Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Their Bright Ascendancy

Go To
Shizuka and Shefali: Goddesses, Empresses, Wives

Their Bright Ascendancy is a series by newcomer K Aresenault Rivera set in a fictional fantasy world inspired by East Asia. O-Shizuka is the privileged empress of Hokkaro, and as a child she was bound by fate to Shefali, the quiet daughter of the leader of the nomadic Qorin people. Both of them were born with two pine needles marking their brows, and both of them are destined to be gods. North of Hokkaro is the Wall of Flowers, the only thing keeping the Traitor God from invading into the land of the living, and whatever else happens, it is Shizuka and Shefali's fate to go north and face him. While it is a fantasy epic, it is primarily a love story between the two women.

The first book, The Tiger's Daughter, is a hybrid-epistolary novel that tells the story of how Shefali and O-Shizula met and became friends and, eventually, lovers, told through a letter written by Shefali to Shizuka, now Empress many years after they last parted.


The second book, The Phoenix Empress, picks up where The Tiger's Daughter left off, reuniting Shefali and O-Shizuka, and diving into O-Shizuka's story of what happened to her while they were separated while also progressing the present-day narrative of Shefali's fight against her affliction.

The two main books in the series are

  • The Tiger's Daughter
  • The Phoenix Empress

A short story was published along with The Tiger's Daughter, and more short stories are forthcoming

  • An Excerpt from the Poet Prince, O-Itsuki's Unfinished Memoir
  • The Warrior Moon (forthcoming)
  • Sixteen Swords (forthcoming)

