Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
Release Date: July 20, 2022
Your hosts discuss Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard, as decided by a vote on the Fiction Fans Patreon (link below!?!). They talk about the importance of accurate book comps and how much of a difference it can make being in the right mood for a book. They also bring up relationship-centered storytelling and slow-revealed fantasy worlds. This episode features a Pet Peeve where Lilly spends a lot of time complaining about hArD mAgIc SyStEmS.
Thanks to the following musicians for the use of their songs:
- Amarià for the use of “Sérénade à Notre Dame de Paris” - Josh Woodward for the use of “Electric Sunrise”
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
*this transcript is AI generated, please excuse the mess.
Hello, and welcome to fiction fans, a podcast where we read books. And other words, too. I'm Lily. And I'm Sarah. And before we get started talking about Fireheart Tiger by Ali yet de Bodard Sara, what's something great that happened recently?
My something good is that I finally am no longer a plague bearer.
That is good.
Yeah. I caught COVID We've postponed this episode multiple times because I caught COVID which is my way of saying in advance. I have not reread the book since the date of our original recording, which was a while ago. So I might be a little rusty on the events of Fireheart. Tiger,
Sarah, you're not supposed to use the good things section for an apology.
Too late. But I am I am happy that I'm no longer testing positive and feeling better and feeling mostly better. Yeah,
good. Well, I'm glad that you're not miserable anymore.
And you're good thing.
Oh, my God thing is even better. Because I'm not going to undercut it by any. I went to book signing by Travis Baldry up here in Seattle this weekend. That sounds like fun. It was so much fun. It was lovely. Meeting him. And he was so nice. And getting my book signed getting one signed for you. You're well past. Thank you. And just going out and doing stuff, and yeah, it was really nice. I did drag Daniel with me. And apparently Barnes and Noble has a great board game section. So good. That was nice.
I'm still really sad that flights were way too expensive for me to make it there.
Plus, you had the plague. Yeah,
I mean, I would have had to cancel anyway, because I caught the plague. So I guess it's good that flights were too expensive, but also
would have been nice. Yeah. Conveniently, that's also my answer for whether I've read anything good lately. I did finally read legends and lattes.
How exciting. I hope you enjoyed it. Oh, yeah. So good. It's a lot of fun. I am still hoping that we'll get it on the schedule for next year.
I mean, yeah, I'm gonna stop talking about it right now. So we have no excuse not to. How about you? Have you read anything good lately?
Well, because I was indisposed. indisposed. Yes, because I was confined to my bed. I read a lot. Luckily, I didn't have the kind of COVID brain fog. That means you can't read. So I read about 12 Sherwood Smith books. time but I was convalescing?
Yes, I've been calling it it's not even quite a silver lining. That's too good. But there have been a couple of copper outlines.
Yes. And one of those was reading all of these Sherwood Smith books that I had not read before. So that's been a lot of fun. Actually, I did send a lot of text messages to Lilly saying this character is named one thing and this book, now in this book is called something else. But there's no explanation. And then this third book goes back to his original name. I'm so confused. What's going on. In this fourth book, he's back to the second name. Finally, in the fifth book, there was an explanation that the second name was the title and that everyone in the country was so like afraid of him that they just called him by his title and not by his name.
I enjoyed getting those texts in then, although I was not able to help you at all.
I'm glad you at least enjoyed my confusion.
Well, I did rearrange the questions a little bit, not to throw a curveball at you or anything that was just too excited to talk about legends and lattes. I'm invalid. But as far as what I'm drinking this evening, it is not a latte. Because it's the evening and I'm not a monster. I am drinking mirlo which is not my usual red wine. But my parents are staying with us and it is my mother's usual red wine. And life is about compromises. I'm being silly. I can't I can't tell the difference. They're both in boxes. About you, Sarah.
I am drinking what Farwest cider company calls a mellow mill, which is apparently like fermented honey and fruit. In this case, wildflower honey and being cherries.
Like what's the difference between that and need?
I have no idea.
I thought Mead was just shit made with honey.
