Review: FIREHEART TIGER by Aliette de Bodard

I go batshit crazy every time I hear there’s a new Aliette de Bodard novella coming out. I went even more wild when I saw the cover art for FIREHEART TIGER, her latest release about a toxic sapphic romance that examines the impact of colonialism in a Vietnamese-inspired fantasy world.

You know those writers that just have a signature style? A really distinguishable voice and themes that run through their work that make you just know who you’re reading? Aliette de Bodard is one of those writers. She has a wonderful way of tackling huge themes within the confines of very personal stories and Fireheart Tiger is exactly that. It’s the story of quiet, thoughtful Thanh, a princess in the court of Bình Hải, now a diplomat in the service of the crown tasked with heading upcoming negotiations with the colonial nation of Ephteria, where she once resided as a royal hostage. Things take a sinister and complicated turn however, when Thanh’s former lover Eldris of Ephteria is revealed to be a lead negotiator on the other side. It soon becomes clear Eldris has ulterior motives for attempting to rekindle their old flame and flames, in Thanh’s hands, are far from benign.

Good novella writers are so talented man. It really is a skill to be able to write such a packed story in such a short word count. I feel like I got to know so much about Thanh’s personality, her relationships and the world she lives in without anything feeling left out of the story de Bodard set out to tell. From Thanh’s troubled time spent as a hostage in Ephteria and her fractious relationship with her mother to the subtle displays of pageantry and veiled insults of social behaviour in the imperial court, everything felt wonderfully vibrant and complete. Social behaviour and the messages imbued in it is actually part of that signature de Bodard style that I love; when the Ephterian trade delegation arrives it’s outwardly portrayed as a ‘friendly visit’ and on the surface everyone behaves as though this were true, but all the same ‘they can all hear the words that aren’t said, the truth of steel beneath the silver-tongued platitudes’. I love big fantasy battles and naked violence as much as any reader, but there’s something about the subtlety of barbed words and the violence meted out in treaties and administration that is infinitely more fascinating to me. It actually gives this novella a quieter vibe than a lot of fantasy stories, but dig a little deeper and it’s apparent that a signature on a scroll of parchment can be just as dramatic as any pitched battle.

The imbalance of power is a big theme of this book. Thanh’s relationship with Eldris is a sort of microcosm of the power imbalance between both their countries as a whole. There was a wonderfully poetic mirroring of these two relationships in the narrative that was really well done and added deeper layers of meaning to the story. Where Bình Hải cannot overcome the might of Ephteria alone and must look to other smaller nations to ally and band together with, so does Thanh come to find strength and partnership in the fire elemental, Giang. I’m wary of talking too much about Giang, as I think readers are best served by going in with as little info about their role in the story as possible but, suffice to say, the relationship that develops between Thanh and Giang over the course of the story is both painful and heart-warming, like any complex relationship rooted in shared trauma and a mutual coming to terms with it would be. As a reader I find I’m coming to appreciate complex romance stories like this more than I ever thought I would, and Aliette de Bodard has had a major part to play in that.

This is another novella Aliette de Bodard has knocked out of the park. Complex and subtle in places, explosive and heartwrenching in others, Fireheart Tiger is for sure a story I’ll be recommending everyone read.

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22 thoughts on “Review: FIREHEART TIGER by Aliette de Bodard

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  1. This sounds fantastic. I’ve been intrigued by her since The Tea Master and the Detective came out.
    I listened to most of Vanisher’s Palace but audiobook is a pretty hit and miss format for me. Might give this one a go!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I find audio can either really make a story or really break it. I’ve had a few audiobooks I haven’t liked and given up on to then go on and really love the print.

      I find Aliette de Bodard’s novellas fascinating cos on the face of it they’re really not the typical stories I’m drawn to. They tend on the quiet side with romantic relationships at their centre (not usually my vibe) but there’s something about her writing and the themes she explores that just draws me in every time.

      Did you finish In the Vanishers Palace and have you read The Tea Master and the Detective yet?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah I stopped listening to them regularly when I realised I wasn’t enjoying any of the books as much as I should. I think the few times it’s worked well was with Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children books, and Walking to Aldebaran (so good). I feel like I need to revisit Dead Djinn and Haunting of Tramcar 015 before I read Master of Djinn so I have a proper appreciation!

        And no, I didn’t finish it. I think I had a budget-y month and cancelled my Scribd 😂 that was my first of her books. I did get the vibe that I’d really like her writing style on the page though

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t tend to read novellas in audio cos I have an Audible subscription which works by spending credits and I feel cheated by spending a credit on a novella I could spend on a 500 page book haha. (Wayward children and Walking to Aldebaran are novellas right?)

          Thing is with Aliette de Bodard I could def see why people wouldn’t like her novellas. They’re sort of quiet and contemplative and not written in a very ‘actiony’ style so she’s def not going to be for everyone, but I hope you end up enjoying her stuff if you read it in print.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your review… !!! You definitely captured all my feelings about the book perfectly too 😊😊😊
    And I completely agree with what you said… the author’s style of romance is just so unique and exquisite.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aliette de Bodard’s novellas intrigue me cos on the surface they’re not what I’d usually gravitate towards, but her style of writing just gets me every time. Or maybe I just like romance more than I think haha.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have not yet read anything from Aliette de Bodard, but every time I see a review for one of her books, it’s a positive one – and this shorter work might very well be a good way to sample her style, not to mention that this *flaming* cover look irresistible! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She’s a great writer. She has a lot of novellas too, I think you might like The Tea Master and the Detective, but any of them are good places to jump in really 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Brilliant review! I’m so excited for my preorder of this one to come through. I’m a little nervous about this one because I’ve DNF’d the two novellas I’ve tried by de Bodard so far, but this one sounds like the perfect fantasy story for me and one of its comp titles is my all-time favourite novel. You’ve definitely got me even more excited to try it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Eeeeeee! I’m soooo excited for this one! I have my copy on preorder so it should be arriving soon. I love her style as well. The themes, the style…she’s a brilliant writer. I really need to read much more of her work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I think she’s great too. I’ve had some folks say they’ve DNF’d some of her previous books and tbh I can def see why. Was just saying to @jakeisreading that her style is quiet and contemplative and not very ‘actiony’, so def not for everyone but I personally like it a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have a fascination with court protocols and diplomacy and I love a good scene where everybody is polite but insulting each other the whole time. Especially if the insult is delivered non-verbally, like the way in which you bow to someone or the order they are served. This sounds like something I would love, and the one novella I read of de Bodard I really enjoyed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha same. There’s a bunch of that in Fireheart Tiger. It’s one of the things I love about the Green Bone Saga too. Obv not ‘court’ protocol per se but I vividly remember that scene with Ayt Mada and Anden where she pours her own tea first and from that point on he knows exactly how she perceives him and the power dynamics are established. I ate that up.

      Liked by 1 person

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