It seems like the vast majority of fantasy novels still somehow manage to feel medieval European in setting and tone, so it’s always refreshing to find a work of fantasy that bucks that trend. So when I heard about this book, and that it was inspired by feudal Japan and Shintoism, I was more than a little intrigued and excited. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. At all.
I had problems with this book. It was less than 300 pages long, and yet I struggled for weeks to get through it. However, there is much to be praised here. I’m going to start my review with what I appreciated about the book.
First of all, the writing is incredibly polished. I can’t remember finding a single typo, which is an accomplishment even for a traditionally published novel. For a book that is self-published, this level of polish is incredibly praiseworthy. Also, as I stated earlier, there aren’t enough Asian-inspired fantasies out there. I appreciated the obvious research that Lincoln put into the crafting of this novel. The culture, the setting, the religious tension of the chosen time period, and the mythos were all very deftly handled and represented. I loved the idea of the birth years and the animals attached to said years influencing a person’s character so strongly, and people being irrevocably linked to their birth year animal by those in their community. Finally, I really liked the magic element of the novel being linked to song. As a musician, anytime I come across a book that including music as a central theme I’m happy.
Now, onto my problems with the book. Well, honestly most of my problems centered around a single entity: Lily-of-the-valley, our protagonist. Lily is one of the worst main characters I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading, and she is the main reason it took me so long to read this book. She is woeful, and whiny, and just stumbles through life feeling sorry for herself. Is her life hard? Yes. But her total lack of self-respect and self-confidence was just painful to read. I hate when a character’s thoughts always seem to center around thoughts like “woe is me, I’m just a lowly peasant girl and am worthless and no one likes me and I’m always ruining everything and woe is me…” and that is seriously Lily’s thought process throughout the entire book. She is the personification of Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh, but without the charm. She is self-flagellating, and seems to make no effort to improve her own view of herself. I have never seen a main character in a fantasy novel that did less. Seriously, everything happens to her; she hardly does anything. Even with the Jinto magic, she just opens her mouth and lets the kami pour out magic through her. It felt to me like all of the aspects of YA heroines that I hate were thrown in a blender to make Lily. I couldn’t stand her. And Lily wasn’t the only frustrating character; almost every single character in the book felt two-dimensional as well as childish and obnoxious. The characterization is what destroyed my enjoyment of the novel.
There was a gender-bending element to the book that was interesting and will appeal to many readers, but I had a hard time getting past my loathing of Lily and irritation at the other characters to care about much else in the book. I could still enjoy the setting and the culture, but anything involving the characters lost its impact due to my aggravation with and lack of empathy for the characters. Also, the romantic element annoyed me instead of interested me, because both parties were kind of awful and the chemistry felt forced. There’s also a word I hope to never hear or read again: lordling. It was so overused that I was clenching my teeth whenever it was used by about the midway point of the book. Ugh. I hate that word so much now.
There are obviously people out there who enjoyed this book far more than I did, because Tiger Lily is a finalist in this year’s SPFBO. While this book was not for me, they are elements that would work just fine for other readers. I sincerely wish Lincoln the best of luck in the competition. She obviously has tremendous work ethic to have put out something so well researched and finely polished on her own, and I applaud her for it.