The Tiger's Watch
by Julia Ember
Series: Ashes of Gold #1
Published by Harmony Ink Press on August 22, 2017
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy, LGBTQ+, Genderqueer/Non-binary, Young Adult
I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review.
Sixteen-year-old Tashi has spent their life training as a inhabitor, a soldier who spies and kills using a bonded animal. When the capital falls after a brutal siege, Tashi flees to a remote monastery to hide. But the invading army turns the monastery into a hospital, and Tashi catches the eye of Xian, the regiment’s fearless young commander.
Tashi spies on Xian’s every move. In front of his men, Xian seems dangerous, even sadistic, but Tashi discovers a more vulnerable side of the enemy commander—a side that draws them to Xian.
When their spying unveils that everything they’ve been taught is a lie, Tashi faces an impossible choice: save their country or the boy they’re growing to love. Though Tashi grapples with their decision, their volatile bonded tiger doesn't question her allegiances. Katala slaughters Xian’s soldiers, leading the enemy to hunt her. But an inhabitor’s bond to their animal is for life—if Katala dies, so will Tashi.
This book, you guys. This book was good. I know you are looking at my rating going “But you only gave it three and a half stars, Blue… isn’t that a bad rating?” Well, for me it is not. It is kind of the line between loving a book and liking it. I want to talk to you about the things I like and yes, the things I found a little lacking in the story.
This was the first book I was a part of a blog tour for, and I can say that as a person, Julia Ember is a real peach. She is just the sweetest person to talk to! I really enjoyed hearing her thoughts on adults reading YA, and how it influences her writing, and how she feels about the divide as an adult reader of YA. I am really looking forward to reading more books by her, and I have since purchased Unicorn Tracks, her first novel, and added it to the teetering TBR pile.
So, without further ado, on to the review!
Small disclaimer: Julia Ember does not identify as gender-queer or non-binary. but she has put a lot of love and effort into positive representation of NB people in her main character, Tashi. While Tashi is sometimes misgendered throughout the book, either their friends or themselves are quick to step up and say “No, it is THEY, thank you!”. The other thing I really thought was well done was how we got to see Tashi’s thought process from day to day. Sometimes they felt more feminine, and wanted to wear a dress. Other times, they were rocking the masculine vibe, and really liked that they were in simple clothes. But at all times, they were Tashi. And that was important.
We only really encounter a handful of characters in The Tiger’s Watch, and I am OK with that. Being a shorter book, it is good that we don’t get bogged down with too many details of a supporting cast. And of course, the focus is on Tashi and what is going through their mind as they are made to serve the enemy commander. We do see some growth from Tashi. They start out as many young protagonists do, believing everything they have ever been told… only to find out that the adults in their life have been keeping things from them all this time. Cue dramatic music…
Tashi’s tiger Katala is also a really interesting character.
One minor qualm I have is that we don’t really have a female perspective in the narrative. We see a few men (Xian and Pharo) through Tashi’s eyes as they interact with them, but there doesn’t seem to be a female equivalent. While I am so very glad for the NB representation, it was a minor thing I found lacking.
Plot & Pacing
The plot of The Tiger’s Watch was not all that focused. Things happen in the beginning of the book, and then at the end, but the middle felt like a bit of a slump. At 173 pages long,I really felt like the book would have benefited from an extra 50-75 pages. Not a whole lot, because Julia’s writing is so enchanting, you just want to savor it. But enough to flesh out some more of the story, the relationships, and to ease out the pacing. While reading it, the last 25% of the book felt a little rushed to me, and I really don’t like it when that happens.
A lot of the selling points in the blurb (Tashi is a spy, most notably… I mean, they ARE a spy, but they don’t actually do much spying?) are not actually plot points in the novel, and that is really frustrating to me.
Setting & Worldbuilding
I like the setting of The Tiger’s Watch. It is Asian-inspired (based on Bhutan I think?) without treading into appropriative territory. As with a lot of other things, I wish there had been just a smidgen more detail given about things like the academy where Tashi and Pharo train as inhabitors. Hopefully in future books, as this is only book one!
I do love that this world doesn’t have a lot of the same prejudices and oppression in place that the real world does. A lot of authors seem to translate those types of things into their writing, but Julia has evaded that trap very well. Again, while Tashi is misgendered a few times, once the offending party is corrected, that is that. There is no erasure or fighting about the validity of Tashi’s identity, and that is really refreshing to see.
I requested The Tiger’s Watch after seeing all the hype about Julia’s second-published novel, The Seafarer’s Kiss. This was the first book by Julia Ember that I ever read. Julia’s prose is lush and vibrant, and she puts a lot of love and care into the representation of her readers through her characters. While the worldbuilding and plotting could have used a bit more love, I think the positive representation and the themes brought up in The Tiger’s Watch are enough to forgive some missteps in other areas.
The Tiger’s Watch tackles some intense themes, such as gender, war, duty, and even consent. It is exactly the kind of book that young readers need in their hands.
The Tiger’s Watch contains some content which may be upsetting or triggering to some readers. Please take this into consideration when deciding to read it for yourself, adding it to a classroom, etc. This content is as follows:
War, servitude, a master-servant relationship (though consent and equality IS discussed), animals used in fighting, animals dying, violence, torture, moderate gore, and misgendering.
Who Should Read This Book
- Fans of the fantasy genre who are looking to diversify their reading.
- Anyone looking for a quick and enjoyable read (for say, a readathon).