Book Review: The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera.
October is past, which means I no longer feel obligated to read/review random horror novels! Which … well, confession time, after Red Harvest, I kind of gave up on Horrortober and went on to more interesting stuff, and … well, here we are!
I’d been meaning to read K. Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter for awhile, but when Tor.com’s ebook of the month club gave it out for free, I was all about that. I mean, I’m a sucker for a good Asian-themed fantasy. And ever since I watched The Legend of Korra I am entirely too interested in anything that has kung fu lesbians in it.
The Tiger’s Daughter is the story of not one, but two warrior-princesses. There’s Shefali, crack-shot archer and heir to her mother’s Not-Mongol horde, and Shizuka, a master swordswoman with the blood of gods in her veins. Bound together by fate (and the fact that their respective mothers were kick-ass adventurers in their own right), Shizuka and Shefali meet as children, spend a great deal of time together– and fall madly in love.
At which point they start making a lot of bad decisions. Like, “let’s go off and fight some demons!” kind of bad. Which, admittedly, makes for interesting reading, but still. Of the pair’s many virtues, common sense is not foremost among them.
A lot of the book is painfully earnest, in that teenaged “nobody understands us!” kind of way. Shizuka and Shefali constantly pine for each other, especially when they’re separated (which is often). It’s understandable– though at the same time the theatrics can drag a little bit. I suppose I was going in expecting more of a rollicking, quip-filled adventure. Which isn’t to say The Tiger’s Daughter doesn’t have action, as there’s a fair deal of bandit-fighting and demon-slaying, but the soapy melodrama can be a bit much sometimes.
Some of this comes from the novel’s structure– the grand majority of it is written as a letter from Shefali to Shizuka, telling the story of their lives together. So occasionally it comes off as “you did this and it was super awesome, my love” and so on. It’s not TOO distracting, but second-person past-tense is still kind of an odd choice, I guess.
Rivera’s worldbuilding is solid, both Shizuka’s vaguely Japanese-Ish Empire and Shefali’s Not-Mongol-Horde are painted with intriguing detail, and we get little glimpses into other cultures around the map as well– all the time without delving into expository “and the history of the land is blah blah blah.” This said, the plot can get … a little RPG-y, in places. Like, at one point, the book has a straight up “go kill some bandits in a cave and bring back my coveted family heirloom” quest. Given that Rivera gives a shout out to her tabletop group in the dedication, I suppose that kind of thing’s inevitable.
Really, the dirty secret of The Tiger’s Daughter is that I’m pretty sure it’s the biography of one of Rivera’s D&D characters. Like, (spoiler alert), the book ends on a sort of cliffhanger with Shefali teaming up with a couple of other quirky weirdos to go literally delve into a dungeon in search of magic treasure. Admittedly, there’s a very good reason, tied heavily into the plot, for Shefali to go dungeon-crawling, but still.
Ultimately, these are little quibbles. The Tiger’s Daughter is a solid fantasy adventure that leaves plenty of room for sequels– of which there are two so far. Though, perhaps more importantly, The Tiger’s Daughter is a solid fantasy adventure that’s not about a generic farm boy with a magic sword and a foretold destiny. It’s fun and original– and if it gives otherwise marginalized sci-fi/fantasy fans a chance to read about characters like themselves? Even better!
So yeah. I’m gonna have to get around to reading the sequels, The Phoenix Empress and The Warrior Moon at some point. But if the characters start the book by meeting in a tavern, I’m gonna have to give Rivera the side-eye.