The Tiger's Daughter

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Oct 2017

Member Reviews

When I picked up The Tiger’s Daughter (2017), I didn’t know what I was getting into. Written as a long, dramatic letter between two old friends, it is an epic tale of loss, faith, political intrigue, and forbidden love. The Tiger’s Daughter is the debut novel from K. Arsenault Rivera, and set to be the first book in the series titled THEIR BRIGHT ASCENDENCY. The Tiger’s Daughter wends its way from the first time our heroes meet, over their entire lives, and up to the present — where one friend, the empress O-Shizuka, is reading said letter (the letter itself being the bulk of the book) from the other, Barsalayaa Shefali. Both are heirs to very different thrones and handle that knowledge differently — as befit their starkly different upbringings and wider global status. They are two individuals at the heart of peace, politics, and espionage.

The peoples in The Tiger’s Daughter are inspired by a variety of Asian nations, most prominently: China, Japan, and the Mongols. In this way, the story’s setting mirrors that of countless other fantasy epics (that is, being loosely based on a medieval setting) — but this time, the inspiration comes from outside of ancient or medieval Europe, and instead takes cues from ancient and medieval Asia. I don’t dislike the prevalence of medieval Europe as a base or reference point for settings in fantasy fiction, but I was no less delighted to be reading an epic tale with a setting based on Asian antiquity. Like the European counterparts, much of the historical references were likely lost on me. I have not studied history with any depth, so it is likely that this book (and I would go so far as to say this ‘type’ of book) will play very differently for someone who is more well versed in varied histories. Maybe that reader would be able to nod along to some of the epic scenes with recognition. That being said, I did not feel like I had to be an expert on any particular time period or place in order to understand and enjoy the story. I recognize that it’s probable I missed some references, but the book still felt chock full of meaning, interest, and intrigue to me.

The story begins when O-Shizuka, the Empress, receives a letter from her oldest and closest friend who, for reasons unknown to the reader, she has not seen in years and misses deeply. Her ‘old friend’ is Shefali, a famous warrior. Shefali has written a history of their lives in the form of an exceedingly long letter. It is a dramatic retelling of their intertwined fates, with added commentary of what Shefali was thinking along the way — giving the retelling new context and even deeper meaning to O-Shizuka.

The first two chapters or so necessitated an adjustment on my part as the reader when I realized that the letter wasn’t going to end any time soon. Once I understood that approximately 90% of The Tiger’s Daughter was to be this letter, I relaxed into the format and deeply enjoyed the telling of the story. Even though the story being told includes the person reading it (as per the narrative of the letter), I believed O-Shizuka’s engagement with the letter of events she lived through because: 1) I believed her yearning for contact with her lost friend, and 2) I believed her characterization of never doing anything by half. She was going to read the entirety of a book-long letter from Shefali, no matter how much of it she already knew, and she was going to do it without interruption. My belief in these facts about the Empress stem directly from the author’s strength in writing the character. O-Shizuka is bold, unbending, confident, and most importantly methodically steadfast in all things she does. Therefore, this is the kind of person who would put her duties as Empress on hold indefinitely to properly appreciate the sole communication she had received from the close friend she mysteriously (to the reader) lost years before.

Throughout the story the archetype of the warrior woman is explored. Both main characters are descended from the greatest warriors in the world — their mothers, who are also best friends. This theme of exceptionally (god-like) skilled female warriors extends throughout the story and colours the entire narrative as one where women are not only part of the armed forces but can and do actively inspire and lead elite teams. This active choice is something I was fascinated by through the tale. It serves as a thematic thread that I enjoyed watching crop up in unexpected places.

The Phoenix Empress (Their Bright Ascendency) Paperback – October 9, 2018 by K Arsenault Rivera (Author)

The nature of the speculative in The Tiger’s Daughter revolves around systems of faith and the existence of demons. The lore suggests that there is a family of gods, and that the Empress or Emperor at the time belongs to that family. Among the gods are those who have been cast out, and whose rebellion includes the legions of demons and individual demons who plague the neighboring nations. Furthermore, those who come into physical contact with any demon become “black bloods” — infected by the darkness and resurrected as demons themselves — if their bodies aren’t burned first. O-Shizuka and Shefali, young warriors descended from demon-killers, dream of slaying demons. Both of their mothers have completed the almost impossible feat of slaying a demon, thus proving to the two young warriors that it’s not only possible, but it’s in their blood. The immense pressure of that legacy affects both women differently. The dichotomy of how they carry that legacy is something I deeply enjoyed watching unfold throughout the story.


