The mainstreaming of science fiction and fantasy has given writers the freedom to experiment, to change how these stories are told and who gets to stand at the forefront of them.
James Bradley’s Clade marries narrative devices more commonly found in literary fiction to one of the newest subgenres of sci-fi—climate change fiction or “cli-fi.” Beginning with scientist Adam and his artist wife, Ellie, Clade follows the pair and their descendants through the changing ecological and political climate. Each chapter jumps forward in time and switches perspectives, stitching together a narrative of small, lyrical stories that only rarely intersect with the cataclysmic events erupting the world over.
Bradley captures how lives can be tinged with a sense of change happening too slowly for one individual to track—his characters are left with only a low whine of anxiety, a sense of things slipping away in their peripheral vision. The jumps in time between chapters make the increasingly dire situation on Earth even more alarming; the reader begins each section not knowing how much time has passed or which characters are missing due to catastrophe or disease or without any explanation at all.
Bleak and hopeful in equal measure, Clade is a striking paradox of a book—a soothing tale of the coming apocalypse.
As opposed to Clade’s ever-expanding family tree, The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera concerns itself with only two main characters. But while Bradley’s novel feels like a collection of impeccably constructed haiku, Rivera’s sweeping fantasy debut is like an epic poem from a bygone age.
Rivera wisely takes her time in the initial pages of The Tiger’s Daughter, sparing the reader tedious passages of exposition. Shizuka is the heir to the Hokkaran Empire, whereas Shefali grew up among her mother’s nomadic Qorin people. As Shefali and Shizuka move from initial distrust to hesitant acceptance, each learns about the other’s respective culture. Through references to the histories of their mothers, who fought against the same dangers that now threaten their daughters, Rivera implies an entire universe teeming with stories.
The Tiger’s Daughter is the rare introduction to a series that tells a complete story within the first installment, largely due to the complexity of its two leads. Both glory in their abilities and struggle with the resulting sense of isolation. Arrogant, ferociously loyal Shizuka is a dueling prodigy, but she worries she’ll never equal her mother’s legacy. And some of the novel’s most breathtaking passages spring from Shefali’s increasingly frantic attempts to cling to her humanity beneath her quiet, stoic exterior.
In a genre saturated with deconstructionist takes on epic fantasy, it is immensely satisfying to read Rivera’s debut, which wholeheartedly embraces its epic scale while effortlessly showcasing the diversity the genre has so often lacked. An adventure that aches with romance, written with easy, lyrical confidence, The Tiger’s Daughter gives the reader the incontrovertible sense that it will be a new fantasy classic.