  • Action Girl: Shizuka and Shefali both.
  • Agent Peacock: Shizuka's childhood imperial nickname is the "Peacock Princess".
  • The Alcoholic: After everything Shizuka endured, between losing her wife and suffering through war, she's developed an addiction.
  • Advertisement:
  • All Myths Are True: Everything about Minami Shiori and Tumenbayar is true, to an extent. Even what's contradictory is true, because what's true is that Minami Shiori and Tumenbayar were real women, and their godhood eclipsed their real lives.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Demons and blackbloods. They are this way because the Traitor's control over their minds wills them to be what he wants.
  • Always Save the Girl: Shefali towards Shizuka.
  • And I'm The Queen Of Sheba: Shizuka is prone to this when anyone insults Shefali or the Qorin. She doesn't need to state her title most times, as most people already know who she is, but when some traveling guards don't recognize her and don't take her oath of honor that the Qorin won't harm anyone at face value, she puts them soundly in their place.
  • Animal Motif: Shefali with wolves Spoiler . Foxes around Shizuka Spoilers .
  • An Arm and a Leg: Shefali loses her eye to the demons.
  • Arranged Marriage: Alshara arranges her own marriage as part of a peace treaty; her and her husband see each other for long enough to have two children and that's it. Shizuka spends much of her teenage years trying to avoid one.
  • Asleep for Days: When Shefali is infected with the blackblood.
  • Attackpattern Alpha: Most military formations in both Hokkaran and Xianese forces have names; learning which ones are best for which situations is a big part of Shizuka's growth as a commander.
  • Author Appeal: K Arsenault Rivera is an admitted huge fan of east Asian culture and Japanese anime in particular, and Revolutionary Girl Utena was a huge inspiration for her.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Many of the noble characters, but naturally special props to Shizuka and Shefali.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Burqila Alshara was already the daughter of a clan chief, but she became Kharsa by beating everyone who challenged her.
  • Awesome Ego: Shizuka. Even her wife describes her as amazingly arrogant. She gets less arrogant (and more troubled) by the present timeline, but she's still very cocky in public.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Unfortunately Shizuka is drunk for most of it.
  • Badass Army: The Bronze Army and the peasant army of Xian-lai.
  • Badass Boast: Thy name is Minami Shizuka.
  • Badass Gay: Shizuka, Shefali, Burqila Alshara, possibly Dorbentei Otgar as well.
  • Badass Longcoat: The Qorin, technically, if you want to get creative in how you describe what a deel is.
  • Berserk Button: Hurting Shizuka in front of Shefali or Shefali in front of Shizuka. Likewise, insulting Shefali in front of Shizuka.
  • Big Eater: Shefali was one until the blackblood.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: The first time Shefali and Shizuka kiss.
  • Bizarre Alien Senses: As a blackblood, Shefali can smell people's histories and personal backgrounds.
  • Black and Grey Morality: Whatever is going on with the Traitor's lands is decidedly this.
  • Blue Blood: Shefali is the daughter of the Kharsa, or horselord, of the Qorin people, and O-Shizuka is heir to the emperor's throne.
  • Body Motifs: Eyes, in The Tiger's Daughter.
  • Born in the Saddle: Shefali is a daughter of the Qorin, a nomadic horse tribe, and has known how to ride a horse since she could walk.
  • Breaching the Wall: Before the start of the series, Shefali's mother, Burqila Alshara, used Dragon's Fire explosives to blast holes in the Wall of Stone and invade Hokkaro.
  • Break the Cutie: What Shefali and Shizuka go through is absolutely anguishing.
  • Break the Haughty: What Shizuka goes through in particular.
  • Broken Bird: Shizuka, in The Phoenix Empress.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Sakura is a former prostitute of noble lineage who wanted to learn how to read.....and goes on to become one of the most scholarly characters of the series. But she can never make her robes match because she doesn't care about what the rules of fashion are.
  • Cheerful Child: Lai Baoyi is very cheerful and very cute.
  • Chilly Reception: Shefali receives one any time she's among the Hokkarans.
  • Color-Coded Patrician: Each of the noble houses of the Hokkaran empire has its own associated heraldic colors, e.g. Xian-Lai is purple and green, Fuyutsuki is black and yellow, Shiratori is white and bright green.
  • Comes Great Responsibility: Shizuka ascending the Phoenix Throne.
  • Comforting the Widow: How Otgar and Alshara's relationship is implied to have started. Played With in that Alshara wasn't actually Shizuru's widow, but was deeply in love with her, and that Otgar didn't know Shizuru at all. Also, Otgar is Alshara's niece.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: The first book for Shizuka and Shefali.
  • The Corruption: The blackblood.
  • Cosmic Plaything: It's very subtly hinted that many gods are yanking at Shefali's leads.
  • Courtly Love: O-Itsuki wrote to O-Shizuru in his famous style before she agreed to marry him.
  • Culture Clash: Shizuka, raised pampered among the Hokkarans, must learn to look after herself among the Qorin.