The main characters fall in love in The Tiger’s Daughter. They are both warriors, they are both future rulers of different nations, and they are both women. All of those aspects of their lives make their love complicated. This section has been hidden for spoilers because I, myself, did not know that’s where the story was headed. With some light research, it is somewhat clear that The Tiger’s Daughter is billed as having a f/f (female with another female) romance. However, in the case the prospective reader hasn’t come across that, I think there is a great deal of enjoyment to be had by finding that particular plot point out organically. I think it is a bit of a shame that in some places the romance between the two main characters is part of the description of the book, as the romance aspect is not an early-book reveal either.

That all being said, I think that the author expertly navigated Shefali and O-Shizuka’s friendship into close friendship, and then into romantic love with great skill and care. Their relationship, with perhaps one early example, was believable and well plotted — in a slow-burn kind of way. Of course, this is all coming from the standpoint of someone who was unaware of the romantic turn going into reading.


The Tiger’s Daughter has experienced a certain amount of controversy. There are reviews that are calling this story racist. One of the cited complaints is the use of racist language by characters in The Tiger’s Daughter. Racial slurs do play a part in the narrative. There are characters that hurl racially charged insults or mutter them when they think no one else can hear. I found that those characters who consistently use racial slurs or judge the heroes based on their complexion or nose shape are villains at most, or at least, deeply misguided. In all the cases that I came across the racist language was something I noticed — and I also noticed that is was being used by villainous characters outright, or by misguided characters who were ultimately wrong, and judged or confronted accordingly. With the context of the use of racial slurs (who they were said by) I don’t think this book is racist. I think it deals with race in a way that many people live it — and then The Tiger’s Daughter gets to give those characters the villain treatment, making it very clear that their ideas about racial superiority aren’t being condoned.

Going a step further, part of the discussion in other reviews of The Tiger’s Daughter centres on discussing the author as racist as an extension of the racial slurs used by characters. I think in this discussion, it’s important to consider where the racism is coming from. In this case, it isn’t coming from the heroes or from the narration, but explicitly from villainous characters. I think this is important because it reflects ideas that using racial slurs is a negative attribute, and in this case, it seems clear to me it’s not something the author is promoting, but instead portraying as negative.

Finally, The Tiger’s Daughter portrays another layer of the realities of racism. There are instances where Shefali, a woman of mixed racial heritage, uses racialized language when referring to herself in her own internal monologue. I got the distinct impression of this being a person who, having heard the language weaponized against her over her entire life, has internalized those ideas. This characterization felt far from an acceptance of racist ideas, but rather a viscerally real reaction an individual might have if they have grown up surrounded by people who call her names. Although it could be hard to read (too close to home or too relatable), it was very believable to me to see Shefali having internalized some of the attitudes that have been forced upon her. Ultimately, a character with a confused sense of self and some persistent issues with self esteem didn’t feel like a flaw to me — but rather, a strength of the writing and characterization. The Tiger’s Daughter portrays some all-too-real attitudes, and then portrays some very true-to-life reactions to those attitudes in the actions of the main characters. To me, that is a mark of some strong characterization rather than a flaw of the story.

The Tiger’s Daughter gripped me from start to finish. It is imperative to understand quickly that the bulk of the book is told through a letter one of the main characters (who, herself, is portrayed in the letter) is reading. With that, the story and most particularly, the characters, demanded my attention. This epic tale is gripping in scope and stakes and balances them expertly. I highly recommend picking it up. The next book in THEIR BRIGHT ASCENDENCY, titled The Phoenix Empress, will be available to purchase in October of 2018. I will be keeping an eye on this series and I am excited to see if the follow up is as engaging as the first installment.
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I tried this several times but just didn't relate to or like the main characters much. I gave up on reading the whole thing. Sorry for a blah review but there you have it.
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Unfortunately this was not the book for me, I began it multiple times but simply couldn’t get into it which was quite disappointing as from the blurb it sounded like my thing. I simply couldn’t mesh with the way in which it was told in epistolary format.
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This is a fascinating, spread out high fantasy novel with roots in Ancient Asian culture and focuses on the friendship and love between two princesses- Barsalayaa Shefali and O-Shizuka.

