Title: The Tiger at Midnight
Author: Swati Teerdhala
Series: The Tiger at Midnight Trilogy #1
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: April 23rd, 2019 (Katherine Tegen Books)
Synopsis: 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.
“Never greet a tiger at midnight, for they are the manifestations of your past misdeeds.”
The neighbouring lands of Jansa and Dharka have been at war for years following Jansa’s murder of its ruling family, throwing the lands into chaos as the magical bond the countries share with their land is dying in the absence of the rightful rulers. Esha, an assassin from Dharka, working alongside the rebels known as the Crescent Blades, is tasked with the assassination of General Hotha in an effort to strike a blow against the usurper King Vardaan.
Kunal is the general’s nephew, who has grown up in the Jansan Fort, training to be a soldier. He doesn’t really want this life, but he is good at it, and stays out of respect and loyalty to his uncle. When Esha attempts to sneak into the Fort, she runs into Kunal, but manages to come up with a sufficiently convincing story to get away. Someone else has gotten to General Hotha first however, and what’s more, they have made a clear attempt to frame Esha for it.
But Esha is no ordinary assassin. She is the Viper, the most skilled and feared of them all, and she is determined to find out who tried to frame her. Kunal is on her trail though, his suspicion having been peaked by the odd run-in. As their paths cross over and over, a game of cat and mouse begins between the two and they slowly begin to see more than an enemy in each other.
The Tiger at Midnight was a late addition to my 2019 TBR, but definitely a good one. This Indian mythology inspired story has a very familiar feel to it, in a good way. While the whole concept of the assassin and the soldier may appear a little cliched at first glance, as the story progresses and we learn about the world from their perspectives, it is quickly obvious that there is so much more to them. I really loved Esha’s spirit and determination and her back and forth with Kunal was so much fun to read! She is a wonderfully written grey character and her struggle with her morals is portrayed very well. Kunal was a very interesting character torn between duty and doing the right thing as he begins to understand that the world outside the Fort’s walls is far from ideal (incidentally, he reminded me slightly of Elias from An Ember in the Ashes).
I particularly liked this fantasy world that the author has created. The world-building and beautiful imagery bring the setting to life, with everything described in vivid detail. It was also a nice change of pace to see that, while this is clearly a fantasy world with some element of magic in it, it doesn’t take over the story entirely and instead plays a much more subtle role, while more common woes such as politics and war take centre stage.
While initially it felt like a bit of an information overload, by the time I was done with the first quarter or so of the book, I was completely engrossed. I’m curious to see more of Kunal’s friends in the sequel, especially following that twist. For side characters, they were very well developed, and I’m hoping that’s because they have significant roles to play going forward. I’m also interested to learn more about the rebels and Prince Harun in the sequel as we only got a glimpse of them.
Overall, The Tiger at Midnight is a great read and a promising start to a new series. For a debut, I thought it was particularly good, fast-paced and engaging, and following that surprising ending, the sequel is definitely on my list. For fantasy fans who are fond of stories with a richly detailed background and setting, I would highly recommend this!
Have you read this book yet or do you plan to? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Other reviews in this series:
Book 2: The Archer at Dawn