  • Cunning Linguist: While Dorbentei is a capable warrior, this is her true value to the Burqila clan. Not only can she read and write both Qorin and Hokkaran by the age of ten, she can interpret Burqila Alshara's sign language (which even Alshara's daughter can't do), and can speak several other languages, including one that she's never met a speaker of. Unlike many other Qorin warriors, who wear braids for their deeds in battle, Dorbentei wears a braid for each language she speaks.
  • Dance of Romance: In The Phoenix Empress. Apparently Shizuka is a terrible dancer, but Shefali loves dancing with her anyway.
  • Dark-Skinned Blond: Shefali, as is normal for the Qorin.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Shizuka comes off to the reader this way, during The Tiger's Daughter. Initially a haughty empress, reading Shefali's letters slowly deconstructs Shizuka for the reader, so she becomes less the frosty empress and more a woman alone.
  • Determinator: Shefali and Shizuka both.
    "I am always sure."
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Whatever affliction Shefali is suffering is usually referred to as "[the/my/her] affliction". It has no correspondence to any actual disease.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Emperor hates his niece. So he conspires with a Demon General to have her killed and has her raise an army of peasants and sends her off to war.
  • The Dreaded: Burqila Alshara is explicitly named the most dreaded woman in all Hokkaro. Many, even among her own people, call her The Destroyer.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Read the first two books and try to convince yourself the third is going to be okay. This series is depressing. The only thing we have going for us is that it's a queer author who hopefully wants to subvert Bury Your Gays.
  • Easily Forgiven: Shizuka tried to strangle Shefali as a child and no one seems to care so long as she apologizes.
  • The Empire: Hokkaro and Her Children.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Shizuka trying to strangle Shefali certainly establishes Shizuka as being uncontrollable.
  • Everyone Is Related: The Traitor is the first Emperor, Shizuka's ancestor.
  • The Exile: Poor Shefali is exiled twice. First when she loses control and tears a group of bandits apart, her mother exiles her from her clan and the Qorin people (a fate usually reserved for horrible criminals and kinslayers) and again when she kills a demon in front of the Emperor with her bare hands. This second one is a step down from the execution that would otherwise have happened, but it's still on the condition that Shefali retrieve a Phoenix feather, which takes her the fill time between then and the 'present' timeline.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: After ascending to the throne, Shizuka begins wearing more traditional attire, including how she wears her hair and how she shapes her eyebrows.
  • Eye Scream: Poor Shefali has her left eye torn out by a demon. She gets it replaced by a steel one, but still
  • Face Palm: Happens often enough.
  • Famed In-Story: Shefali notes people are retelling stories of the legendary Tumenabayar with Shefali as the protagonist.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Hokkarans look down on the Qorin, the Hanjeon, and the Qian Lai.
  • Fantastic Slurs: Ricetongue, for Hokkarans.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Hokkaro at large is Japan, Hanjeon is Korea, Xian-Lai is Han China, and Qorin is Mongolia.
  • Fantasy Pantheon: An interesting case in that even the main characters claim to be gods. The deities appear to all be mortals with godly souls. It's speculated by the characters that the world's past gods were all deified mortals who sought some sort of claim over their powers, and that all of the gods in the past were people just like them.
  • First-Episode Spoiler: The very beginning of The Tiger's Daughter reveals that Shizuka is the empress, long before we learn how she even came to the throne.
  • Foreshadowing: The demons all refer to Shefali by the name "Steel-Eye" even from a young age. It's made apparent much later what that means.
  • Four-Star Badass: Burqila Alshara and Minami Shizuru both.
  • Generation Xerox: Barsalai Shefali, the silent and terrifying Qorin, so much like her mother, Burqila Alshara. Minami Shizuka, the hot-headed, impetuous lady warrior, so much like her mother, Minami Shizuru.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: There's an undercurrent of this to Shizuka's reign before she reunites with Shefali. She's not a bad queen, but her servants fear her.
  • The Great Wall: The series has two: the Wall of Stone, based on the Chinese Great Wall, between Hokkaro and the steppes where the Qorin live in the east, and the Wall of Flowers in the North, raised by a goddess to keep demons and blackbloods out. The Wall of Flowers slowly fails across the series, but Shizuka raises a new one
  • Green Thumb: The other major part of Shizuka's powers. She can grow whichever plants she wants wherever she wants, with flowers, herbs, and plum trees all being seen. it's due to being a reincarnation of whichever living god raised the first Wall of Flowers, a feat she replicates in The Phoenix Empress.
  • Happily Married: Shefali and Shizuka have their disagreements and difficulties, but they're very much in love and happy to be married.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Ren is a Singing Girl, noted to have the nicest house in her village. Once she moves to Fujino she runs an entire establishment of these.
