BOOK REPORT for The Tiger at Midnight (The Tiger at Midnight #1) by Swati Teerdhala

Cover Story: Like the Sands of Time
BFF Charm: Meh x2
Swoonworthy Scale: 3
Talky Talk: Catch Me My Interest If You Can
Bonus Factor: Glowing Forests
Relationship Status: Saved By the Bell

Cover Story: Like the Sands of Time

The stark black cover and the gold-dusted Esha are striking. It looks like at any moment she will be swept away in a sandy whirlwind. Kudos to her for balancing on that incline; it looks like a workout.

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The Deal:

Esha needs to kill the General of the Jansan army as part of the rebels’ plot to take back the kingdom and save both countries from drought and famine. Except when she finally creeps into the General’s room, someone else has gotten there first. Someone who went through the trouble of framing the Viper—a legendary assassin, who happens to actually be Esha—for the kill. No one knew she was going to be there except the rebels. Was Esha betrayed by someone within their ranks, or is there a third, unknown player joining the mix?

Kunal has mixed feelings when he finds out General Setu, his uncle, has been murdered. He soon realizes that the girl wandering outside the fort the night it happened that he so innocently helped was likely the one who did it. His commander dispatches four soldiers, including Kunal, to find the Viper and bring them to justice. He soon catches Esha’s trail and begins the chase, but as he gets closer and starts learning more about his country, he may need to reexamine everything he thought was true.

BFF Charm: Meh x2

Both teens have been conscripted into lives they never wanted because of the war between Jansan and Dharka. Although we get into both of their heads, I struggled to find a connection with either. Kunal often came across as extremely naïve to me, to the point I had to wonder how he survived the last ten years under his uncle’s care. He blames his lack of understanding of his country on spending most of his time fighting on the border, but…how did he GET to the border? Esha is a lot more world-weary, but we’re told repeatedly instead of shown that she’s a hardened assassin, and it just didn’t ring true for me, especially in light of some truly bone-headed moves she makes. They both have noble causes and hearts, but theirs is not a road trip I’d want to join.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Kunal and Esha suffer from insta-attraction from literally the first few pages. Kunal spots Esha skulking around outside the Blood Fort and mistakes her for a simple trader who lost her way, but, oh, there’s just something about her eyes. It’s been so long since Esha had someone talk to her like a normal girl that she ends up sharing her real name with this handsome soldier, how unprofessional of her. It’s hard to then go on and believe that these two are supposed to be a soldier so good/experienced he’s part of an upper echelon of elite fighters, and an assassin so stealthy and merciless that people make up stories about her deadly exploits. Maybe my annoyance from that very first meeting colored my perception of the rest of their romance, but there was no heat or tension to write home about.

Talky Talk: Catch Me My Interest If You Can

This book had a lot going for it before I opened the cover. A cat-and-mouse romance between an assassin and a soldier, a fantasy setting, a diverse writer/viewpoint. But, dear Reader, how I struggled. When you’re picking up a book to read it like it’s homework, something is not going right. The Tiger at Midnight fought against a simplistic plot, cookie-cutter characters, and a very slow start. By page 250, about halfway through the book, Esha and Kunal had caught up with one another, exchanged some words, and slipped each other’s grasp no less than five times. I had rifle through the rest to see if this would end soon, because by that point both characters were starting to look silly and, even worse, I had no idea what the end goal of the novel was supposed to be. Was Kunal going to chase Esha across the entirety of Jansan? Did I care? (Not anymore.)

I was also a bit disappointed by the world-building. I was excited to see backstory built on “ancient Indian history and Hindu mythology”, but if I hadn’t been expecting that, I’m not sure if this one would have really stood out from a myriad of other generic fantasy-worlds.

But what was almost unforgivable to me was Esha’s character assassination in order to further the plot. When she discovers someone planted evidence that she was the killer of the General—a poor imitation of the whip weapon she uses—she…leaves one of her own whips in its place. Huh? I’m almost positive she was intending to just kill him and ghost out of there, and who cared if the soldiers came to the conclusion on their own that she was the killer, but she had no plans to claim it outright. I saw no reasoning as to why she wanted whomever framed her to continue thinking they framed her successfully. Then, THEN, once Kunal had caught up with her the first time, she leaves her pack out in full view and he sees something he shouldn’t that clues him in to her identity. She is a world-famous assassin; are you kidding me??? It was so clunky, contrary to what we’d been told about this character, and plot-service-y that I almost put the book down right there.

Bonus Factor: Glowing Forests

There was one interesting setting that ended up as my favorite: the tej, a jungle with a sort of phosphorescent bark that made the trees look like they glow at night. It’s here Esha and Kunal meet the titular tiger, and while that part wouldn’t be fun, the place itself sounds really pretty.

Relationship Status: Saved By the Bell

So sorry, Book, but I do have to take this phone call. I’m going to tell you I have a family emergency, but in fact I asked my friend to call me mid-way through our date in case I needed an excuse to bail. We did not end up connecting, and you told me one too many stories about your uneventful hiking trips for me to try and make this work.

The Tiger at Midnight is available now.