I thought so too. Maybe it's different because the specifically requires fruit. I don't know. I'm just going by what they told me on the back of a can. Alright.
Like take it up with them. I will write them an angry letter.
But it's nice. I like it. I would buy it again.
And the perfect thing to accompany us. I Don't I don't know if that's true. But I was trying to transition into Fireheart Tiger.
I mean, I think the perfect thing to accompany Fireheart Tiger would be tea. That's true, because there's a lot of tea in this book.
Is that the only justification you can think? Oh, yeah.
I mean, did you think a lot of tea in the
book? No, no, I meant. Sorry. I was jumping ahead. I will interrupt you this time. Please continue. Okay.
Oh, we are reading this book because our patrons over on our Patreon, which we have a Patreon that you can support us at if you're so inclined. And twice a year, we are allowing our patrons to choose what read within limitations. I mean, we we give them like some suggestions and they can vote.
Okay, but if someone got a write in and actually convinced more than two people to vote, I don't think we could justify ignoring that. I mean, to give you guys any ideas.
True. You can always write in your your vote. So we are reading Fireheart Tiger, because our patrons voted on this for our first patron chosen episode.
What was the category for this one? Award winning novella is I think, I believe
it was Hugo nominated novellas. There we go. And I had actually read the book before I picked it up initially, because it was billed as the Goblin Emperor, which I haven't read. I mean, it's house Moving Castle, which I have read and watched in a pre colonial Vietnamese inspired world. And I was like, house Moving Castle is exactly my jam. It sounds so cozy, I really want to read that. So I read it. And I was very disappointed. Not really, it's a very good book. It's not a cozy book, I would say. So the first time I read it, I was in the mood for cozy and did not get it and thus did not really enjoy the book as much. And this time, I knew what I was getting into. And I really liked it.
When you first said that you hadn't been in the mood for the kind of I can say drama, right? And not like shitty high school drama. Like it's dramatic. There's a lot of relationship centered tension in a lot of different ways. I was taken aback because I fucking love that shit. But I realized, as much as I love it, I'm very much a feast or famine reader with that type of storyline. One week, where that is literally all I do for seven days straight, like read this kind of this kind of story where the main conflict is surrounding characters and their interpersonal relationships. And there is, of course, a lot of politics in this book as well. But even that is seen through a lens of interpersonal relationship. And then I'll go months without touching it. So I have forced to agree with you.
Yeah, I do. I do think that, you know, it's amazing how being in the right mood for a book really can make or break your enjoyment of it. And this book for me, in particular, not helped by the fact that I was expecting something more similar to house Moving Castle.
Oh, isn't that the problem with comparisons, though? Like, if you compare it to something, and then that's what the reader expects, and they don't get it. Even if it's a really good book. It's like taking a bite of something and then finding out it's not what you thought it was, yeah, it's going to be disgusting, even if the food is really good. Yeah,
I mean, I think that comparisons do have a place and book selling and book recommending. But in this case, I thought that this one was a little off. I think there's
a difference between if you liked, then try, then this book is similar to hmm, yeah, that's fair. And maybe that's splitting hairs. But that's different. Yeah, no, I can see that. Yeah. Anyway, I did really like this novella book, it's a book.
I really liked it this time.
I will say one of my first impressions of this story, however, was absolutely impacted by the fact that it's a novella. I just in the first page, there are like two paragraphs that are all exposition.
I didn't mind like I didn't have any problems with the exposition in the beginning of the book, I, I would have liked a little more story just because I like read it out a little. Well, I liked the characters, and I liked the setting. And so I would have liked more from it. But it was a novella. So
you know, I I think the story that we read was correct in the length that this was. I just think that that first page was doing a little bit too much heavy lifting, and it I got through it. It's, like I said, it's like two paragraphs. It's not the whole novella feels like a giant series that got compressed. Vela, it just starts with a little bit of chunky exposition, and you read it, and then you know all that stuff. And then you get the rest of the story, knowing all of it. So, I mean, it worked.