This book is told in a mix of present day scenese with O-Shizuka who we know is now Empress, and letters she is reading from Shefali who is talking about their past, their childhood, friendships, adventures and eventual romantic relationship. Through the letters we find out what happened between them, and why in the present day they aren't together how they should be.

I really enjoyed this, and I found it engaging and easy to read. I loved the relationship between the girls. Their world is violent at times, and both of them can kill a man easily thanks to skills they have learned but the moments between them are tender and pure, and really stand out. I also loved the Asian culture that was seeped in this book, and I personally would have identified O-Shizuka as more Chinese or Japanese in heritage, and Shefali as Mongolian, though that's just how I pictured them and it may be different for others.

I will definitely be reading the next book in this series!
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This book did not do it for me. I truly wanted to enjoy it and love it but I had the hardest time even finishing it. It’s nothing against the author because I am sure the book can have a positive audience somewhere, just sadly not for me. TOR is one of my most favorite publishers and I will almost always read a great book from them and recommend them, but not this one. I am so sorry! Please forgive me! Every book has its place, but my place is not with this book..! It was written very well though!
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I sadly DNFed at around 20% in. I really wanted to love it and tried really hard! The writing is fantastic but it's very slow moving and nothing has drawn me in. I find myself not wanting to pick it back up.
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A solid read throughout - would recommend to all sorts of patrons.
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DNF @ 16%

I liked what I did read, but it wasn't enough to hold my attention. It's been sitting on my "currently reading" shelf for six months now, and I haven't had much of a desire to return to it. Like most, I would say I wasn't a fan of the narrative. The world building was pretty lackluster to me as well.
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What an exquisite book - unusually for me, as I normally prefer a non-narrated story. But the writing! Framing the story of The Empress in the words of the one who grew through all her changes with her and loved her the most gave us an amazing love story that spanned decades.  I also loved that while these were 100% kick-ass warrior women, the author wasn't afraid to show them as women - strong women don't have to become men or cold blooded to be strong. 
I'll be hanging out for the second novel in the series.
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This was such a beautiful book! (It's been 6 months since I read this book, but better late than never, right??)

When you've read a lot of fantasy, you develop a sort of intuition for how the story is going to play out. It's hard to tell a story that hasn't already been told a hundred times before; what makes any story worth reading is the details and the characters and the new voice the author brings to the table. The Tiger's Daughter is one of those rare gems that feels sort of familiar but entirely new at the same time.

The story opens with an imperious, headstrong empress on a throne, but then shifts gears as most of the book is in the form of letters addressed to said empress. I have to admit the "You" thing threw me off (I've never been a fan of second-person perspective in novels), but I thought there was a good reason for it and a good balance between time spent on the letters and time in the "present day". I loved that the cultures described in this book were heavily influenced by Asian cultures (Japanese and Mongolian, I think?), because that's just so rare in fantasy. I also loved that most of the main characters were women. There are women leaders, warriors, noblewomen, and traveling nomads. For once it almost seems like the men are there to advance the plot and character development of the women! Almost is the key there, all characters were very well-developed and had interesting, conflicting motivations.

This is a love story for the ages, and I'm not even much of a romantic! I loved how Shefali and O-Shizuka's relationship developed from friendship to love; we get to see them grow up together so the relationship feels very organic. Neither of them gives up their agency or their pride in their very different cultures and heritage; neither of them is reduced to "the romantic interest" as is usually the case for women. It's just so lovely to see queer representation in fantasy, especially between women of color. 

