East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Love, politics and fire: Aliette De Bodard’s Fireheart Tiger

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This is sort of an instant review, jotted down real fast after finishing Aliette de Bodard’s latest novella for Tor.com, Fireheart Tiger. The new book dropped a few days ago, and I had been smart enough to pre-order itr, so I got it in ebook the moment it was launched.
And I read it straight away.

This will be a spoiler-free review, of this highly recommended, unusual fantasy story.

At the heart of Fireheart Tiger, is the mystery of Thanh’s affinity for fire – small (and sometimes BIG) fires spontaneously burst in her presence. This would be quite a problem in itself, but the fact that Thanh’s a princess , the daughter of the empress of the land of Binh Hai (a country based on the civilization of ancient Vietnam), makes everything more complicated.

But there’s more – because Binh Hai is a land in the sphere ofinfluence of the somewhat rapacious land of Ephiteria (that sounds at time like Victorian England, but it’s certainly just me…), and the relations between the two nations are going through a shift.
Thanh was a “guest” ( = hostage) in the Ephiterian capital, where she caused a big fire, and she met princess Eldris. And now Eldris is in the imperial court of Binh Han, as part of a diplomatic mission.
Things will happen, fires will erupt – metaphorically and not.

Fireheart Tiger is a quiet story with a very powerful political undercurrent – it’s also a refreshingly Oriental fantasy, a love story between two very well-drawn characters, it’s a story of political intrigue and a story on the nature of secrets. Violence is implied, and it becomes more powerful because of this.
If there is one adjective that can describe this story is certainly elegant, as elegant is De Bodard’s writing, and her handling of the dialogues.

And this is also a romantic story, portraying the love and lust between two women – something that I was surprised to find got some people’s knickers in a twist here where I live, because of course skull-crushing barbarians are OK, but oh, the horror at the sole idea of two women kissing…!
But this is, once again, the beauty and power of fantasy fiction – a mature genre that is many genres, and that can accommodate both skull-crushing barbarians and women in love.
Let us hope some of the genre’s maturity rubs off on some of its fans.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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