2 LGBTQIA Asian-American Reads: Fireheart Tiger & The Magic Fish

April 1, 2021 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | Books

2 LGBTQIA Asian-American Reads: Fireheart Tiger & The Magic FishThe Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
Published by Random House Graphic on October 13, 2020
Source: Purchased
Genres: Graphic Novel, Young Adult
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Tiến loves his family and his friends...but Tiến has a secret he's been keeping from them, and it might change everything. An amazing YA graphic novel that deals with the complexity of family and how stories can bring us together.

Real life isn't a fairytale.
But Tiến still enjoys reading his favorite stories with his parents from the books he borrows from the local library. It's hard enough trying to communicate with your parents as a kid, but for Tiến, he doesn't even have the right words because his parents are struggling with their English. Is there a Vietnamese word for what he's going through?
Is there a way to tell them he's gay?
A beautifully illustrated story by Trung Le Nguyen that follows a young boy as he tries to navigate life through fairytales, an instant classic that shows us how we are all connected. The Magic Fish tackles tough subjects in a way that accessible with readers of all ages, and teaches us that no matter what--we can all have our own happy endings.

The Magic Fish is a beautiful graphic novel about fairy tales, second generation immigrants, coming out and struggling to connect with your parents due to language.

The Vietnamese characters are fantastic and you can see the differences between Tiến and his mum, from their upbringing, struggles and the way they approach their family. While they undoubtedly love each other, they’re constrained by the lack of language with mixed English/Vietnamese along with his mother coping with a sick parent back in Vietnam. It touches upon Tiến’s mother reflecting about her difficult past leaving Vietnam and how some past traumas cannot be shared or even spoken with her son. This is something that many Asians in diaspora have never experienced, but is still raw for our parents today.

Tiến himself is grappling with disconnection from his family, being preoccupied with coming out with his family, but also being obsessed with the fairy tales that he shares with his mum. I liked the glimpses of the Tiến that we see with his friends, where he is fully accepted and free to be himself. However, he does hide himself away as his family struggles later on, pretending that everything is okay.

The illustrations are absolutely beautiful and I loved the parallel story lines when it came to the fairy tales that were shared (some that were unexpectedly dark and haunting) and coping with emotions in reality. I loved how some of the fairytales were new and others familiar, but illustrated with Vietnamese clothing and ornaments to add to the story’s setting. It just felt so magical.

Rating: 5 out of 5


2 LGBTQIA Asian-American Reads: Fireheart Tiger & The Magic FishFireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
Published by Tor on February 9, 2021
Source: Purchased
Genres: Fantasy, Own Voices, LGBT
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Award-winning author Aliette de Bodard returns with a powerful romantic fantasy that reads like The Goblin Emperor meets Howl’s Moving Castle in a pre-colonial Vietnamese-esque world.

Fire burns bright and has a long memory….
Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace.
Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions.
Can Thanh find the freedom to shape her country’s fate—and her own?

I was immediately intrigued with Fireheart Tiger after seeing it was about Vietnamese royalty with sapphic characters. It’s about Princess Thanh in political negotiations with a Western kingdom, knowing that they don’t have much to offer in return.

What struck me about Thanh is that she’s quiet, pensive and fantastic at her job, however she faces the challenge of being constricted by abusive relationships: one, with her mother who emotionally abuses her, and the return of her past lover, Princess Eldris of Ephteria. At first, we’re intrigued with the magnetic Princess Eldris, but soon the cracks in their relationship show as we find out about their imbalanced power dynamics and the way she doesn’t consider Thanh’s feelings at her in her demands.

There are parallels between the dominant West and the subservient Eastern kingdom, and Thanh’s tentative relationship with Princess of Eldris. I really enjoyed the magic in the novel as well and the unexpected way it manifests itself as an explanation for past trauma. It adds a magical element to the incredible royal world that is deftly explained through honorifics and the political negotiations from an Eastern Kingdom.

Although it is a novella, it really does pack a punch as the main character works through her abusive relationships, comes to her own and begins the process of healing. It shows the subtle and not so subtle ways that one can an unbalanced hold over a character, whether as a family member, age and naivety or even status as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed Fireheart Tiger and my only caveat is that I think it would’ve been a brilliant full length novel as some of the character transitions (eg. relationships) happens a bit too quickly for my liking. The way it shows enough without telling to give you a fair impression of the world and character motivations is done so brilliantly.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Tiktok@happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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