I mean, your mileage may vary. I didn't feel that. But
it was just a little jarring. I so much of Alia de Bodard. Stories feel well, okay. We've only read servant of the underworld. I was gonna say we've only read one other. So I yeah, let me not talk like I know what I'm talking about. The two works of hers that I've read, are so atmospheric, they both take place in settings that really know themselves, if that makes sense. Hmm. And so getting shaken out of it. With this just like chunk of, hey, here's what's going on. I just noticed it. That's, like, noticed it. And like in servant of the underworld, I felt like it's a it's a significantly longer book. It's not a long book. But compared to this, it was, there was just a lot more space to work that in a little bit more naturally.
That's fair. I'm not sure I entirely agree with you. But I can see where you're coming from.
It was just the first page. And that like, this is not a problem that followed me throughout the book.
It might not have been a problem that the whole book had, but you didn't notice it. Exactly. Beginning. Yeah. Well, speaking of similarities to servant of the underworld, you did have a point that they both feature a slow buildup of the supernatural?
Yes, I love. In both of these works, there was a little bit of time at the beginning, where you don't even know necessarily Okay. Also, I don't read the backs of books. So maybe it's just me. And I'm sure they're probably in the fantasy genre. So like, yeah, of course, you know,
I mean, the back does say worrying, magical echoes of fire. So
yeah, okay, fine. Your words on the page, as the story is told, in the beginning, you don't know, necessarily, if you were a true blank slate reader. They're talking about spirits and things. And you don't even know if that's real, or if that's just, you know, cultural. Yeah, people in our world. Also talk about that stuff and say, epithets are whatever that call upon supernatural concepts. But that doesn't mean they're real. And so it starts off very much, not even hinting at their existence, just hinting that the characters are familiar with those concepts. And then it slowly escalates and becomes more and more woven into the story. I really liked that kind of pacing. And I say, slowly woven into the story. It's a novella, it happens pretty quick.
But this book is 100 pages, 99 pages. So there's not that much page space for slow development.
But if you like charted, I'm going to use my hands now. Sorry, listeners, if you try the amount of magic on the page from beginning to end as like a an increasing line, the line would be the same. Or like it would be a pretty slow slope for the volume of the book. You know? Yes. Okay, just because 50 pages is 50% of the book, it ends up going pretty quickly. But relative to the length of the book, it's like gentle slope.
No, I mean, I, again, I don't disagree with you can actually tell
it's been a decade's I've taken math.
It's also been a decade since I read this book for
original recording. So yeah, I don't have any examples of that written down. That was just my note.
That's the kind of note taking I expect from me and not you.
i Okay. I've mentioned that I'm a sucker for this kind of the particular flavor of tension that's in this story. So it's pretty obvious that I liked it. But Sarah, why should anyone else read this book?
You should read this book, if you want political drama, if you want interpersonal drama, if you want a really wonderful Vietnamese inspired setting that you don't see, or that is underutilized in, in fantasy, in my opinion.
That was my way of trying to get around you apologizing for maybe there's a lot of it, but we just haven't seen it, which is true. I don't think there's
a lot I think I think there's more than more of it than we read but I don't think there's a lot of it. And I think there should be more
and that's why underutilized is the perfect word for that. There's a strong romance plotline, I would say the main plot line. There's also political injury viewed through the lens of familial drama.
Yeah, as expected, I really enjoyed the political intrigue in this book. And it
was the kind of political intrigue that I can care about. So, I think this novella really walked the line between our two specific tastes extremely well. Hmm. I agree with that. And I really need to talk about the love story though. So we gotta go to spoilers. To avoid spoilers, skip to 3025. Oh, man, the tension between Thawne the main character and El dras, her girlfriend slash fiance slash antagonist was incredible.
Yeah, I think this was really, really well done. The seeing that build up of, it's my ex girlfriend, whom I still love. I am now in a relationship with her, even if it's kind of a hidden one, because she's from the country that's kind of trying to invade us to Oh, she's actually not a good person and romantic partners. She, oh, but
you forgot the step in between where song goes? No, we can't we can't be together. And then elders says, Yes, we can. I'll declare my love for you from the mountaintops. And you're thinking, give the reader are thinking, Okay, that's great. And that does feel like that solves a lot of the problems with their relationship, you know, trying to keep it hidden. And is she really committed and all of that. And then after they get to that commitment level, that's when Thawne finds out. Oh, she like, she wasn't just manipulating me. She really did truly care for me. But she is a terrible person. Or, oh, no, I'm gonna stick with terrible person. This may be a little dramatic, but I could I could defend that statement.