Besides the stunning characters, intricate world-building, political machinations, and exciting demonic creatures from hell, what really captured my attention was the writing style. I just fell in love with how the words flowed on the page. Rivera has such a strong voice, but so do these characters. Although it ends on a fairly conclusive and satisfying note, I cannot wait to see how this story continues to unfold.
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I actually adored everything I was reading but I do want to point out that the Japanese representation is definitely not good. I know bloggers that are Japanese and they say it better than me and I listen because it's their culture and sadly this book was not for them. So even though I liked it of what I read (I DNFed sadly) I trust these opinions and I hope the next book in the series is more well-researched and on point.
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I initially thought I would put this book on pause because I wasn't in the mood to read a long letter, which is what the first few chapters are. Then I read some reviews and discovered that the entire book is a letter. As if the awkward info-dump exposition wasn't bad enough for those few chapters, it actually takes up the whole book? No thanks.

I love the concept, I just wish it had been written like a normal book. Even if it had begun with the main characters' childhoods I wouldn't have minded! 

Also, as soon as I started reading the book I was leery of the pan-Asian mashup going on here, but I am not Asian and I had not read the whole book yet, so I chose not to say anything. However, other reviewers have pointed out that Rivera does a very messy job of portraying Asian cultures.

I'm really disappointed; this was one of the books I was most looking forward to this year.
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DNF @ 5%

I just... I don't understand the languages and the references... it all made me feel uneasy. 

Present tense kinda throws me, which made the beginning awkward, but then it went into a letter/book. A book (from i'm assuming one lover to another) which is just going to go on and on about their lives? INCLUDING a word for word replication of a letter that one of them sent the other when they were five. Are you kidding me? No. I can suspend my belief only so far. And how long is this letter going to be??? And why?? 

So, I just couldn't do it.
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I really wanted to like this book, but I put it down before I reached the halfway point. It has all of the ingredients to be a book that I'd absolutely adore, but my interest kept fizzling out until I set it down and forgot about it. 

Still; we need more f/f fantasy!
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I was beyond excited to pick this book up, even if the reviews I read on Goodreads hadn’t been very positive. It’s a f/f fantasy epic (the book is 500+ pages long) about warrior princesses. Everything about this book sounded perfect when I requested it on NetGalley...the cover, the story, the fact that it was a f/f romance (we need more of these), etc. and it didn’t let me down. I loved it!

One thing I think readers need to keep in mind when they pick this book up is that it’s a slow burn. There are a lot of pages and the story takes time to build. Yes, some sections were a bit too slow for my liking, but the author took her time building up the world and characters. Everything felt fully if I could reach out and touch it, which to me is the hallmark of a beautifully written fantasy world.

What I really enjoyed about this book was how the relationship between the two main characters, Shefali and Shizuka, took center stage. Their adventures, challenges and love for each other took hold of my heart. I just wish that I would have gotten to see both sides of the relationship as it is mostly told through letters from one POV. Besides my love for the main characters, the supporting cast was also superbly written. Ren, a little used but intriguing transgender character, really stood out. I hope that she has a larger role in future books.

Overall, I was quite pleased with this book and look forward to picking up the sequel. The author has created a gorgeous character-driven world that completely hooked me from the very start. So, while it may have been a little too long with some slow sections, it’s well worth it! This really is a book that you need to read.
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I'm going to be that person and I'm probably going to get some side-eye for this but. . . I didn't like The Tiger's Daughter. I wanted to. I REALLY wanted to. It feeds into all that I could want from a fantasy novel, at least on the surface, but beneath the cover I just struggled so much.

A lot of this comes down to the writing style. It wasn't exactly strange, but it wasn't what I expected either -- and it didn't work for me. We see the story told through letters back and forth between the two protagonists which details their history. And I was bored. I mean flat out, don't want to keep reading ever again bored.

I made it about a quarter of the way through and prepared to DNF the book completely but I checked the reviews (you know, maybe I was missing some key element) and it had a bunch of 4-5 stars so there must be something redeemable, right? I pushed through to the end which took a while and I honestly didn't like the book any more than I did to start. There was just so much filler and I didn't understand why the novel would be in this format. Obviously I can't say if it would have been better if a different style had been chosen but I have to wonder.

Now I can't speak to the East Asian influence in this story as that is not my place but in terms of looking at it as a reader, the world didn't feel like it had its own uniqueness (if that makes sense). For me, it almost read like historical fiction of sorts rather than fantasy which is totally fine, mind you, but not what I was expecting or how it's been marketed. That may have just been my reading experience, though. 

