Book review: ‘The Tiger’s Daughter,’ by K. Arsenault Rivera

Rivera, K. Arsenault, The Tiger’s Daughter. Tor. $15.99. 528p. PB. 9780765392534

The Tiger’s Daughter opens on a young empress lounging in her room, preparing for her day. She receives a package from one of her senior house servants, who remarks that the handwriting is terrible. The empress immediately knows from whom the package came and declares that she is not to be disturbed unless she calls for an attendant. This is how the story of O-Shizuka, Divine Empress of Hokkaro, and Barsalayya Shefali, Qorin warrior, begins. The story unfolds through the letters Shefali has written to Shizuka, recounting all that they’ve been through together, from their prophesied birth to their battles with various demons and shades, as well as all that has happened to Shefali alone, traveling the world in search of a phoenix feather.

I really enjoyed this novel. It’s the first fantasy novel I’ve been able to finish in a very long time. The main characters are explicitly lesbian, and there are other LGBTQ characters as well. The supporting cast is equally as compelling as the main characters, which I always think is important in a fantasy novel. It’s a fairly quick read once you get started. The story is compelling. I had a hard time pulling myself away from it. There are hints that the characters will develop beyond what they are, perhaps as a result of their travails, and I’d be interested in reading that development, but I was left feeling as though Shizuka never quite outgrew being a spoiled princess, and Shefali never quite stood up for herself as an equal in their relationship. Yes, they grew in other ways, but these traits, I feel, will be significant to their further growth together.

A shadow on an otherwise good debut is that the novel does draw on negative stereotypes in Asian cultures. I found myself pausing and side-eyeing some of the language used throughout.

The Tiger’s Daughter is part of a planned trilogy from Tor. If your fantasy collection is aching for more epic stories, this is not one to miss.