I mean, I think she's definitely racist.
Okay, there you go. You're right.
And seeing it like as the reader seeing, fun kind of bypass that racism in the beginning stages of the novella gives you a hint that like, oh, things aren't, things aren't actually necessarily all that you think they are?
No, but the book sort of flips it on you because at first you think it's Oh, because Elvis is a playgirl, that doesn't have the same connotations as Playboy at all. Oh, no. Do I just say call her a playboy? I don't like that solution either.
I mean, Ultras are
miscue is, is that's not the right vibe.
I don't know, I think it is the right vibe
I get she has many conquests, I think is really what I want to say. Yeah. Elders has many conquests and you spend the first I'd say half of the novella with the conflict between them that Bong thinks she's just another conquest, another notch on her bedpost or whatever. But then elders does, like she proposes she commits, she's like, you know, I'll make sure that my country doesn't invade your country. That's a pretty legit romantic gesture, all things considered.
I mean, but it wasn't so much. I promise that my country won't invade your country, as like, I promised that I will grant you rule over you're like, it's right. You know,
oh, no, we're getting to hell. She's not actually great.
Okay, like that
was a solid romantic gesture, if it didn't have strings attached? Well, that's the thing. Her relationship was genuine. It's just the genuine relationship was from a deeply troubled person. The problem was not does she really care about me? The problem is, how does she demonstrate her care? And is that healthy, or bearable, or, you know, not going to cause a war? And I really enjoy dysfunctional relationships, storylines. That's a guilty pleasure of mine, this novella hit on perfectly Thawne and Elvis, like they're the slow descent. It's the perfect comedy versus tragedy, right? In a comedy. The center of the book is a high point, no other way around. In a comedy. The middle of the story is the lowest point and in the end, things are happy. In a tragedy. The middle of the story is the highest point and in the end is tragic. And their specific story between the two of those characters is absolutely a tragedy. Even if you get that middle high point where elder says she's going to fix everything, and she's going to take care of you, and she does love you, you know you are worthy of love. And like all of those things that Thawne wanted to hear for so long. And then it just gets worse and worse and worse.
Yeah, I guess I was gonna disagree with you about the tragedy, but then you clarified that it's specifically their storyline and not in the book as a whole. No, I
don't I don't think yeah, it has a sad ending. No, I don't think so either. Yeah. But their story, at least their specific relationship has a tragic plot arc. That was that that's that's what I meant.
Yeah, yeah, it definitely you do. You do get that high point. And then it's all downhill from there.
On the flip side, during all of this very political, very real world centered conflict. Also, THON is haunted by a Fire Spirit. That isn't quite the right word. I mean, it kind of it kind of destroys her life for a little while,
before she realizes that she has this Fire Spirit companion. Yeah, it kind of destroys her life a little bit.
We start the book where THON thinks she has the power to create fire that she can't control and is constantly worried she's going to burn down everything. She's very stressed about it, which that's, I mean, understandable. Yeah. And then eventually gang reveals herself to her, and that it's actually a Fire Spirit. Is that the right entity? I think spirit. It feels right. Anyway. Yeah, that feels right. Yeah. And then we get their relationship growth. And we find out that THON had saved a servant girl from a burning building. But it was not actually a servant girl. It was young, taking human form for the first time. And so young is not obsessed with Dawn. That's not fair, elemental. Elemental that yeah, that's, that's better than that fits better.
Sorry to completely derail your train of thought.
The Dawn is the only person that young knows or trusts. So she's just sort of followed her as a flame elemental for years. years. Yeah, I do think it's yours. Yeah. But then they finally meet sort of face to face and get to know each other and have their sort of relationship growth. At the same time.
