January 22nd, 2018

book talk // the tiger’s daughter.

I love fantasy novels. However, I am rather particular in my taste. I don’t enjoy the monotony of endless battles or aggressive male tones. I seek, much like I do with my literary fiction, a story that creates a mood, builds an interesting world, and explores characterization. I found that in The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera.

The Tiger’s Daughter is “the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka [she's Hokkaran], and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.”

Before I read the book I made the mistake of noting a few negative reviews on Goodreads. However, I have read several books in the past two years that I adored and Goodreads readers universally disliked or condemned. Still, I went into it with a slight apprehension and was pleasantly surprised.

The Tiger’s Daughter is, what I would call, a tome (~525 pages) told through letters. I’ve always been a fan of the epistolary novel, so I found this revelation to be a delightful one. I also think letters are a solid way to develop background without forcing the reader to entirely relive every little moment, only the important memories.

There is action, however, it’s mostly a character-driven love story. Shefali and Shizuka battle tigers, demons, and blackbloods, but that is not the focus of their tale. The story is also told primarily through Shefali’s letters, which act as flashbacks to their childhood for an older Shizuka, who is presently reading the letters in her palace bedroom. Basically, two warrior girls from differing backgrounds grow up together, fall in love, and battle demons. The writing is rather melodramatic in places, but I loved that the book handled a f/f romance with tenderness. I was very invested in the characters — solid, silent Shefali and spoiled, bossy Shizuka — and their unlikely relationship (considering how it began). Rivera also included a trans character — whose particular abilities, to me, recalled Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness. The inclusivity of this novel is definitely something to love, but the characters and world are what initially grabbed me.

I’ve seen several Goodreads reviews criticizing the racism and slurs used in the book. There’s an insinuation that Hokkaro is based on Japanese culture, while Qorin represents Mongolian and Xian represents Chinese — this is fairly obvious when you read the book — but I think it’s also obvious that the slurs are fictional, based in a fantasy world and, no matter what the similarities may be to our reality, it’s clearly fantasy. Rivera’s use of the slang “ricetongue,” for instance, is employed infrequently to establish a realistic fantasy world where racism and cultural bias exist. She is showing the reality of one culture attempting to subjugate another and the negative interactions that would, naturally, come along with that. As a D&D player, these conversations often occur regarding stereotypes against other races (for instance, elves are often distrustful of non-elves) so, I viewed it as realistic world-building.

My critique (aside from the melodrama) is that when the reader flashes to present Shizuka, the author occasionally flips verb tenses (past vs. present) and it got a little confusing for me in parts. That said, I believe this is Rivera’s first novel, so I am excited to see how her style improves or changes with the next book (The Pheonix Empress – coming out in August). I have a lot of questions that I hope the second book answers! Also, the cover art is incredibly beautiful — how could you pass this one up?

Rating: 4/5
Recommended For: fantasy lovers, people looking for a slow-burn LGBTQ romance

  • I always say I don’t like fantasy novels, but then I’ll read one and realize that that’s not true at all. But I also think I like fantasy novels that are disguised as something else. And I blame my mother for this bias.