I fell in love with The Tiger’s Daughter from its first pages. It was as easy as breathing. What initially charmed me was the narrative voice, but what threw me head over heels was the cast of heroines, mother and daughter alike, which form the very spine of these pages. And that was just the first taste.
Barsalai Shefali and O-Shizuka were destined to be friends from the moment they were born: two girls graced by pine needles. Only then did their mothers begin to realize the momentous occasion, the beginning of a friendship that would change the very fabric of this world. The universe merely smiled. Divided by cultures and separated by prejudice, these two women are joined by more than friendship. Connected by power, legacy, and most importantly love, even more powerful than believed, they are a force to be reckoned with. A force that will cross countries steeped with fear, slay tigers in a land without any, and fight the demons of the night.
Before I talk about how deep my love for the women in this book goes, I would like to focus on a few other aspects. Once I begin professing my adoration for not only the main characters, but basically every woman in this book, I would not be able to stop, and the world building and plot deserve some attention.
Walking through these pages is like taking your first steps in a greenhouse. The atmosphere changes, a mist settles into your bones, and your eyes see colors it has only dreamed of. Every step further takes you deeper into its clutches, enfolding you in its richness before it will deposit you on the other side, its halls a mere memory. It is never heavy handed. Instead, it is slow paced, light as a breeze, and making the most of each page. To phrase it as atmospheric and detailed seemed like a vast understatement.
The plot is something else entirely. Unfolding over decades, this book spares no expense to document the friendship of Shefali and Shizuka. The results are rich beyond measure. By witnessing their very first meeting, the histories of their parents, we are enriched by their legacy. Their friendship is written in the fabric of destiny and Rivera’s extensive story, as told by Shefali’s letter (frame narratives are my favorite type), is the only way we can fathom the foundations of their relationship.
The Characters – Where This Book Shines
Now let me commence the words that will attempt to convey my utter love for these characters. Given the history within the story, we glimpse our heroines at each stage of their lives – from childhood challenges to fierce warriors. Shizuka is courageous, daring, and tender. Being raised in the court leaves no room for weakness and her fearlessness presents itself in battle and finery. Shefali is a woman of little words, but she is equally compassionate, loyal, and brave. We witness their mistakes, the ones we make as children in a rush to be adults with responsibility without knowing its immense weight. At the same time, we see through Shefali’s eyes the fears we have, especially of our own making, and the experiences that force us to grow. Apart these two are comets shooting across the sky, but together they are firecrackers.
The love they have for each other and the depth of their friendship is moving. It is equally fragile and strong, defying the challenges of society while maintaining its innocence and susceptibility to the movements of those beyond our control. Rivera paints some of the most beautiful explanations of love I have ever read. The additional LGBTQIA, lesbian relationship aspect makes it even more important. It becomes not only poignant, but also necessary. It is a love that, even today, defies traditions and inspires legends.
This does not merely present itself in one way, but manifests in many other small touches. Which brings me to my love of the ‘side’ characters, for with the amount of detail and care put into them seems an ill-fitting description. I could not begin to pick a favorite. An obvious choice would be the two mothers of these great heroines, who are infamous in and of themselves. Their relationship is complex, and one I hope to read about in another of Rivera’s books. The relationship each has to her daughter is precious beyond words. I have a sweet spot for mother/daughter relationships and in this aspect Rivera does not disappoint.
Another choice would be Shefali’s cousin, who is a force herself, both formidable and caring. But these strong women, and there are many, are interspersed through the text in a variety of roles, until the very end, when they confront the status quo of the world and dare to carve a different path.
As I turned each page, I fell more and more in love with this story, its characters, and the promise of its future. The ending does not disappoint, as it is both satisfying and still inspires a sense of eager anticipation within you. This is an epic story of friendship: how it thrives through distance and time, is stretched, but never broken. This is an epic story of love – the love we have for our mothers and daughters, the love we have for those we cannot bear to live without, and the love we struggle to find for ourselves.
Disclaimer: Thank you for Tor for sending me this ARC. I received it in exchange for an honest review.
What is your favorite novel with letters in it?
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