Review: Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard

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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? 


Fireheart Tiger is a sleek and sexy, fierce and fragile spill of a story that unfolds a roving feast of feelings, both beautiful and renewing. Aliette de Bodard deftly mingles subtly cutting court politics with tangled lesbian relationships, and renders both with breathless heat, intense intrigue and a deep, dreadful pang of yearning.

“She’ll come back,” Giang says. “To conquer you. To reduce you to a different sort of ashes.”

In the small space a novella allows, Aliette de Bodard tells a sprawling story about potent, familiar forces that we know all too well in the real world, perfectly bound within the prism of a profoundly personal and intimate story.

Memories of the time Princess Thanh of Bin Hai had spent as a royal hostage in Ephteria sat heavy and uncomfortable in her chest,a gnawing weight that threatened to eat at her unchecked for the rest of her life: the shock-bright clarity of unbelonging, like being thrown into ice water, and a palace set afire, the blaze carrying with it all the certainty of death. Thanh had since been sent home, the fire had died away, and the dust clouds had settled on the rubble, but in Thanh’s mind, she was always in exile, and it was always burning.

Fireheart Tiger opens with a “friendly” visit from Princess Eldris—heiress to Ephteria, Bình Hải neighboring predator empire—and the visit not only brings with it the threat of Ephterian expansionist agenda, but also shocks Thanh into a terrible kind of longing, a pang of unfinished business. Thanh held her past affair with Eldris quiet and close, another secret to go along with her enormous other one: memories of another girl, garnished in fire and fight.

Fireheart Tiger is a story about the all-conquering, all-devouring beast of empire, a blank-eyed and hungry thing, eager to catch its prey and rip it open, and about the fierce, indomitable women keeping it from setting its jaws upon their homes through diplomacy and negotiation and acid under the bitingly polite manners, holding it back by their fingernails through their sheer, magnificent will. And it’s a story about love and abuse: love that builds and baits for you a gold and velvet-soft trap, strips you down to a blind, and hopeless longing, and leaves you splayed out on the floor like the plucked petals of a ruined rose—all the tainted bits of broken comfort that we can’t grab hold of without getting cut first. And another kind of love: love that comes softly, like a dawning sun, and warms like fire in the teeth of winter—love fashioned not in blistering bitterness or a vicious desire to own, but in companionship, compassion, and understanding. But it is, above all, a story about learning to stand straight and steady and tall, like a branch that bends to the wind but never breaks, and feeling whole again, all your fragments coming back to you, meshing back together into someone who can orbit their own purpose and be answerable for themself.

A seed in a garden; and given enough time and healing, what flower might it blossom into?

All in all, Fireheart Tiger was such a delight to read. I wanted to be taken somewhere else by a story, and I was—I just didn’t expect to feel utterly and tenderly stripped to the bone by the gentle blade of the author’s voice.

CW: Abuse and implicit rape attempt.

Thank you to Tordotcom for providing me with an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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