I don't have much more to say about The Tiger's Daughter. I'm happy so many people enjoyed it but I found it boring to the point of nearly DNFing it which is a shame. Can't say I recommend this book but I encourage you to check out some of the positive reviews before making your own decision!
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I enjoyed this book. I loved parts of it (that ending is magnificent!) and parts of it dragged on for me. It took me almost 2 months to read, partially because of the slow parts, partially because other things kept distracting me, partially because I slipped up and read other reviews on Goodreads before starting and so they were always niggling in the back of my mind.

The two protagonists are both very well characterized, and it's easy to empathize with both of them. Their motivations largely make sense, and I didn't have any believability issues with them. 

I liked the narrative style, with most of the book written as a letter and only little bits taking place in the present. It does take a little bit to get used to in the beginning, but it's not horribly jarring. 

I can see where the rather notorious Goodreads review is coming from with some of the cultural sensitivity issues. I don't know enough about any of the cultures that are so obviously borrowed from to say whether they're accurate critiques, but I will say that it would have made just as much sense to borrow less and make up more, and made people far less unhappy. 

I liked the plot, both all the action and developing romance, as well as the focus on family relationships. 

There's a lot to enjoy about this book, and I'd recommend it for folks who are looking for Asian-inspired fantasy, epic fantasy, LQBTQ fantasy, women-centered narratives, and people looking for non-linear narration styles. 

I was provided a review copy of this book courtesy of Net Galley.
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I really struggle to write this review. I didn’t dislike this book, but I also didn’t really like it either. The story surrounds 2 main characters that live in an Asian and Mongolian based setting where they have to fight demons. The story is told as flashbacks when the Asian-esque Empress reads her and the other main character’s life story written by a Mongolian-esque warrior woman. Did I mention that they are lesbian lovers? But of course, their life is not all rainbows and sunshine because of that (and some other drama that we find throughout the book).  I’m not sure what it was for me, but there was just something off with the whole book.
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I tried. I genuinely tried. But around halfway through, I had to give in to the fact that not only could I not finish this book by the time it would be released, I couldn't finish it at all.  It is definitely a book that I wanted to like. Historical/Fantasy lesfic is definitely up my alley... but nah.

There are a lot of flaws in both the narrative structure and world building of this book. The writing style contributed the most to my being unable to struggle through the book. The author has chosen to alternate between first person present and SECOND PERSON PAST. It is jarring to the extreme, particularly after you realize that Shefali has essentially decided to write an entire novel to her friend Shizuka that recounts their entire lives together, most of which the recipient of the letter was present for. This makes it even stranger when the author infodumps large swaths of text about one culture or the other; both Shefali and Shizuka know all of this already. Why would you compose that long of a letter, breaking the fourth wall constantly to try to drop all of this information you both know in the laps of the readers? You wouldn't. And without any kind of in-narrative reason for Shefali to recount their adventures, there is zero urgency behind the story. 

These writing choices contribute also to a severe lack of action. Occasionally, it picks up but we see so little directly that it is very hard to engage with the characters. Also, because the letters go one way, the story lacks the unfolding interest of epistolary fiction. Trust, I have read epistolary fiction from the 18th century that was over a thousand pages long each. It doesn't work as well when the characters aren't communicating back and forth.

Furthermore, there are other more detailed reviews that can get into this, but the world building itself all stems from a haphazard blending pan-Asiatic cultures, which includes some demons or something, but as far as I've read, neither narrator has bothered to infodump on how magic or demons work. There are plenty of borrowed words from Japanese and Chinese, without any kind of glossary, as you would have even in the event that you made up your fantasy languages (Tolkien).  Thus, it is at once drearily boring and confusing. 

Thus, I am sad to say that I wouldn't recommend this book. I think it's a pity, because the concept is not beyond redemption, but the execution should have been corrected early in the editing process.
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This book blew me away! I loved the writing, the characters and the plot was not what I expected at all. This has lesbian romance, asian-inspired world-building and action-scenes that took me by surprise! This is truly a fantasy book which I will gladly recommend! Thank you so much to the publisher and netgalley for allowing me to read this beforehand. 4.5
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