Book Review by Natalie: The Tiger’s Daughter, by K. Arsenault Rivera

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The Tiger’s Daughter, by K. Arsenault Rivera
Series: Their Bright Ascendancy, #1
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: October 3, 2017

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

summary

Even gods can be slain.

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach—but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

A crack in the wall heralds the end…two goddesses arm themselves…K Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter is an adventure for the ages.

tropes-tags

F/F Pairing
Lesbian Character
Person of Color
Romance
Epic Fantasy
Magic
Epistolary

I struggled a lot with a rating for this one. This book almost works, but it was impossible for me to walk away without feeling like I’d just read a 500 page prequel. The Tiger’s Daughter is a frame story, so the story starts with Shizuka in the present day, but the real story is told through the letter she receives from her childhood friend and eventual lover, Shefali. There are small interludes with present-day Shizuka’s reactions to the letter, but this is primarily a second-person narrative where Shefali addresses Shizuka. We realize pretty quickly that Shefali and Shizuka have been separated from each other, and Shizuka is in emotionally dire straits, so the immediate questions are: why? What happened?

However, instead of starting the letter from when Shefali and Shizuka separate from each other, Shefali decides to start the letter with their very first meeting as children and then describe their lives and relationship chronologically, covering a span of years, while offering absolutely no insight into what she is currently doing.

This could provide Shefali with the opportunity to offer her perspective on their relationship as it unfolded, which could be deeply interesting to Shizuka and to readers. Except, in practice, it doesn’t feel like we get Shefali’s perspective so much as passive descriptions of events that she participated in.  Shizuka’s present-day point of view is also massively underutilized, offering only brief interludes between the very long chapters that comprise Shefali’s letter. It’s not until we get to the 2/3rds mark that we finally get information from the letter that would be new and deeply important to Shizuka, so it’s not until the book is almost over that the letter makes any kind of real world sense.

Because the story is being told through a letter to someone who already knows the world, worldbuilding is a different challenge and one that I feel Rivera only partially succeeds at. The cultures in this world are barely-concealed analogues for Japan, Mongolia, and China, and aspects of those cultures seem haphazardly taken and used, with little sensitivity to the larger real-world context in which they currently exist. On the other hand, the original parts of this world are almost entirely unexplained. For example, the gods of this world are deeply important to the story, but the eight gods are only barely described and rarely used in context, so it’s difficult to infer what kinds of gods they are, and what they’re responsible for.

I’ve written a lot before I even get to the most important part of the book: Shefali and Shizuka’s relationship. The Tiger’s Daughter is a love story between Shefali and Shizuka. To have an epic fantasy novel like this published with such a strong and prominent lesbian relationship is fantastic, but I’m not sure I buy the relationship between these two particular characters. On one hand, Shizuka’s brand of arrogance and entitlement was hard to handle at times. And, curiously, despite the fact that the whole book is written from Shefali’s point of view, the singular focus on “you” (Shizuka), meant that Shefali sometimes felt invisible to me as a character, while Shizuka is (unhealthily) put on a pedestal by Shefali. And despite the fact that the entire book is Shefali explaining their relationship to Shizuka (and consequently to us), it never felt to me as if we see any real, meaningful interaction between the two of them as they are growing up that convinced me of their enduring bond.

As I said at the start, I struggled with rating this one. I felt that the story frustrated me with missed opportunities more often than not. Yet I engaged with this book on a level I don’t often do anymore, and I’m still thinking about it, even days later. Something in this book worked, and I feel like it wouldn’t be fair not to acknowledge that. And this is the first of a trilogy. There are enough threads left over at the end that I can see where future installments might go, and I would be interested in reading further. Even with my disappointment in aspects of this book, I’m curious enough to see whether my suspicions about one of the characters pans out, but given the narrative choices in this beginning, I’m cautious about how the next one will continue. Will it gloss over the six years of separation and the adventures that happened in that time period? Will we again have to go back in time to fill in narrative gaps before returning to the present? I guess we’ll see.

more-from-author

Puerto Rico born and New York raised, K is a lifelong fan of all things nerdy. She drew on her love of tabletop gaming for her debut novel, THE TIGER’S DAUGHTER. An out and proud lesbian, she lives in Brooklyn with her partner and roommate.

Website | Twitter

You can purchase The Tiger’s Daughter from:

Publisher | Amazon | iTunes | Google Play | Barnes & Noble

Or add it to Goodreads

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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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