I know I’ve gotten horribly behind on my book reviews. Why? Because life happens. Not sure how else to put it considering the life I lead—mother of a busy 10-year-old and all the associated activities, family, etc. that goes along with that, and my day job as a clinic supervisor in a hospital. So yeah, no going any further there.
Instead, let’s move on to the first of hopefully multiple reviews for things I’ve read in the last year or so. I’m back up to one I read back in March of this year—Tiger Lily by K. Bird Lincoln. This is a fantasy novel with a historical bent to it. Lily, born in the year of the Tiger, just can’t keep herself out of trouble. From following the old ways to her entanglements with the Daimyo’s son, Ashikaga, she continually does the wrong thing, even when it leads to good things in the end.
First, I loved the book being an Asian fantasy novel. It felt well researched and respectfully handled. The level of detail impressed me, all the while feeling effortless. While there are a growing number of fantasy novels set with non-white/non-Eurocentric characters and cultures out there, finding ones that show a good understanding of the chosen culture while being respectful seems to be a bit more challenging to find. Personally, I think Lincoln has done well in this regard.
I also loved the gender twist incorporated into the story. Not going to say too much because I don’t want to ruin the surprise. I will say the twist felt pretty well written to me and, while not entirely a shocking surprise, it also wasn’t telegraphed way ahead of time like I’ve seen done before.
Finally, I really appreciated the ending. It all felt like the story was building to a good, yet predictable, ending. And it did. But not quite. There are a few pieces that added a little special something I hadn’t fully expected in the end.
On to the things I wasn’t so fond of. The biggest aspect of this novel I didn’t appreciate as much was the relationship between Lily and Ashikaga. Now, I get it, this novel was set in feudal Japan and that means there are many trappings that go along with this kind of relationship. Yet, I struggled with the push-pull of their relationship, with the almost abusive dynamics that occasionally cropped up, and the awkwardness of it. And, before you say it—yes, I get the relationship was meant to be awkward. This felt disproportionately so to me.
Another piece I struggled with was that gender twist. While I loved the inclusion of it and all, I also felt rather let down by it in the end. I know this is only book 1 of a series, but I felt like it should have gone somewhere further than it did. It wasn’t quite mentioned and forgotten about as I’ve seen elsewhere, but it wasn’t that far from either. I hope Lincoln builds upon it further in the rest of the series.
Finally, I also had a hard time with Lily as a character. She spends what feels like an inordinate amount of time bemoaning her fate, belaboring her sense of shame over what she’s done and not done, and seems to stay mired in inaction for so much of the book. Again, I get things like honor and shame are vastly different concepts in eastern cultures, so I understand the need to play this up further to make the book feel authentic. Yet I felt beat over the head with it at multiple points throughout the book. It seemed like it could have been dialed back a little to make Lilly a little more likeable and engaging while preserving the eastern culture around honor and shame.
I enjoyed the book and appreciated the immersive Japanese culture. And there were some things I struggled with more. In the end I settled on a solid 3 stars. Good, not great, but could be way worse, too.