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Tiger Lily by K. Bird Lincoln – SPFBO Review

Tiger Lily by K. Bird Lincoln – SPFBO Review
2.5
Book Name: Tiger Lily
Author: K. Bird Lincoln
Publisher(s): Self-published
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Historical Fantasy
Release Date: March 27, 2013

Tiger Lily (cover)Lily isn’t supposed to hunt game in the Daimyo’s woods. She’s just the cook’s daughter. It isn’t her place to talk to nobility. And she definitely isn’t supposed to sing the old Jindo religious songs.

But Lily was born in the year of the Tiger, and can’t ever be like other village girls. In the woods snaring rabbits one day, she finds instead the Daimyo’s son, Ashikaga, wounded, in the gooseberry brush. When the Pretender-Emperor’s men arrive to kill Ashikaga, Lily, desperate, sings a forbidden Jindo song.

The song wakes a powerful spirit – as well as Ashikaga’s interest. The prickly lord has hidden secrets of his own and a burning desire to prove himself to his father. He will stop at nothing to defeat his father’s greatest enemy.

All Lily wants to do is take care of her sisters. But the Pretender-Emperor’s forces are drawing near, and now the Daimyo’s son knows she communes with Jindo gods. She wants to trust Ashikaga when he swears he will not tell her secret, but he is a noble – and Lily only a peasant. Lily’s heart is leading her down a dangerous path. She may have to defy her father, Ashikaga, and even the spirits themselves in order to defeat the Pretender-Emperor’s magic and keep safe all that she loves.

Tiger Lily is a gentle tale set in Samurai era Japan, and for that it should be lauded. We are all quite comfortable with our Eurocentric based fantasy – I like a book that looks to other cultures for its inspiration. And, as far as I can tell, this is a well-researched portrayal both in terms of culture and geography. I note from the author’s bio that she lived in Japan for some time.

Our hero, Tiger Lily for whom the book is named, was born in the year of the tiger and this should mark her out as courageous, fierce, stubborn, and full of fire. The year of birth defines, in this culture it appears, the characteristics one is expected to display. She is one of four children, the eldest, and since her mother vanished into the forest, it is to her that their care mostly falls. Her father is a cook in the castle and not present for much of the day.

Forced to work in the Lord’s rice fields, Tiger Lily often hangs back and vanishes into the forest, seeking solitude and, perhaps, an answer to her mother’s disappearance. She sings the old songs, the forbidden songs and one day the spirits answer her.

In the wider Japan, the Emperor is under threat from another, a pretender to the throne, and the war comes to Lily’s village. Warriors attack the village, seeking to draw the son of the Lord into battle, to kill him. During the battle, Tiger Lily uses her connection to the spirits to aid the Lord and this where the story really begins.

Magic, based upon the spirits of a place, are very much against the dominant religion and its use is punishable by death. Tiger Lily is a mere village girl and yet she feels a connection with the Lord’s son, also born in the year of the tiger. War is at their door and help seems far away. Can Tiger Lily stay alive, help the Lord’s son prevail, and look after her family?

It is all set up to be wonderful story where we are introduced to a foreign culture, experience the world through a young girls eyes as she struggles to survive and to learn her powers. There is a lot of charm to this book, a lot that works and carries you along.

What I wanted was to be swept along by a pacey story that mixes introspection, culture, and action. However, for me, and remember this is entirely based on my opinion and taste, this was a book too focused on the introspection and description of just about everything. So much description that I found myself skipping lines to get to the next thing that happened. It doesn’t mean it isn’t written well, because it is. The prose can be downright charming, the descriptions expansive, and the action scenes are exciting enough… just too far between for my taste.

I think, on reflection, where it falls a little down, for me, is that a tiger girl (how she describes herself quite a lot of the time) should be courageous and fierce, but many of her actions and inactions are rooted in fear, not courage. It is not until near the end that her courage wins out and that was a little late for me.

There are a couple of twists and turns in the narrative; one was spotted way before the reveal, which was a shame, and some arise from the cultural differences that I, as the reader, had with the world – and this is where the book works best. You expect a relationship, some romantic tension to develop between Lily and the Lord’s son, and it does with that twist mentioned above. I wanted this relationship to blossom and flower, but both characters seem to act in such an irritating manner that when it finally happens it just doesn’t have the impact I wanted or expected. For me, that’s a real shame.

If you pick this book up, I think you’ll find a lot to like, a lot to appreciate and I would not want to put anyone off. I found the world interesting, the main character was well written, and her motivations were there for the reader to experience.

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