The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Disclaimer: I received a free copy from Tor as part of a Librarything giveaway/first read program. Also, spoilers.
I wanted to love this book. When I first started reading the novel, it was exactly what I needed. A novel where the chosen one or ones is/are female, I so need that, especially with all the movies and shows about men doing great things. The book drew me in right away, and the first night I did not want to put it down. The second day, I still enjoyed it, but I was a little confused by a few things – one of which was the setting and character names. The setting seemed to be a fantastical China. There was a wall that the mother of one of the characters destroyed. There seems to be one society that is de facto Chinese, and another that is de facto Mongol. There are steppes on the map for crying out aloud. The strange thing was that some of the names seemed to be Japanese. But I am not an expert on Japanese or Chinese culture. To be honest, the only reason I noticed that Japanese influence was because I had read Johnson, Dalkey, and the Tale of Heike. I do know, however, that any combination of Chinese and Japanese cultures (or any Asian culture with another for that matter) is problematic for several reasons, including what happened during WW II.
Then I read Laurelinvanyr’s review where she goes into detail about the problems with the names used in the novel as well as other cultural issues. I strongly suggest any potential reader of the book reads that review. It’s true that a counter to many of the points that Laurelinvanyr makes would be the simple “it is a fantasy setting that has been inspired by various cultures” excuse that is used for more than fantasy novels. It is also true that this is not the only book that has inaccuracies. Hell, you even get them in a book that is set in say America but written by a Brit. At the very least, there is not enough world building to account for the combination. Laurelinvanyr’s more knowledgeable review goes into far more detail about this problem (and there are other reviews that mention the same issues but in less detail. There is hardly only one review that raises the questions of bad research, cultural approbation and fetishism). Additionally, it is possible/very likely that the use of language and cultural comments by some characters was there to show racism between the Empire and Qorin. The problem is that racism is never really direct dealt with, at least on the part of the Qorin and not really very well in the Empire.
In addition to the question about the world building, there are other problems with the book, that are glaring from a structural and storytelling point of view only.
It is impossible to discuss these without spoilers, so this is your last spoiler warning.
The first problem is the conceit – the idea that whole book is one very long letter that one heroine writes to the other. This works in the beginning but makes no sense later on because why would you write such a detailed letter to someone who was there and experiencing most of what are you writing about with you? You wouldn’t. Not in such a detailed way. (There also is a section where it seems to take a character two years to make a bow, seriously). If this was an actual exchange of letters this would be different, but it isn’t.
The second problem is that because you know the letter is being written after the events described, you know the two central characters are going to be okay. This lack of tension might be replaced with the tension regarding whether they are going to get their happy ever after. Normally, it would be, but the question of whether love can overcome the forced separation is dealt with so quickly that there isn’t any. Not really.
To be honest, the second half of the book feels like little more than a set-up for the second volume. Part of the draw of the first part of the book is the idea that both heroines are somehow divine. This is important for two reasons. The first is that it explains the powers that each girl has (though one power is more developed). The second is it explains why despite the young age of both heroines (both are under eighteen for the whole book), they act so much older, for there is a long tradition in epics, regardless of culture, for such divine or semi-divine heroes to be older than their years. This semi-divine status seems forgotten when one of the characters becomes vampire like (something that most say they are frightened of but no one acts like it). It is to seek a cure for this problem that one woman journeys to what seems to be an Underworld. Sounds interesting, no? Happens entirely off page and is most likely a hook for the second novel in the series. But why would you read that when you know she succeeds? It was a total cheat of an ending.
And finally, there were two smaller things that disquieted me. The first is the relationship between an older woman and a young woman. It is unclear whether they are another lesbian couple, it is strongly suggested that they are. I don’t care that they are couple because of their gender. I have a problem with an adult, in this an aunt, sleeping with niece. I just do. Not only does violate the incest taboo that many culture, fantasy and otherwise, have, but quite frankly, there is something off putting by someone who is family member who helped raise you, taking you as a lover. I hate this when it is a man and woman relationship, and I still hate it when it is a woman/woman one. Sorry. Additionally, there is an incident of spousal abuse. One character is possessed/dealing with vampire traits when she attacks her girlfriend. That’s fine. It’s an interesting idea as is the struggle to contain the vampire cravings. Handled well it would have been a good thing to explore. But nope, everyone, even the woman who was almost killed, seems to get over it in a few pages.
Promising start. Disappointing ending.
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