- Author: K. Bird Lincoln
- Publisher: Self-published
- Published Date: 2012
Here’s another SPFBO finalist book! This one was chosen by The Qwillery.
Tiger Lily is about a girl named Lily who was born in the year of the Tiger. She’s the daughter of a cook and is looked down upon for being a Tiger girl. Well, one day as she’s wandering through the woods, she comes upon the Emperor’s son, Ashikaga, who has just been badly injured by the Pretender-Emperor’s men. She saves him through a forbidden Jindo song. By doing so, she puts herself in the middle of a fight between the real Emperor and the Pretender-Emperor — all while having to trust Ashikaga not to tell anyone that she sings these forbidden songs.
This book is fairly straightforward. And I think that really helped it. It is heavily influenced by mid-12th century Japan. While the book is strongly Eastern, it still contains some familiar themes: love, family, and war. What ties all of these things together are the concepts of secrets and hidden things. There’s hardly anyone who doesn’t have at least a small secret. This really helps make the novel feel more cohesive.
In my opinion, this is the story of a girl learning to love herself. She isn’t that thin; she isn’t very pretty. She lives in a society that shuns her and treats her as basically cursed. She has three younger siblings: a young brother and two twin sisters. One of the sisters, Flower, hardly has anything nice to say to Lily. Even her own father seems to just tolerate her. But throughout the novel, she sees that not everyone reacts with disdain for her. Her little brother clearly loves her; May, her other sister, shows great kindness. She and Ashikaga slowly build a relationship with each other throughout the novel. Lily just needs to learn to love herself.
My main issue with the plot, however, is how repetitive I found a lot of it to be. This is a fairly average-sized book, but I really think it could’ve been shortened. For nearly half of the novel, we get essentially the same scene with Lily being very insecure about herself — around the nobles, her family, the Coal Maker, etc. There wasn’t much in the way of development. In my opinion, these scenes started to lose their impact quickly and would’ve been much more powerful had they only occurred once or twice. I would honestly say that aside from finding Ashikaga in the woods, not much of importance happens until around the halfway point.
That being said, the relationship that grows between Ashikaga and Lily is beautiful. It really starts at the halfway point when the characters learn more about each other.
And speaking about the characters, they were, unfortunately, one of my least favorite aspects of the book. I felt as though we were supposed to have connected with some of them. However, everyone felt distant and not completely developed. There just wasn’t much in the way of character development for Lily or Ashikaga, the two main characters. Lily has a sudden change of heart near the very end of the novel that just feels forced. We learn things about Ashikaga that aren’t really taken advantage of in my opinion. It’s brought up every once in a while as a sort of reminder. I just wish more would’ve been done with Ashikaga’s character.
Like I said before, the relationship between them is great. There’s also the family dynamic between Lily and her brother that’s endearing to read about. She also develops a small friendship with a samurai. Unfortunately, though, I think these characters fall into the common trap of being average. No one was completely one-dimensional; even the Pretender-Emperor has a different side other than “evil”. But no one truly felt like a real person to me either.
I want to quickly talk about the prose for a moment. It’s beautiful. The writing is what saved this book for me. Here’s a small sample from page 52 of the Kindle version:
I pushed away from the tree, each breath drawing fire from my aching side. The instep of my feet gave twinges like the bones themselves were cracking, but I stumbled down the path, Moon Helmet leading his horse behind me. The Lord Steward growled commands in coarse male speech to hurry.
The author has a way of always choosing fantastic descriptive language that really pulls you into the story. This book pulls off the very difficult act of having poetic prose that stays compelling all the way through. The only minor issue I personally had was that it felt a bit awkward…a bit too poetic…during the few action scenes. Other than that, the gorgeous writing is probably the highlight of the book for me.
I loved the prose. I liked certain aspects of the plot and found the characters to be alright. The world-building was also okay. We are essentially thrown in. It’s never fully explained how the Jindo songs work. People are often referred to by their zodiac sign (Tiger, Rooster, Rabbit, etc.), and it’s heavily implied that they really do embody the characteristics of those particular signs. The magic through the songs (inspired by Japanese tanka poetry) is very interesting, but it’s kept as more of a background thing. And it works very well, too. The focus isn’t about the magic, really. It’s about the novel’s namesake: Tiger Lily.