Esha is a legend, but no one knows. It’s only in the shadows that she moonlights as the Viper, the rebels’ highly skilled assassin. She’s devoted her life to avenging what she lost in the royal coup, and now she’s been tasked with her most important mission to date: taking down the ruthless General Hotha.
Kunal has been a soldier since childhood, training morning and night to uphold the power of King Vardaan. His uncle, the general, has ensured that Kunal never strays from the path—even as a part of Kunal longs to join the outside world, which has been growing only more volatile.
Then Esha’s and Kunal’s paths cross—and an unimaginable chain of events unfolds. Both the Viper and the soldier think they’re calling the shots, but they’re not the only players moving the pieces. As the bonds that hold their land in order break down and the sins of the past meet the promise of a new future, both rebel and soldier must make unforgivable choices.
The Tiger at Midnight beautifully plays off two sides of duty against each other, in a setting involving magical bonds to the land, a lost royal and a fragile truce. In the kingdoms of Jansa and Dharka, the royals are links to the earth itself, which depends on an annual sacrifice to keep it bountiful. Since the coup of Jansa by a Dharkan prince and the resulting war, the Jansan side of the sacrifice has been lacking, leading to a land that has been plagued with drought and misery. Esha, a Dharkan rebel and a famed assassin under the alias of The Viper, has been tasked with dismantling the current usurper on the Jansan throne, while Kunal is a Jansan soldier who is also the nephew of the general (who participated in the coup). Their paths cross on the night of the ceasefire, and begins a cat-and-mouse chase across the lands.
The story of this book has a good balance between being character-driven and plot-driven. It is largely about Kunal and Esha reconciling their beliefs on honor and duty, though a major character change happens in the former as he gets to see how much he has been living a lie. Esha’s path is more towards finally accepting to live her life for her own self as well, and not just revenge. Their whole chase/flirtation is one of the highlights of the book, and the chemistry is off the charts! As for the world-building, I didn’t feel like it really had influences from Indian history, aside from the clothes and food, of course, but it still made for a richly detailed world that the characters populate. The reveal at the end was left on a sort of fork-in-the-road kind of cliffhanger, so I am excited to see where the story takes us from there in future books.
Overall, it is a great debut, with delightful chemistry between the protagonists.
Is it diverse? Fantasy Indian (OwnVoices) setting filled with POC characters; has a minor queer character
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Katherine Tegen Books, via Edelweiss.
Releases on April 23, 2019