  • The High Queen: Yui Minami O-Shizuka is an interesting aversion. She has almost all of the qualities of The High Queen, except the calm demeanor. She's attempted to cultivate it as an affect, but at her heart Empress Yui is hot-headed, tempestuous, and demanding. But her demeanor aside, Shizuka is good and bright, spreads hope to the people around her, connects to others easily, fights for everything that is good and right in the world, and generally otherwise fits the trope of The High Queen.
    • Lai Baozhai is a more conventional example, even before she actually gets the title of Queen.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Ren, although her heart of gold is only really towards Shefali.
  • I Have Many Names: Minami Shizuka, Empress Yui, the Phoenix Empress, Daughter of Heaven, Light of Hokkaro, Celestial Flame, Flower of the Empire, etc, etc.
  • An Ice Person: Shefali apparently has these powers in addition to her shapeshifting and the blackblood
  • I Know Your True Name: You must speak a Demon's name and then cut off its head to kill it permanently. If you don't speak the name, it will rise again later. Luckily, Shefali and Shizuka's divine nature gives them knowledge of demon's names: Shefali just knows, and Shizuka sees their name in glowing characters in the air around them.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: Shizuka can cut or dodge arrows out of the air by book 2 despite not seeing the archer or knowing anyone was going to shoot at her. Apparently training with someone with Improbable Aiming Skills pays off.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Shefali is so good with a bow that she never misses if she doesn't want to. Even in the dark. Even blindfolded. Being a god helps.
  • Incest Is Relative: Midway through The tiger's Daughter, it's revealed that Burqila Alshara is sleeping with her niece, Dorbentei Otgar. Otgar is the same age as Alshara's son, and it's implied this relationship has been going on for three years or so. Shefali, Alshara's daughter and Otgar's cousin, is majorly squicked out, especially since they don't appear to have told anyone.
  • In Medias Res: The novel opens with Shizuka as empress, and Shizuka and Shefali already separated. Shefali's epistolary flashbacks tell the story of how this happened.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifting: What the blackblood eventually does to people (well, if they count as people after the blackblood's got to them). Shefali also struggles with avoiding this.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Shizuka has shades of this.
  • Jumped at the Call: Shizuka, who at eight years old is already declaring herself a god destined to go beyond the Wall of Flowers and kill the Traitor God.
  • Kids Are Cruel: A four-year-old Shefali gets thoroughly beaten by her cousins, who resent her for being half-Hokkaran.
  • "L" Is for "Dyslexia": Shefali is heavily implied to have some form of dyslexia, being unable to read Hokkaran/Xianese characters and having some trouble writing Qorin ones. Her cousin Otgar has to read and transcribe her childhood correspondence with Shizuka for her. Later, she and Shizuka work out how to write Hokkaran phonetically using the Qorin alphabet, which means she can actually write. This makes fact that she took the time and difficulty to write Shizuka the letter that makes up much of the first book all the more affecting.
  • Little Miss Badass: Both Shizuka and Shefali by age eight.
  • Loophole Abuse: There's no law says a marriage between two women isn't valid in Hokkaro. Specifically, such marriages are valid and legal (although non-practiced) in Xian-Lai, and no-one ever bothered to make them illegal throughout the rest of the Empire. this means that Shizuka and Shefali's marriage is completely legal, and thus Shefali is a member of the Imperial Family and cannot be executed
  • Love at First Sight: Heavily implied for both Shefali and Shizuka.
  • Master Swordswoman: Shizuka. Also her mother. And their legendary ancestor, Minami Shiori.
  • Oblivious to Love: Mutually, between Shizuka and Shefali. Shizuka doesn't put two and two together about Shefali taking Shizuka riding on her horse, despite that being something only married couples do in Qorin culture, even after years living with the Qorin; Shefali doesn't notice the significance of Shizuka, who has powers that let her heat things and start fires at will, constantly claiming she's cold in order to snuggle with Shefali. They work it out eventually.
  • Meaningful Name: Qorin are given a second name when they become adults and it usually reflects their deeds or personality; Shefali's is Barsalai, meaning 'tiger-striped', because she slew a tiger at age eight. Shizuka also has one; it's Barsatoq, meaning 'Tiger-Thief', because the Qorin consider she stole Shefali's kill.
  • Meaningful Rename: When Shefali is exiled due to the blackblood, her mother renames her Barsalyya Shefali Alshar. Barsalyya is contrasted with her previous name: where Barsalai means 'Tiger-Striped', Barsalyya means 'The Tiger's Daughter'. This is especially hurtful, since the 'yya' prefix is a matronymic, meaning Shefali has been stripped of the right to formally be called Alshara's daughter, and thus essentially disowned. when she returns, she gets a Meaningful Rename back to Barsalai Shefali Alsharyya
