Book’em Nerdo – The Night Tiger
This ties into my reading challenge again where I have to read books based off of specific prompts. The Night Tiger fit a couple of them, published in 2019 and an Author from South America, Central America, or Asia. I was also curious because it is a book in the genre of Magical Realism, so I wanted to know what that genre was about and how it varied from other fantasy genres.
The story takes place in the 1930’s in Malaya as British Colonization is still going strong. We follow around two characters, Ji, the main character, and Ren. Their stories eventually wrap together around a finger of Ren’s old master who has tasked Ren with getting the finger back to his grave before 49 days are up. However, things don’t go at all like they should for Ren and Ji ends up tied into as well. There is a bond between the two of them as well as Ji’s step-brother Shin and Ren’s brother Yi.
Like I said, this book was outside my normal read and I wouldn’t say that I’m the target audience of the book. It has some romance undertones throughout the whole book that feel like they are written in amateurish way that I would attribute to something more of a romance novel. And in those it felt a little bit Cassandra Claire in the tone it takes at times, though never sets up the dumb twist and it is just honest about the relationship between the two characters. All of that said, I do think the relationship works at least somewhat, and doesn’t feel like something that is impossible to have as a relationship, it just feels like it’s a little bit weaker in the writing of that than other parts of the book.
I do have one other criticism for the book before I get to some of what I liked. I think that the quality of writing changes depending on what character perspective you’re seeing it from. Yangsze Choo writes Ji’s chapters from a first person perspective and it works well. The limited information she has just makes a lot of sense, and the story flows well through her eyes. However, the other chapters are written from Ren’s perspective and once in a while another character’s perspective, but those are written in third person. And some of it is at the beginning of the book it’s jarring to have the perspective change, but the third person writing just seems a whole lot weaker. The writing has a choppier feeling to it that doesn’t tie together all that well with the rest of the story and every times the perspective changes, it takes you out of the story because the writing quality changes.
Now, I’m not going to just knock the book, and I don’t think the first one is really an issue, that I mentioned, I think that one is just something that I’m not the target audience for that some people who come to this site will find the same. But the use of Asian lore in the book is extremely well done and very interesting. I have some knowledge of Japanese lore and Indian lore, but not much from the Malaya area and Chinese influence as well. You can really see the care and effort of adding that depth to this story. It was very interesting to see that magical aspect of the culture and the lore brought to life in this book and it makes me curious to find more literature that uses it.
Let’s quickly talk about the magical realism aspect and what that means, since it wasn’t a term I was all that familiar with coming into this book. Basically, it’s adding the lore or magical into the real world, but to have it be normal. So, it’s different than something like Urban Fantasy where generally there’s something hiding the magical and people see it and treat it as something different. In magical realism it’s treated just like it’s normal. I think that Yangsze Choo does a solid job of mixing in that slightly magical aspect to the book well. It isn’t too over the top that it would feel jarring, but really focuses on the magical aspect in dreams and then in subtle ways. There is one moment where it is clearly magic or some power, however you want to call it, that feels a bit jarring, but I think, since it’s towards the end of the book, it’s to show off that there is something special going on.
Finally, I just want to touch on the plot quickly. I liked it quite well, the whole idea of the body needing to be buried full so that the spirit doesn’t wander is well done. And the use of tigers throughout is well done. I do have a knock on the story, but I’m not sure it would have been done differently. At the start of the story we’re introduced to the main plot in where Ren is told by his old master to find his finger and bring it back to be buried with him before 49 days are up. That storyline, which has always felt like the biggest aspect to the story wraps up well before the book is done. Choo has introduce other story elements that extend the plot out, but it feels like the story of the missing finger should run closer to the end of the book than it does. Instead, we have the story drag out longer and really starts to lean more on the romance piece. Though, that last section has a couple of nice twists to it, though, one of them, I thought was somewhat obvious.
So how was this book? I thought it was generally enjoyable, but not one that I’d highly recommend. The Night Tiger does some nice things and some interesting things. I’m not normally the biggest historical fiction fan, but this one handles it well, and liked getting into that lore. Have you read this book, if so what did you think of it? Or have you read other books of magical realism?
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