Summary: 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?
Review: I love de Bodard’s writing a lot. It feels very… I know this may sound weird, but very elemental. In my mind, her writing feels like the heat of fire and the depths of the ocean, something that is very much its own thing. Nothing else is really like it. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone but me… The joy of trying to explain books when you’re neurodivergent and experience a lot of things through emotion and sensation, I guess!
Anyway, Fireheart Tiger is the story of Thanh, Imperial princess who finds herself caught between desire and duty, obligation and the self, and figuring out whether old flames are worth hanging onto or letting go.
Double meaning very much intended.
There’s a lot of evocative world-building in such a short novella. De Bodard has never really coddled readers when it comes to picking up cultural nuances in her writing, and I really like that. Some of the worldbuilding is absolutely secondary-world fantasy, but it gets a lot of inspiration from Vietnamese culture and mythology. I have a soft spot for fantasy with non-Western influence, frankly.
Thanh’s emotional abuse comes through so strongly in this. She’s under so much pressure from people she should, by all rights, be able to turn to for comfort and support, but instead she meets duty and obligation and outright shame. As someone who’s struggled with a similar sort of pressure leading to abysmally low self-esteem for most of their life… Thanh’s story was relatable in many ways. Can’t say I ended up with an adorable sapphic romance in the end, but still. Fireheart Tiger is, in many ways, the story of Thanh rising up, finding her feet and finding enough strength in herself to stand firm against those coercive pressures, of finding support in unexpected places, and having the opportunity to learn that she has the right to become who she wants to be. It resonated hard with me. Writing this review, I kind of just want to go back and read it all over again.
Really, I’d love to see more stories set in this world. It feels very much full of promise, full of stories, and Fireheart Tiger is a snapshot in a larger tale. There doesn’t need to be more, but it feels as though there easily could be, if de Bodard wanted.
Really enjoyed my time with this one, and I highly recommend it to fans of queer romance and non-Western fantasy!
(Book provided in exchange for an honest review.)