Review of The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

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This is the debut novel for Rivera. It runs about 500 pages and was published by Tor in October 2017. Rivera is Puerto Rican and currently lives in New York City.

Qorin tribeswoman and warrior Shefali Arsalayaa writes a letter to her friend and previous lover O-Shizuka, Empress of Hokkaro. In this letter, Shefali details their childhood together beginning at age three, and follows Shizuka’s growing conviction that the two of them are divine, favored by the gods and destined for great deeds. Shizuka becomes an accomplished swordswoman while Shefali favors a bow. The two of them slay a tiger at a young age and then move on to tackle the demons that are sucking life out of the kingdom. This is a difficult and dangerous task, and they both suffer for it. They become lovers, but are separated when Shefali is exiled by Shizuka’s uncle, then Emperor of Hokkaro. Can the two of them find one another again?

Tor’s announcement bills this as Mongolian inspired, and Shefali might be, but Shizuka and her culture come across as heavily Japanese. This generated knee-jerk complaints on Tor’s website about a “white” woman appropriating Asian culture, which degenerated into something of a mess when others pointed out that Rivera isn’t white and others questioned whether non-whites can appropriate culture. Certainly Rivera hasn’t written the book about her own cultural heritage.

Good points: The Tor editor described this as “stunning,” and the prose is very well done. The imagery, especially Shefali’s descriptions of her lover, is sometimes striking. Characterization of the two main protagonists is also well-done, as the two of them have depth and substance. There’s a suggestion of power plays in the court, but the intrigues aren’t the main story.

Not so good points: I like women’s adventure, but the literary device of the letter made this primarily about the love story. It also removed all immediacy from the action and events. Who writes a 500 page letter detailing whole lives and mooning about the attributes of their lover? The result was that I got bored about 1/3 of the way through and had a hard time finishing. Despite the imagery, the world isn’t well defined, and I had a hard time integrating the steppes and the kingdom. Characters other than Shefali and Shizuka tend to be flat and don’t always ring true. There’s a huge gap of years here, and no indication of how Shizuka displaced her uncle to become Empress. Did he die childless? Did she off him in some way? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Three stars.

David Levithan’s Every Day, take two

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A couple of days into thoughts about the Hugo nomination process totally missing fringe publications, I’ve come up with a good example. David Levithan’s Every Day is a book I reviewed on the blog a little while back. I gave this one five stars, which is hard to get out of me. I think it is totally and awesomely brilliant.

Every Day was published in 2013 and received the Lambda Award for Best LBGTQ Children’s/Teen Book. It went on to feature on the New York Times Bestseller List. This means my opinion isn’t unusual, either from the literary community or the fan community. However, this book never made a ripple in the SF&F community because SF&F isn’t something Levithan normally writes.

I’m seeing quite a bit of activity out there just now in trying to work out a better system to locate award-worthy works. Let’s not forget the fringes, folks. That’s where genius really lies.

Young Love, Old Hearts

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oldloveyoungheartsfinal Here’s an early look at the cover for this anthology. Watch for it to come out in May, featuring my story “That December.” I have to say I’m glad to see that LGBT diversity is alive and thriving. I’ve been seeing more fiction featuring people with disabilities, too. As a side note, I’ve submitted a story to Queers Destroy SF, but we’ll have to see how that falls out.

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