A young bodyguard in search of redemption finds love and court intrigue in this Asian-influenced fantasy.
Three years ago, Mara’s clan of tiger shape-shifters exiled her for committing unforgiveable crimes. She found refuge and purpose in the Order of Khatar, whose members do penance for past sins by dedicating their lives to the protection of others. Now 18, Mara is traveling to the capital when she saves a boy from a vicious tiger and forges an immediate connection with his twin, Emil. Unsurprisingly, their paths cross again in the city, when Mara’s job as a bodyguard for a high-ranking noble and Emil’s search for his now-runaway brother entangle both in the dangerous webs of imperial politics. While Mara and Emil are both developed as individual characters, their romance falls strangely flat, and their scenes together lack spark. The worldbuilding borrows many surface details from South Asian culture, but little is explored in much depth. Readers may struggle to keep the large cast of characters straight, even with the helpful dramatis personae at the beginning of the book. Though the novel is a prequel to Forster’s debut, City of a Thousand Dolls (2013), it can be read as a stand-alone; only the epilogue will perplex readers who have skipped the first book.
Uneven and unsatisfying. (Fantasy. 13-18)