I didn’t think that The Tiger’s Watch would be for me; I’m not a huge fantasy reader (I’ve dabbled but it’s not my genre of choice) and the page count is low which made me wonder how much of a fantasy world could be built in a believable way in such a short space. But I’m glad I gave it a go!
The Tiger’s Watch is a novel about a society of spies who can bond with an animal and use them to aid in their missions. Once bonded, they are bonded for life, so depending on the natural lifespan of the animal, their life could be cut very short or extended. The same happens with the humans – if a human dies, so does their bonded animal. When invaders arrive in the country, our main character must use their skills to attempt to take down the enemy from within.
Now the idea behind the inhabitors (the people who link with animals) has been done before, no question about it, but the lore in this novel was different enough that it didn’t feel like a re-hash. It was explained quite well (compared to other parts of the story which I’ll get to shortly) as we were given little droplets of information as the story went on rather than having all the information dumped on us in the beginning.
But with the being said, the inhabitors linking ability was the only part of the world-building that was handled well, and even that didn’t have all my questions answered – for example, why is there metal in the air when inhabitors establish their links?
The rest of the world-building definitely leaves something to be desired. For example, two countries seem to be at war but we have no idea why. We’re given no real history of these two countries or their people, we don’t understand the political tensions or have any idea what the ‘endgame’ outcome could or should be. There was no context for the actions taken from either the offensive or the defensive side – we know nothing about Thim or the Myeik at all.
“Weak. All of you in this country, so very, very weak. In Myeik, we’re born with steel in our bones.”
Don’t get me wrong, the amount established in such a low page count is quite impressive, I just wish we had 100 more pages so that the author could really put meat on the bones of her world-building.
The characters were a mixed bag for me. We are introduced to several characters who are inhabitors – yet we only get to experience Tashi and Katala’s link. We hear of the others but it’s a real shame that we can’t experience them as the connection scenes between Katala and Tashi were really good.
Xian is by far my favourite character as he is the most complex and conflicted, I’m really looking forward to seeing where his character arc goes in future instalments of this series. Pharo is Tashi’s best friend and I have to be honest – I didn’t rate him. I found him bland and he didn’t really do much of anything. It was actually his linked wolf Faern I felt sorry for, I really empathised with that poor wolf and I cared much more about him than Pharo.
A lot of the characters need to make a serious shift from two dimensional characters to fully realised ones in the next instalment otherwise I’m afraid I just won’t care about them at all as it was hard enough to care during this book when they were being established. But hopefully that will come with a higher page count in the next instalment.
There’s also a love triangle hinted at in the book (I won’t say between who) and I have to admit I’m not a fan. I’m not exactly against love triangles per se, I just think they need to be handled well and they aren’t here. This is not an attack on Ember’s writing, I just don’t think the characters are established enough to have a love triangle be believable. One side is love and the other is lust and it’s just so instant that it’s almost laughable. I’m not looking forward to reading about it in the next book.
“I felt torn, yet again, between gratitude and hate.”
Now I can’t really continue to talk about the characters without addressing the elephant in the room – Tashi. First let me get something they did in the book off my chest before I talk about what everyone expects me to talk about. Tashi is a trained spy and at one point she purposely sabotages an enemy’s saddle for a prank when it would be obvious to the enemy that Tashi was the only person who could have done it! Tashi is the world’s stupidest spy and would not last long in reality.
Now on to what you might be expecting me to mention. Tashi is a genderfluid/non-binary character. I will admit that it took me a while to get used to the pronouns used as Tashi goes by ‘they’. Every time I read ‘they’ I was like “who else are they talking about?” – I actively had to remind myself that in the scene there weren’t multiple people, just the one. Which is fine, I’m just not used to experiencing ‘they’ being used in the way it was.
A note from the author about Tashi reads: “Tashi is non-binary. Tashi is really adamant about being seen as a person without any expectations of gender. They don’t want to feel bound to a series of expectations and want to express themselves according to how they feel at the moment.”
The problem (for me) was that despite knowing this, I still read Tashi as female. That’s just how they came across in my head. I thought their actions, thought processes and behaviours throughout the story were inherently and stereotypically female traits and I just couldn’t help imagining them as a female. Now perhaps this was subconsciously re-enforced by the colour scheme and artwork of the cover, but I just want to be honest with how I personally interpreted the character.
“Wind blew through the cherry tree, coating her with blossoms.”
I would like to say that I have very specific opinions on gender, identifying and biological sex and the differences between them, but I will not be discussing them here because that’s not what my review is about and it ultimately isn’t important to the story at all. But I refuse to let gender and identity politics (whether I personally agree with the ones being presented to me in a story or not) get in the way of my enjoyment of a story (because I really did enjoy it) and that’s all I’ll say on this matter here. However if you would like to discuss this more I am more than happy for you to contact me and we can have a discussion – after all, books are all about encouraging thinking and discussion!
Now, back to the review!
The Tiger’s Watch is one of those books that I think would really benefit from having multiple POV chapters. The characters (especially Xian) are quite complex and I think we as readers would benefit from, and appreciate, the multi-POV platform to help us connect with the characters and get into their heads. This would be especially effective if the page counts in future instalments remain as low as this one.
The writing is simple, but there’s nothing wrong with simple if its good and that’s exactly what this is. There’s a beauty and elegance in its simplicity which is inviting and captivating at the same time.
The story is short but as I’ve previously said, a lot gets packed into the pages. It’s definitely a slow-burn start but it got much better as the story progressed. It seems to be a steady build up to the next books in the series but I can’t help but feel that the ending was a bit rushed – we’re dropped off just as swiftly as we were dropped in.
Whilst the second half is much stronger than the first, there is still nowhere near as much action as I would have liked considering the story hinges around war and magic and animals that can be linked with humans. We get two very brief action encounters and then that’s it.
“My claws ripped through her fragile skin like a warm knife in frozen cream.”
I know we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I almost did with this one. I couldn’t help it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very beautiful picture, but that’s just it. It’s a beautiful picture. It looks more like fan art than a book cover and the lack of a professional and polished look almost made me ignore this book. I’m glad I didn’t, but I just hope that the next cover looks a little more professional.
All in all, The Tiger’s Watch is a great story about loyalty and deceit and it keeps you guessing what all the characters will do and where their true loyalties lie. The main premise is good and the characters have the potential to be great. The only thing that really held this book back was the low page count. I am excited about the next instalment and will be reading it as soon as it comes out.
“Someone I love is dying.
Everyone I grew up with is already dead.”
[PLEASE NOTE]: All quotations were taken from an Advanced Reader Copy made of uncorrected proof. Quotations may be different in the final published version. I was given a digital copy of the ARC in return for an honest review. I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.