This is one of those books that I really want to write a full review of, but if I talk about it too much I think everyone is going to think I hated it. The last time this happened was a little book called The Goblin Emperor that I had almost nothing but negative-sounding observations about but ended up being my second favorite book of 2015. If you look at Goodreads, the book doesn’t even have very high review scores, and in some ways I would not necessarily start an argument with someone who didn’t like it. There are, unfortunately, a number of bad reasons to dislike the book that I would very much start an argument about, but certain things I’d have to shrug and mumble something about different people liking different things at.
Just to give an example, this is the back cover copy:
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.
That description is missing what turns out to be a kinda important aspect of the book, which is that the whole damn thing is a love story, and the main characters are both women. You’ll note that there are no gender-identified words describing Barsalayaa, which is actually a little offensive but I know the author doesn’t write the back cover copy so I’m not going to make a thing out of it. Also, the entire book is fairly described as the setup to what we are told about above. So I wouldn’t necessarily be mad at you if you read that description and then didn’t like the book you got. Because the book you will get is not the book that that blurb describes.
The Tiger’s Daughter is basically an epistolary novel. O-Shizuka, Empress of the Hokkaran empire, receives a book from Barsalayaa in the first chapter and spends the entire book reading it. It is clear that she and Barsalayaa haven’t seen each other in a very long time. Curiously, the book she receives is telling her the story of her and Barsalayaa’s relationship together, so for the most part she’s reading a description of stuff she already knows. This is another bit where I won’t be angry with you if you don’t like it; you can either get past this or you can’t, because it is kinda strange.
Other than that, though, this is a remarkable Goddamned book and I loved every page of it. It’s the first book on my shortlist for 2019, and I’d be very surprised if it didn’t end up on my Best Of at the end of the year. The Mongolia-and-China-inspired world Rivera has created is multilayered and fascinating, and Barsalayaa and O-Shizuka are amazing characters that I don’t think I’m ever going to get tired of. The characters are a strength across the board, honestly. The writing itself is exceptional; there’s a lovely lyricism to Rivera’s wordplay that never overwhelms the story– she’s not writing to be clever or to impress anyone, which tends to make me nuts– and the story itself is unique and will keep you up past bedtime while you’re reading. I don’t want to spoil any of the actual events of the book, which begins (or at least the book-within-the-book begins) with the two main characters as children and …
Well, I spent most of the book worrying about how it was going to end, frankly, and it ends about as perfectly as it possibly could have. I have already ordered the sequel and will be getting to it very soon; I can’t wait to read it.
Check this one out, guys.