  • Official Couple: Barsalai Shefali and Minami Shizuka.
  • One Head Taller: Up to Eleven; Shefali is, according to Word of God, at least a foot taller than Shizuka. Shizuka states at one point that Shefali can, when Shizuka's in the saddle of her horse, kiss her without taking a foot off the ground.
  • Pals with Jesus: Shefali and Shizuka are literally gods, so everyone who is friends with them is friends with a god.
  • Parental Favoritism: Both oldest-child and youngest-child forms are present in Shefali and Kenshiro's family. The terms of the peace treaty that arranged the marriage between Alshara (their mother) and Oshiro Yuichi (their father) specified that the older child would be raised Hokkaran and inherit Oshiro province, while the younger would be raised Qorin and inherit the title of Kharsa (fantasy Khan, which Alshara renounced as part of the treaty). While neither parent seems to particularly dislike the child that isn't 'theirs', they both clearly favour one, and become estranged from the other. Their father does comes to Shefali's aid at the end of The Tiger's Daughter by confirming that Shefali's marriage to Shizuka is legal and thus she can't be executed - while omitting the point that, since the marriage is unconsummated, the Emperor could have it voided.
  • Petal Power: The Wall of Flowers. Shizuka's flower and plant-growth powers let her do this to demons, too
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: Shizuka is noted to be very small, and very good with a sword.
  • Playing with Fire: Shizuka never gets cold, doesn't ever need to worry about being burned, can start fires, and can set her blade on fire
  • Point of View: Uncommon in that much of the first book and a good half of the second are written in second person. The first book is largely a letter from Shefali to Shizuka, retelling their past, interspersed with moments set in the present from an adult Shizuka's perspective as she reads the letter. In the second book, Shefali and Shizuka take turns narrating the present-day portions, while the flashbacks are again second person, from Shizuka's perspective as she tells Shefali what transpired during their years apart.
  • Praetorian Guard: The Dragon Guard and the Phoenix Guard. Which serve as bodyguards to the throne and which serve throughout the greater empire depends on whether an emperor or empress holds the throne.
  • Religion Is Magic: All notable magic powers seem to belong specifically and exclusively to those born as gods every few generations (e.g., Shizuka is immune to heat and fire and can make plants grow, Shefali can shapeshift into a wolf and generate cold, the Traitor has mind control powers).
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: O-Shizuka is the Royal Niece, and later Empress, of Hokkaro, while Shefali is next in line to be Kharsa (warlord) of the Qorin.
  • Ruling Couple: Shizuka and Shefali, Empress Phoenix and Empress Wolf.
  • Scars Are Forever: Shizuka gets one in a duel for her hand in marriage.
  • Second-Hand Storytelling: Much of the books are flashbacks from Shefali's or Shizuka's perspective, narrated to the other.
  • Secret Relationship: Shizuka and Shefali for much of their teenage years, until they marry to prevent Shizuka's uncle from executing Shefali.
  • Shout-Out: To Avatar: The Last Airbender. Shizuka references a popular Qian-Lai song called "Four Seasons, Four Loves."
  • Single-Stroke Battle: One of Shizuka's many nicknames is "One-Stroke Shizuka."
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Shefali towards Shizuka.
  • Standard Royal Court: Complete with conniving nobility.
  • The Stoic: Shefali's pretty stoic, being pretty quiet and reserved when she's not around Shizuka and not speaking much. Her mother takes it Up to Eleven with a vow of silence that she's only broken a handful of times.
  • Super Strength: The Blackblood gives Shefali this. It's enough to tear humans and demons apart or pick Shizuka up with one hand.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Shefali was already badass, and then she got the blackblood.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Burqila Alshara keeps a hank of Minami Shizuru (Shizuka's mother)'s hair inside her deel. Alshara was in love with Shizuru, who married the prince of Hokkaro, and keeps the hair even after Shizuru dies. Qorin believe that someone's soul is carried in their scent, so Alshara keeps a piece of Shizuru's soul with her.
  • Turn Out Like Her Mother: Shefali: quiet, badass warrior, Minami-fixated lesbian.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Every single man who goes up against Shizuka in a duel.
  • The Virus: The blackblood. If a demon or infected's blood mixes with yours, you die in horrible agony over the course of three days, being tormented by demons, and rise as a deformed monster. Unless you are yourself a god. Then it takes a few years.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Shefali can turn into a wolf. Apparently, this is due to her divine nature, not her affliction.
  • Waif-Fu: While Shefali's perspective is probably biased, we have nothing else to go off of, and thus Shizuka is often described as small and delicate.
  • Wham Chapter: When Shefali and Shizuka fight their first demon together.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: