The Tiger’s Daughter
By K Arsenault Rivera
QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes
QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes
POC Main Character: Yes
Bechdel Test: Yes
Summary: Two women, born a month apart, bound by fate. Shefali, born of the nomadic Qorin people, and O-Shizuka, the future Empress of the Hokkaran empire, were bound from the moment of their births. Together, they will set out to bring hope to their people, slaughter the demons that assault them, all in the hopes of killing the Traitor God. But such a life is dangerous, particularly when more than friendship blooms between two women with no hope of being together. Unless, of course, there is more hope than they realize.
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
“Epic” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in fantasy fiction. Every series that even remotely resembles A Song of Ice and Fire gets that title slapped on it. I find myself reluctant to use it because it’s been so watered down with use. But there really is no other way to describe The Tiger’s Daughter. The novel spans decades, showing us a complete account of the lives of Shefali and O-Shizuka. Their journey will see them slaying tigers and demons internal and external as each of the women find their fate.
There is so much I could speak to on why this book worked for me. The world building is complex. and it is clear that the author lives in this world as much as in the ordinary reality. The character growth feels natural, and the characters feel real enough to touch. The mythology is intricate and compelling. The love story made me scream and cry and clutch the book to my chest. I could spend this review happily discussing all of these things.
Intead, I think I’d like to talk about stories that take their time. I read a lot of YA and Middle Grade partly because my day job is selling books, and I get a lot of requests for these genres. I am used to rather hurried storytelling and barebones world building. I still read a lot of adult speculative fiction and fantasy but it’s been some time since I’ve read a book that truly understood how to take the time to give the reader the story the book needs.
I understand why. A five hundred page novel is intimidating, particularly for people who maybe don’t read often. Fantasy is the genre for a long novel, though. It allows the reader time to fully immerse in the world. Over the course of the story, we enjoy the learning details about the world and the people who inhabit it.
Rivera takes the reader down the road, telling the story quickly when needed and slowly when it suits. She gives you time to breathe between battles and duels. And in those spaces, she fills in the world. Because she allows the story to take its time, she allows the reader to see the outlines of the world.
And oh what details Rivera gives us. You all know I don’t love to spoil things, so I’ll do my best not to give anything away you don’t learn after the first hundred pages. The mythology in this world is detailed and beautiful. Rivera knows when to explain and when to let the reader infer. This is a talent lost on many writers. She also knows when to give us details of magic. O-Shizuka is able to change the color of flowers as a child, a detail which echoes important plots that go back to the magic and mythology of the world. We learn things as the book needs us to.
Where other novels of this length sometimes include pages of info dump that leave the reader bored, Rivera doesn’t tell the reader things they will work out on their own. This is, at its heart, what makes books that take their time work. It is an understanding between the reader and the writer that neither one is a fool. Rivera trusts her readers to be smart enough to read what she’s not saying as much as what she is saying. And the reader trusts Rivera to tell us what is important. Sometimes this means waiting to have questions answered.
The Tiger’s Daughter is smart, and it believes that its readers are just as smart. It manages to be personal in its treatment of the characters and expansive in its own world. It makes me long for novels half as good. It reminds me of reading my first really intricate fantasy novels. And it firmly puts Rivera in the same camp as people like Cat Valente and N.K. Jemisin. I eagerly will be reading the other two books in this series.
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love The Tiger’s Daughter? Leave a comment telling if you prefer sword women or bow and arrow women. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.