I do really enjoy seeing their relationship grow. And seeing the counterpoint between Yan who really does want the best for Athan in a way that centers thought as a person versus elderness. Who wants what elders thinks is best for fun
and thorns mother, who similarly only wants what's best for the country? Which, if you're the ruling a country, I guess that is,
yeah, I was gonna say I mean, I think that's a little more justified.
Oh, way more justified than Ill dress. But that's still not a comforting relationship for thought as a person.
Know, her relationship with her mother is not a source of comfort.
No. Whereas, yeah, gang is the only person who really puts Thawne first. Yeah, because, you know, we find out that elders did genuinely care for her. But the kind of care that she shows is not acceptable.
Yeah, I was gonna say in a very self centered, racist way.
I mean, the climax of the book elders tries to kill THON.
I didn't think that she was trying to kill her, but definitely choking her. I definitely thought that she was attempting to do serious bodily harm.
She became physically abusive, if yes, because she thinks THON is cheating on her because she heard voices in the room, and the other voice was young. And, okay, they do end up in love at the end. So maybe cheating on her was an incorrect assumption.
I mean, she she wasn't at that point. She didn't have any kind of like, physical relationship with Callum, I think you could argue that she had an emotional relationship. But I mean,
I don't think it was romantic at that point. Or at least not on Thawne side.
Yeah, like that could also just be friendship. You know,
I don't think you can ascribe one to one comparisons when she's literally the only person in the entire world gang talks to fair. But also, Elvis was right. There was someone else in her room. But that's uh, but it's an unnatural reaction. overreaction. Yeah. Yeah, no, sorry. I was not trying to say that situation was correct. Just that her assumption was not entirely incorrect. Yeah,
there was there was someone in the room but that doesn't mean that you can try to hurt your significant other
Well, no, even if she was fucking the whole palace, the reaction shouldn't have been to try to hurt her No, or to successfully hurt her and try to kill her, or however, was happening there. That's not the point. I will say, and this is 100% a me problem, not a book problem. But the book used Terms of Endearment that I understand are maybe not a direct translation, but a cultural equivalent sort of thing. Jung and bond call each other, big sis and Little Sis, because bond is taking care of gang, basically, again, only person she knows in the entire world, and teaching her how to be a person and all of that. So it's a very close relationship. And that those are phrases that are used in other languages, but then they start smooching, and they're still using those phrases. And it just took me out of the story, because every time I got to that I'd have to stop and go, Lily, you know, you know what's happening here? They aren't literally sisters. It's okay.
See, I didn't have any issues with the terminology like in and of itself, I just hate the word sis. Like as an abbreviation of SR. Yep,
little little apostrophe s. Again, it's, I assume that is just the closest approximation to a phrase in Vietnamese,
I would have preferred Big Sister, little sister.
But doesn't that feel more formal? I think they were trying to go for a casual.
I don't know what the Vietnamese equivalents or their levels of formality are.
So I assumed that's what was happening there anyway, because our legs Yeah. Why would you say lil ever. Even though it was in English, it took a mental translation for me. And it did make they're not love scenes, but the scenes where they get together and express romantic interest in each other, less seamless than they could have been, which is 100% entirely my own problem. The other thing that's my own problem is that I might really enjoy dysfunctional romantic relationships in storylines, but dysfunctional family relationships just stress me out. And son and her mother, definitely have a well, not a supportive, happy, healthy relationship.
They have a fraught relationship. There's a lot of tension between between the two of them.
There's a lot of baggage. Her mother, in my opinion does not respect her at all. But thought eventually sticks up for herself. And I immediately started cheering in my head like, yeah, you're doing it, you're growing, and then it kind of backfires. And then I don't get to be happy about it anymore. I was like, No,
I mean, it's it's not that it's a total failure, though.
Right? Like, how come I could enjoy her relationship with Elbrus crashing and literally burning, but her having like an okay, like improved but still not great relationship with her mother bothers me so much.
It's definitely a differing priorities.
I think one of those plotlines I just enjoyed, like reading the dysfunction of I can't I don't people like soap operas. That's not weird, right?
It's not weird. Yeah.
