Updated: Apr 29, 2021
I was first introduced to the worlds of Aliette de Bodard through her Obsidian and Blood series and then In The Vanisher’s Palace, both works I hope to review for this blog at some point. When I heard that she had released another short story centered around a LGBTQ romance and international relations, I had to give it a try as soon as possible and I was not disappointed.
Eight years ago, Princess Thanh was in a fire. A hostage in the foreign land of Ephteria, she barely escaped that devastating fire that gutted the royal palace. It follows her still, back home with her Imperial mother in Bình Hải.
As an Ephterian delegation arrives to discuss their trade relationship, Thanh is an expected choice to lead her mother’s side in the negotiations. What was not expected was her first love, Princess Eldris, to be walking through the door at the head of the other side. Charismatic as always, Eldris wants to rekindle their flame. Meanwhile, Ephteria asks Bình Hải to choose between crumbling sovereignty and continued survival.
What if that fire held the key to a third option where both Thanh and her homeland could be free? And if it did, would Thanh be willing to reach for it?
CW for Depictions of fire and burning buildings; Major character experiencing PTSD-like symptoms; Minor injury and on-screen blood; Emotionally abusive relationships; Colonialism; Racism; Depictions of kissing and romance; Off-screen sex; Relationship breakups
Like many of Aliette de Bodard’s works I have read so far, she proves is a master of world-building. Relying on Vietnamese history and culture as she often does for short stories, Fireheart Tiger mirrors Southeast Asia’s early experiences with colonialism in the relationship between Bình Hải and the European analogue of Ephteria. This allows her to create a rich environment for the diplomatic and political maneuvering without having to spend many pages on describing the two nations’ socio-political situations.
This may be a slightly unfair comparison, but one drawback with this story in comparison to my past experiences with de Bodard’s work like In The Vanisher’s Palace is that the emotional stakes did not reach the peak I expected. It was more difficult for me to sympathize with Thanh or connect with the characters around her then it was to connect with Yên, Vu Côn, and Vu Côn’s children. I expect one reason is that In The Vanisher’s Palace is almost double the length at 210 printed pages versus Fireheart Tiger’s 106.
Despite the short length, the two stories almost had the same amount of stuff going on. Thanh’s, and thus our, attention is split between Eldris and another love interest in Giang, all with the growing tension with her mother and her desperate attempts to keep Bình Hải from being taken advantage of. Giang in particular gets the short shrift despite being a character that I personally felt was much more interesting and has a larger potential impact on the story as both a character and a relationship partner.
I feel that either the story could have used some fleshing out in order to add some more growth for Giang her relationship with Thanh or some shifting of narrative focus away from Eldris to Giang. That said, the resulting relationships between the characters are satisfying and I think Thanh and Giang’s story could be easily continued into a sequel should de Bodard wish to explore Giang’s further evolution as a more human-like character.
I would score Fireheart Tiger an easy 8.5/10 and highly recommend it.