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 received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.
PSA FOR NON-ASIAN READERS. The “Lil’sis” and “Big sis” used between Thanh and Giang are translated honorifics used to address a younger or older woman respectively. They are NOT used to denote familial relations.
Fireheart Tiger!!! Those who’ve followed my blog will know that I am a long time fan of Aliette de Bodard, so hearing of a new novella (published by Tor.com!!) had me giddy with excitement.
At its heart, Fireheart Tiger is a quiet, intimate novella examining themes of colonialism as Princess Thanh’s home country of Bình Hải, inspired by pre-Colonial Vietnam, is approached by “trading partner” Ephteria to “re-negotiate” details of their trade deal. Thanh finds herself fighting to both prevent the Ephterians from making further inroads into her home country while simultaneously confronting her feelings towards the lover she left behind from her days as an Ephterian court hostage, Princess Eldris.
I actually ended up reading this novella twice before writing this review, in part because I didn’t think I was in a good headspace the first time around, in part because I found there were a lot of subtleties with Thanh’s character I’d missed without knowledge of the full story. What I’d taken for passiveness at times was actually a strong sense of pragmatism. In the face of this dominant superpower threatening to slowly take over her home, Thanh is more than aware of her limits in this situation and she’s extremely clever in the actions she takes. Similarly, Thanh’s interactions with Giang have new nuances that don’t get picked up without the full story and it’s nice to go back and see what I missed the first time around.
Ephteria as a whole aside, Thanh’s main internal conflict is the return of her old lover Princess Eldris. There’s a delightfully biting dance that occurs between the two as Thanh battles between wanting to return to ex’s side and the knowledge that doing so may betray her country, or neighboring ones. De Bodard manages to put much tension and despair in so few pages as we watch Thanh war with herself, and the strong theme of colonialism is present even here through an underlying hint of a potentially abusive relationship that Thanh has found herself in.
My main complaint with Fireheart Tiger (as is with most novellas) is that I wish it had been longer. Full-length novel longer. There’s a large world surrounding The Fireheart Tiger that we don’t get to delve into given its scope and I would have loved to see more of its world. Eldris and Thanh have a lot of history together from Thanh’s time in Ephteria that gets teased and referenced, and I wish we could have gotten a chance to really delve into that period of Thanh’s life. There’s a lot of baggage between the two characters and certainly something burning between both of them. Also getting to see the tender first meet-up of a budding relationship interspliced with the Thanh and Eldris of now would have amplified the angst by tenfold and I’m always for that. Instead, the pacing feels somewhat rushed, especially towards the end, where decisions and reversed decisions are made between single conversations and now allowed time to properly set in a reader’s mind.
Overall, I rate this book a 4/5. I loved the character de Bodard has crafted in Thanh, warring between protecting her country and the return of a lover she thought she’d left behind. It was fascinating to explore the strong themes of colonialism echoed throughout this novella, but like many novellas, I wish it were longer to really let the hard hitting, emotional moments settle.
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