YA Weekend Audio: The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 1 of The Tiger at Midnight Trilogy
Publisher: HarperAudio (April 23, 2019)
Length: 12 hrs and 44 mins
Narrator: Sneha Mathan
I really enjoyed this. Inspired by the culture of ancient India and Hindu mythology, The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala features a cat-and-mouse game of deception and thrills between a rebel assassin and the reluctant young soldier tasked to bring her to justice.
Years ago, when Esha was a child, she and her family lived a happy existence at the palace where they were close companions to the royal family. But that was until a bloody coup took everything she has ever loved away from her. Now a fighter for exiled prince’s resistance, she has dedicated her life to avenging her murdered parents and to taking down the current regime. By day, she plays the role of the innocent merchant’s daughter, just a pretty girl selling poppy seeds at the market. But by night, Esha assumes the mantle of the Viper, a mysterious assassin who takes down important enemies for the rebels, striking quickly and mercilessly at her targets. And tonight, her mark is the ruthless General Hotha, a man who has the blood of innocents on his hands.
Meanwhile, unaware that his life is about to be changed forever, a fort soldier named Kunal extends a helping hand to a doe-eyed young woman, unwittingly bringing the Viper one step closer to completing the task of assassinating his uncle, the general. But when Esha reaches Hotha’s chambers, she realizes with a shock that someone had already beaten her to her mark. Finding herself the victim of a setup, Esha escapes the fort, determined to find out who is trying to frame her and why. But that’s just the least of her problems. With their esteemed general dead, the enemy now needs a new commander. Together with a few of his peers, Kunal is offered an opportunity to succeed his uncle—but only if he can catch the Viper before any of the others. Of course, there are clear challenges to this. Assuming the Viper is not just a myth, no one knows who he or she is, though most assume the assassin is a man, while others believe the name is an identity used by several people. With his clever mind and sharp instincts though, Kunal has the advantage. As he pursues the Viper across the land, he also begins to question his loyalties and wonder at the feelings Esha and the rebels are awakening within him.
The Tiger at Midnight was a novel that drew me in effortlessly with its vivid prose, robust world-building, and compelling story. And oh, the characters, how I loved the characters. Right away, we are introduced to Esha and Kumal in a sweet boy-meets-girl scenario of light flirtation and a bit of fun innuendo—except, of course, we soon find out there is a lot more to the situation. And yet, the two of them are just so likeable, you can’t help but want to see them wind up together. Even with the obvious direction of the story and the inevitability of a romance in the cards, there was still plenty of tension in the air knowing that both these characters have a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to find their happiness.
This tension is what resulted in much of the interest that kept me reading, and I thought author Swati Teerdhala handled it so well. It also prevented the repeated encounters between Esha and Kumal from becoming too tedious and predictable, as each of their interactions introduced something new to the relationship. I loved watching the characters grow before my eyes, maturing in their thinking and personalities, as well as the epic game of the tug o’ war regarding their emotions for each other. The romance itself was gradual and realistic, putting it a cut above the insta-love you see in too many YA books these days. In addition, it gave some of the later revelations in the plot more weight.
Speaking of which, the story contained enough familiar themes to make it easy to follow but also a fair bit of political intrigue and complexity to keep things engaging. As well, there’s an element of mystery in the plot where Esha has to figure out who is trying to frame her, and the added (if somewhat manufactured) conflict of Kumal believing she is the one behind his uncle’s murder. But overall, the chase was fun and exciting, and we were treated to rich descriptions of the Indian-inspired setting whenever there were calmer moments in the story. The world felt lush and fully-realized, and I enjoyed the magic which began as a light touch in the early sections of the book only to play a major role later on.
Overall, I don’t have many complaints, despite The Tiger at Midnight being a debut. Swati Teerdhala manages to avoid many of the missteps that plague new authors, and in general I found her storytelling and characters to be exceedingly well done. I look forward to the next installment to see what happens next.
Audiobook Comments: Sneha Mathan narrates the audiobook of The Tiger at Midnight, delivering a superb performance. She handled both Esha and Kumal very well, navigating character voices and accents with fantastic flow and ease.