Review: Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard

Review: Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de BodardFireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard

Published by Tordotcom on February 9th 2021
Also by this author: In the Vanishers’ Palace, The Tea Master and the Detective (The Universe of Xuya), Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders, The Citadel of Weeping Pearls, Seven of Infinities, Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances, The Red Scholar's Wake
Pages: 112

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 is Aliette de Bodard’s latest novella. It’s another fantasy story with a Vietnamese inspired world, this time, pre-colonial. It’s short, bittersweet, and left me wanting more.

Thanh has a complicated history and it’s coming back to haunt her in various ways. The fire and seduction complicate the political situation between her country and her neighbours. Her mother expects her to do her job as a princess, but her relationship with Eldris becomes a double-edged sword. And then there’s her fire problem. She doesn’t know what to do about that until the truth is revealed.

I’m still amazed how Aliette pulls it off to include all the magical worldbuilding in a story as short as this without making it feel like it’s unnecessary words. Every bit adds to the story. The same could be said about her characters. All of them have a full character arc with visible growth.

Like her other novellas, I enjoyed it very much, and I only wish I could read more about Thanh and what becomes of her. That’s the only downside to Fireheart Tiger. The worldbuilding is elaborate and complex. It’s all well done, but a little more than a hundred pages feels so little. I want to know more.

Fireheart Tiger gets four stars from me. I enjoyed it, but compared to her other novellas, like In The Vanishers’ Palace or The Tea Master and the Detective, it misses something. I can’t really pinpoint what. It’s a good palate cleanser if you need something short and different in between longer, heavier novels and/or series, and I’d still recommend it to any fantasy lover and readers who love Aliette de Bodard’s other work.

About Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Obsidian and Blood trilogy of Aztec noir fantasies, as well as numerous short stories which have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and two British Science Fiction Association Awards. Her space opera books include The Tea Master and the Detective, a murder mystery set on a space station in a Vietnamese Galactic empire, inspired by the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Recent works include the Dominion of the Fallen series, set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which comprises The House of Shattered Wings (Roc/Gollancz, 2015 British Science Fiction Association Award, Locus Award finalist), and its standalone sequel The House of Binding Thorns (Ace/Gollancz, 2017 European Science Fiction Society Achievement Award, Locus award finalist). (Photo taken by Lou Abercrombie)

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