Genre | Fantasy Novella
Page #s | 99
Publishing Date | February 2021
Award-winning author Aliette de Bodard returns with a powerful romantic fantasy that reads like The Goblin Emperor meets Howl’s Moving Castle in a pre-colonial Vietnamese-esque world.
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?
Although the themes of power differentials and self-empowerment were great, the fact that they were portrayed through the lens of two romances that I found fairly equally unappealing led to an ambivalent reading experience for me.
Thanh is in her home country of Bihn Hai, still reeling from a traumatic fire six years ago and feeling useless in her position as princess and diplomat. When their powerful neighbor to the north comes to negotiate, Thanh must make some huge decisions that will impact both herself and her country. Her ex-lover, Princess Eldris of Ephteria, has come to propose, but Thanh isn’t sure that this is what she wants.
I think the biggest problem for me was that we get hints of Eldris’s anger and control because Thanh says so, but we what we see is someone who professes their love and defends their relationship against those who would try to exploit it (until the end, anyway). I do appreciate the fact that in this relationship, Thanh would never truly be Eldris’s equal because of politics, but I’m not convinced that the romantic alternative is much better.
Now, I love a fire elemental. But the fact that this book opens with Thanh having a traumatic flashback to the fire that almost killed her (and did kill others) but finds the elemental responsible a viable love interest didn’t track for me. Thanh! You don’t have to choose between two powerful and dangerous women! Find yourself a better girlfriend.
The romances are central to the story, but what I liked best was Thanh’s growing confidence as a diplomat and a stateswoman. She is eventually able to stand up to her mother the Queen and create a path to a more independent future for her country. That stuff was all awesome, and if the romances had been left out I might have liked the book a lot more (chalk that up to something I never thought I’d say!).
Who Would I Recommend This Book To?
Despite my ambivalence, this is a great little book to give to a friend who wants to dip their toes into Asian-based fantasy worlds with queer lady protagonists.
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