Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tiger Lily by K. Bird Lincoln

Title: Tiger Lily
Author: K. Bird Lincoln
Length: 5184 Kindle units
Rating: 4 stars

The Plot

Lily was born as a girl in the year of the tiger, so she knows that she is unmarriageable and will never be someone her family can be proud of. But she also has a secret power, left to her by her tiger mother. When she sings songs of the old Shinto ways, she is visited by the kami nature spirits and can perform feats of magic that are forbidden by the emperor’s mandate. One day while she is out in the woods, she discovers the young lord Ashikaga, who has been injured in battle. Using her powers and her wits, Lily is able to save Ashikaga from his would-be captors, but in the process he learns of her powers. Will he use them to help his cause, or will he betray her to the merciless monks?

The Good

I found myself getting very emotionally involved with the characters in Tiger Lily. Lily’s level of shame about her entire existence was very poignant, and I liked how she related to the different members of her family and how she always felt inadequate to them. (This led me to be disappointed two-thirds of the way through the novel when she went off to war, and we didn’t hear any more from her family. Perhaps next book.)

The conflicts also brought up interesting philosophical perspectives. Lily was everything that her society didn’t want her to be – a tiger girl with the ability to perform Shinto magic. Yet she never desired more from her life than to do what was best for her family. Her feelings for Ashikaga were complicated by the fact that he actively sought to endorse the emperor’s edict of Buddhism, but he was willing to use her powers to do this. Instead of making the characters seem hypocritical, these contradictory actions made them seem real and multi-faceted. The whole book was really quite moving.

The Bad

My biggest issue with Tiger Lily was that sometimes it was hard to follow what was going on, especially at the beginning of the book. I think some of this was related to my lack of knowledge of feudal Japanese society, which was compounded by the fact that the author took a lot of liberties with history. (I was glad for the note at the end explaining this because I was confused by the existence of militant fundamentalist Buddhists.) But the whole functionality of the farm was weird, where the girls were only sometimes called to work in the rice fields but sometimes could hide and avoid it. The compensation for labor process was very unclear.

The other bits that were confusing were often about Lily’s magic and/or the combat scenes. (They usually appeared together.) I didn’t really get how the mechanics worked and how what Lily and Ashikaga were doing related to the main battle. They always seemed to have their own sub-battle going on.

The Romance

Early in the book, Lily meets the young lord Ashikaga in the woods and saves him from kitsune soldiers by using her forbidden Shinto magic. After that a sort of romance grows between them, though things between them move slowly and uncertainty because Lily is both a commoner and an unmarriageable tiger girl.

Then, about halfway through the novel, when you think they might work things out, another wrench is thrown into the relationship. I cannot tell you what it is, because that would be a horrible spoiler, but I can tell you it made me say out loud, “Well, I didn’t see THAT coming!” and when I told my friend about it, he said “WTF? Well, at least you can’t say you’ve read this book before.” All I will say to you is that it raises the awkward level of Lily’s relationships to unequaled heights.

Will I read more?

I’m undecided about this. On one level, the book really had me empathizing with the characters. But sometimes I had a hard time following what was going on. And sometimes the lack of historical accuracy made the reading a mite strange. I’m leaning toward the side of no on reading more, but if the author was like “Free copy if you review!” I’d probably be persuaded.

See Details for Book on    Amazon    

1 comment:

  1. If you like this book, then check out Laura Joh Rowland. All of the strange and ancient Japanese customs are explained in her detective series.