Julia Ember has fast become one of the authors I most look forward to reading a new story from. Ever since I picked up her first book, Unicorn Tracks, and most recently The Seafarer’s Kiss, I’ve been blown away by how she takes the ordinary or stories you think you know and makes her own unique and powerful fantasy out of the material.
Today, as part of Chapter by Chapter’s Blog Tour, I’ll be sharing my review with you about Ember’s latest book, the first in her new Ashes of Gold series: The Tiger’s Watch, a book about Tashi, a non-binary character with a bonded animal companion in an Asian inspired fantasy world.
Be sure to check out the other stops on the Tiger’s Watch tour, including reviews, guest posts, interviews, and spotlights, by following this link: Chapter by Chapter Tour Schedule
The Tiger’s Watch (Ashes of Gold #1) by Julia Ember
Publication Date: August 22, 2017
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
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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.
Before I begin, from the author’s website: Trigger Warnings: Animals used in a war situation, graphic violence.
Rating: 4 Stars
I don’t typically expect a book to engage me right from page one. I’d guess it’s usually about 30-50 pages before an author’s had the chance to introduce the characters, the setting, etc., and given me good reason to care about the people the story is about. Julia Ember has managed to get me to care about Tashi, the people, and the bond animals around them in the span of about 6-7 pages.
From page one, when Tashi and Pharo are fleeing the burning capitol city and the enemy Myeik on the back of their instructor’s bond elephant, there’s already a lot to process and I was pleasantly surprised to see how Ember managed to get me to feel so deeply about people I barely knew, a magic system that had only been introduced.
The themes that were woven into The Tiger’s Watch, first and foremost that of acceptance, were important to notice not only for how they played out in the book, but how they paralleled with our own world. Tashi has a moment of reflection when thinking about the Myeik invasion and how their people were so enconsced in their mountain homes that they weren’t concerned with what their Southern neighbors were doing, were suffering. This complacency was dangerous and bordered on privilege and naivety. Realizing their error and growing helps to shape Tashi, and by extension Katala, into better bondmates.
The friendship between Pharo and Tashi was one of my favorite things of the book because of how loyal Pharo was without being a caricature. He stood up for Tashi whenever anyone tried to use the wrong pronoun for then, even in the face of the enemy (slightly dangerous, but being willing to do so was brave).
The magic system, between the bond animals and the inhabitors, was an interesting relationship and more involved than some similar situations I’ve seen before. I was slightly unclear on some points, such as whether there was a concrete age when inhabitors had to bond with an animal or what happens to the bond animal if their inhabitor dies (although the reverse was, sadly, clear). The source of this magic and how it relates not only to inhabitor powers, but to that of the country of Thim (home of Tashi and Pharo) and of the Myeix was only just revealed near the end of the story, leaving more mystery to be uncovered in more of Ember’s books in the Ashes of Gold series.
While there is an excerpt of the next book at the end, it just isn’t enough! It looks like next time will be more Pharo p.o.v.-centric and I can’t wait to see what will happen. Will a certain stolen item be recovered? Can someone do that when they feel they’ve lost what defines them? Strength and trust continue to play defining roles in The Shadow Wolf (Ashes of Gold #2), out hopefully sooner rather than later!
About the Author
Originally from Chicago, Julia Ember now resides in Edinburgh, Scotland. She spends her days working in the book trade and her nights writing teen fantasy novels. Her hobbies include riding horses, starting far too many craft projects, PokemonGo and looking after her city-based menagerie of pets with names from Harry Potter. Luna Lovegood and Sirius Black the cats currently run her life.
Julia is a polyamorous, bisexual writer. She regularly takes part in events for queer teens, including those organised by the Scottish Booktrust and LGBT Youth Scotland. A world traveler since childhood, she has now visited more than sixty countries. Her travels inspire the fantasy worlds she creates, though she populates them with magic and monsters.
Julia began her writing career at the age of nine, when her short story about two princesses and their horses won a contest in Touch magazine. In 2016, she published her first novel, Unicorn Tracks, which also focused on two girls and their equines, albeit those with horns. Her second novel, The Seafarer’s Kiss will be released by Interlude Press in May 2017. The book was heavily influenced by Julia’s postgraduate work in Medieval Literature at The University of St. Andrews. It is now responsible for her total obsession with beluga whales.
In August 2017, her third novel and the start of her first series, Tiger’s Watch, will come out with Harmony Ink Press. In writing Tiger’s Watch, Julia has taken her love of cats to a new level.
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I received a copy of this book from the publisher (via NetGalley)/the author in exchange for an honest review.
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