The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault RiveraThe Tiger's Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
Series: Their Bright Ascendency #1
Published by Tor Books on October 3rd, 2017
Genres: Fantasy, LGBTQ+
Pages: 512

Even gods can be slain….

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

2.5 Stars

The most valuable member of the clan is the person who tells the best stories around the fire.

Frankly, anything blurbed by V.E. Schwab I expect to love. Alas, this was not the best story told around the fire, albeit showing immense potential.

Mid-book,I feared I was going to end up rating one of my most anticipated releases less than 2 stars. The first half lulled me to sleep, resulting in a lot of skimming. The second half was distinctly better than the first, the last 100 or so pages interesting even. From 5 stars to DNFs, you’ll see everything among this debut’s ratings, as it is a peculiar book and simply subject to individual taste.

The Tiger’s Daughter entailed a beautifully written same sex romance with two heart-winning heroines, but the action-packed fantasy I’d hoped for based on the premise was nonexistent. To me, The Tiger’s Daughter was more an epic love story than an epic fantasy novel. The storytelling – the point of view written in form of a letter – was not to my liking. Though the book ended better than it started, I lowered my rating to 2.5 stars because it couldn’t make up for the earlier amount of bored skimming.

FYI: In my understanding, this book is going to be published as adult fantasy, and its content warrants being shelved as such (or NA), but definitely not YA.

I had a rocky start with The Tiger’s Daughter. I am not the greatest fan of present tense in fantasy novels, and though I quickly got used to the tense, I struggled to adapt to the point of view. The story switches between few chapters written in 3rd person POV and most of the chapters in the form of a letter in 2nd person POV. The point of view will be one key point deciding whether you’ll connect or disconnect from the story. It took me way too long to adapt to this peculiar perspective which dampened my enjoyment of this book. As mentioned, most of the book is written as a letter from one lover to another. A friend of mine correctly pointed out that it makes no sense to write a letter in order to describe experiences in which the addressee took part, but I’ll leave that unquestioned for now. Unfortunately, noticeable parts of the letter contained info-dump to establish the world-building. This improved as the story progressed but it made me put The Tiger’s Daughter aside after one chapter and pick it up several weeks later. Again, this may be subject to individual taste, but it certainly wasn’t how I would’ve chosen to tell the story. Arsenault Rivera demonstrates excellent skill with regard to writing but there were also passages that felt choppy or forced to me.

You can tell how much effort went into the world-building. The realm Arsenault Rivera has created is rich in its influences from several Asian cultures. The two (main) differing ethnicities – the Hokkaran people and the Qorin tribe – seem to have been inspired by Japanese and Tibetan/Mongolian culture (one Qorin character even bore the last name of a Tibetan friend of mine). I really enjoyed the “clash” between these two ethnicities; the Hokkaran who deem themselves superior to the tribes of the steppes and the Qorin who wouldn’t trade their freedom under the stars for Hokkaran golden cages. However, it doesn’t go unnoticed that Arsenault Rivera also freely mixed cultural elements, for example Japanese and Chinese, which can be problematic, especially for readers of the respective origins (follow the link to read a review confronting this issue!). There are also several terms Arsenault Rivera uses with disregard of offence to these respective cultures, such as a description of being “flat-faced”. I cannot speak of behalf of readers personally affected by this but if they consider this racist, then it’s racist.

In the centre of golden palaces and the vastness of the steppes, Arsenault Rivera placed two opposites attracted to each other like moths to the light. As with everything I like about this book, it took me 250 pages to realise that I was fond these characters. O-Shizuka aka Empress Yui is an overly confident, spoiled, rampant peacock of a royal but with a fierce protective sense for her lover and her people. Barsalyya Shefali is a shy and observant warrior from whose point of view the letters are written. I really enjoyed how these two characters balanced out each other’s flaws. The Tiger’s Daughter features many diverse elements, the obvious ones being the same sex romance and the various ethnicities. Shefali’s mother, though mute by choice, communicated in sign language which was amazing.

Apart letter format and the point of view, which I needed time getting used to, it was the plot that let me down most. The story switches between the present, told from the perspective of O-Shizuka, and the past, told through a letter written by Shefali. However, the letter is predominant and, for most of the time, I was a bit confused of how the past related back to the present. Besides, I was simply bored out of my mind for the first half of the book. Mid-book, it seemed like barely anything had happened, save for a few tiny adventures, character bonding, and a hint of political intrigue. Up to that point, the plot had felt entirely without aim. I expect a good book to hook me within the first 50 pages but, sadly, that didn’t happen. During the second half, the plot improved noticeably. The romance got serious, the book finally spouted some demons, and the political intrigue turned into a full-blown conspiracy. I also saw a swordfight carried out over more than two passages for the first time since O-Shizuka had always beaten her opponents with one strike before. I love heroines that are good at fighting but this seemed a little extreme. I was disappointed with the plot, mostly because the premise had me expect something fast-paced and action-packed.

The romance was well written, following the growing love between two girls who had wrestled each other half to death as children but became each other’s most trusted companions as they became older. I thought the characters were a little young for the mature way they behaved, and there is some explicit/graphic content (!) with regard to love scenes (see my earlier remark about this not classifying as YA). It’s also unlikely someone running a high fever would have the energy for mind-blowing sex, just saying. Last but not least, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Arsenault Rivera certainly knew how to let her story advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. The same sex romance is considered forbidden but these societal standards are continuously challenged by the two lovers and trusted side protagonists, and I believe this will be a great example of a fictional realm who will learn to accept same sex relationships as a given.

“We’re both girls,” I said.
You grabbed me by the flap of my deel. Mad with strength, you rolled us over. Hot tears fell on my chest and face.
“Did you hear me?” you roared. “I don’t care! In all the lands of the Empire, I’ve only ever wanted to marry you. You fool Quorin! You do not hesitate to slay a tiger, but you hesitate to kiss a girl?”

Though the same sex romance was one of the reasons I’d been curious about this debut – f/f relationships are so rare in fantasy –, I was disappointed by how much stronger the love story was than the plot. The political intrigue was enjoyable but I’d have needed more of it and earlier in the book. The fantasy elements seemed underdevelopped until the very end. Albeit having improved, The Tiger’s Daughter was a letdown for me. Lastly, there is also the issue of appropriation of East Asian culture and potential racism as pointed out by a reviewer of Japanese origin, which should be taken seriously.

**I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts are my own. Quotations may be subject to change in the final copy.**