But the family dry. I just want. I just want all families to be happy and me.
Well, you don't get that entirely with this one.
No, I do think I would well, we really don't know what happens after the entire palace burns down.
Yeah, like I want a second novella. In this world.
I think it'd be interesting. I think for the story that we read. This was the right length for the story, but it was a short. Well, it was not a short story. It was a novella. It was a short. You know what I mean? Yes, and I do think there was a lot of room there to see how these characters grow. And what happens between Dawn and her mother, after this almost literal explosion in their face.
What happens between sons home country and f2 area?
I'll see that was not even on my list of questions.
I just, like I agree, I think the length of this novella was perfect for the story that was being told,
and it's good that we still have questions right. hooked us, but I do
want like a second novella, you know, answering some of these questions. I would read that.
Yeah, I would be really curious to know how I mean, thon had finally started getting some autonomy, not autonomy, necessarily, but she was allowed to work independently, she wasn't 100% supervised by her mother at all times. In her work as she was like kind of an ambassador. Right? She was writing letters to other countries. And then this happens. Poor thing. I was gonna say she just needs a hug. But at least Yun is there to give her one,
she has had a bit of a rough time of it. It's true.
So, I do have a pet peeve that I only remembered because Fireheart Tiger is so perfectly the opposite of
it. Well, that's a promising start to this pet peeve corner,
there is this terminology regarding fantasy, or regarding the world building of fantasy worlds, where the magic can either be a soft magic system, or a hard magic system. And I'm sorry, if you wanted to read about a hard magic system just go played fucking d&d. I don't want to be sitting here worried about spell slots and shit. While my characters are going through an adventure. Like I want to read about the characters doing stuff, not guess I need to take a long rest now.
I mean, I don't think that that's specifically what hard magic refers to isn't hard magic, just like a magic system that has more defined like rules? Not necessarily, you know, you can't you have spell slots, and you have to take a rest.
never admit that there are spell slots, but that's always what it boils down to. And in my head, I'm like, okay. All right now.
I mean, I find the terms kind of opaque and confusing. But
really, that is just my experience of reading 100 magic system. I can't even say it with a straight face. It's just so uninteresting to me, like, Oh, you want to like sit down and write all of the rules. Go write a tabletop RPG. Why is this in a book? Books are supposed to be fun to read.
I think it's really interesting to read a world that does have very defined rules and regulations for its magic use, though.
Hi, I'm sure it can be done. Well, like, okay, yes, I'm sure there's a book out there with the hard magic system that I would read and go, Okay, I'm alright with it.
I think there are lots of it. I think you've probably read some and you just don't realize that they're considered hard magic systems.
I probably did. And I found it extremely distracting, but not worth bringing up. To me like that kind of stuff. Just I don't know, I don't care just ahead of it. I do want worlds to be internally consistent. If they start contradicting themselves, then I get very annoyed. But beyond that, I really don't care. If the author needs that for themselves, great, but I should not know about it as the reader?
I mean, I don't know, I think I think it depends on the plot and the characters. There are some situations where it makes sense that the reader gets more and I'm not saying that you necessarily need to know all of the details or need to have it spelled out, like very strictly. But I think there are some storylines, where it does make sense for you, as a reader to get some of that background through what happens in the story. And like what the characters learn as they progress along the plot.
And I do not enjoy those nearly as much. That is why it's my pet peeve. Right, like it's a spectrum. I'm just saying that when that is a factor in a story, I tend to enjoy it much, much less than I would have otherwise. Yeah,
I mean, your mileage may vary.
I don't have to defend myself is my pet peeve. And I can be as irrational as I want. I don't want to close the door for all hard magic, quote unquote, hard magic books forever. I'm just saying that's probably not the aspect of it that I liked. If I did, like one, it was a necessary evil.
I mean, that's valid. I enjoy it. As expected, we have two very differing opinions on my personal taste, et cetera, et cetera. That's why
it's my pet peeve. And not like, this is my decree of all things that are bad always that no one should enjoy. That's a whole different podcasts.
Very different podcasts that we're probably not qualified to run. Oh, I
am. No one would believe me.
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