book. A gorgeous fantasy, Fireheart Tiger tells the story of precarious politics and love.
Sent to a foreign country as a child, Thanh is a princess who has returned to her home country to act as a diplomat. She’s haunted by a fire that occurred years ago, but she tries to put it out of her mind even though things mysteriously keep catching on fire around her. She is distracted by the arrival of Eldris, the princess of the country Thanh once lived in and her first love. She’s soon caught up in not just her affair with Eldris but also the presence of Giang, a fire spirit who has followed Thanh since that fire all those years ago.
I loved the characters, especially our protagonist. Thanh is desperate for love and approval from her mother, especially after being a hostage princess in a foreign country as a child. She wants to prove herself worthy of her new diplomatic position in court, if only so she can gain approval from her mother. I’m always a sucker for these kind of characters, and I loved Thanh even more so because of this.
The writing is gorgeous! This was my first read by this author, and now I am definitely going to pick up her backlist. The prose was lilting and centers you in Thanh’s mind. You really feel what she is feeling. This book is a novella, so it’s fairly short and the plot moves quickly. I was always enthralled in the words, so I finished it in one sitting without ever looking up.
This is also a sapphic story! Thanh had an affair with Eldris years ago, one that starts up again when she returns to her life. However, she soon finds her to be a selfish lover. Meanwhile, Giang watches from the sidelines and warns Thanh away from Eldris. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’ll just say the comparison to Howl’s Moving Castle was an apt one.
While short in length, Fireheart Tiger is a thrilling story from start to finish. I loved the characters and the romance. If you want a short but sweet story with a f/f romance and a Vietnamese-esque world, I can’t recommend Fireheart Tiger enough.
About the Author: Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris. She has won three Nebula Awards, a Locus Award, a British Fantasy Award and four British Science Fiction Association Awards. She was a double Hugo finalist for 2019 (Best Series and Best Novella). Most recently she published The House of Sundering Flames (Gollancz/JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc.), the conclusion to her Dominion of the Fallen trilogy, set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war–which also comprises The House of Shattered Wings (Roc/Gollancz, 2015 British Science Fiction Association Award, Locus Award finalist), and The House of Binding Thorns (Ace/Gollancz, 2017 European Science Fiction Society Achievement Award, Locus award finalist).
Her space opera books include The Tea Master and the Detective (2018 Nebula Award winner, 2018 British Fantasy Award winner, 2019 Hugo Award finalist). Her short story collection Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight is out from Subterranean Press.