Empire, love, betrayal, and duty…
Fire burns bright and has a long memory….
Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace.
Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions.
Can Thanh find the freedom to shape her country’s fate — and her own?
This latest novella by Aliette de Bodard is a moving, engaging tale of politics, love, divided loyalties, and betrayal. It has many of the hallmarks of a great de Bodard story, and I enjoyed it.
The novella is quite brief, so I’ll keep my review short to avoid spoilers. It follows Thanh, a princess who has been given the role of diplomat in new negotiations with Ephteria. As a child, Thanh was sent to Ephteria as a hostage, and formed a bond with Eldris — the confident, capable and attractive delegate from Ephteria. Reunited after so long apart, Thanh’s feelings resurface, creating concerns about conflicts of interest and divided loyalties. In a short time, Thanh will be forced to confront her different loyalties, and make choices between love, patriotism, and family.
It also revives Thanh’s memories and fears about a devastating event in Ephteria. She’s still struggling with the flames: what causes them? How and can she control them? Are they tied to her emotions? If so, does she run the risk of hurting those around her? Over the course of the novella, we learn the truth about this strange power Thanh appears to have. We also see how relationships can shift and change with time, and how they can be manipulated to serve different agendas.
Fireheart Tiger is a well-crafted and well-written novella. De Bodard has penned a briskly-paced, but by no means rushed, story. The author’s writing is evocative, and yet also sparsely described (no info-dumps or florid descriptions here). I enjoyed getting to know Thanh, and seeing her come to terms with the realities of her situation, and overcome a few obstacles to achieving her official duties and wrestling with her personal desires. The other characters are similarly well-drawn, however we don’t spend much time with anyone else (except for one other, but… spoilers).
If you are already a fan of de Bodard’s writing, I have no doubt that you will enjoy Fireheart Tiger. If you are new to the author’s work, then this novella could serve as a very good introduction. So, a win-win for any reader. I would be interested in reading more stories in this setting, too, so crossing fingers for that in the future. Recommended.