TIGER QUEEN by Annie Sullivan is a fun standalone to read if you love story retellings. I am so glad I obtained this ARC through NetGalley.
Spoilers will start after the short summary during the extended review:
In the mythical desert kingdom of Achra, an ancient law forces sixteen-year-old Princess Kateri to fight in the arena to prove her right to rule. For Kateri, winning also means fulfilling a promise to her late mother that she would protect her people, who are struggling through windstorms and drought. The situation is worsened by the gang of Desert Boys that frequently raids the city wells, forcing the king to ration what little water is left. The punishment for stealing water is a choice between two doors: behind one lies freedom, and behind the other is a tiger.
But when Kateri’s final opponent is announced, she knows she cannot win. In desperation, she turns to the desert and the one person she never thought she’d side with. What Kateri discovers twists her world—and her heart—upside down. Her future is now behind two doors—only she’s not sure which holds the key to keeping her kingdom and which releases the tiger.
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Why I was interested: Story retellings are top of the list for me and I love it when authors take those that aren’t reconfigured as often as others. I had also enjoyed Sullivan’s other retelling of the story of King Midas and his golden touch in A TOUCH OF GOLD. When I read this book was a retelling of Frank Stockton’s short story, “The Lady, or the Tiger?”, I knew I wanted to read it immediately.
Judge a book by it’s cover: This book is all about sand — and in a good way. The worldbuilding is so well-focused on this small entity that is often forgotten about so it is only appropriate that the sand dunes crest the cover. I love how the dunes create stripes as mentioned in the story along with a nod to the tigers Kateri’s father keeps.
What to expect: This book was great to read after watching the live-action Aladdin while creating a unique retelling based on such a short story. If you finally want to know which gate the lady chooses, you can finally find out! It is a standalone so you don’t have to worry if you want to read the entire series in one go.
Why you should pick this book up: If retellings are your thing — like me — then this would be a good fit. Sullivan creates a strong character who learns how to be a leader by listening to the world around her. Kateri’s fearlessness and determination will make anyone cheer for her to become the next ruler of Achra.
Want more?: If you enjoy this story by Sullivan, pick up her debut book, A TOUCH OF GOLD which has a sequel coming out in 2020.
ATTENTION: IF YOU HAVE YET TO READ TIGER QUEEN do not continue reading. The following contains spoilers for the book.
If you have read Sullivan’s TIGER QUEEN, you know sand and the desert are both important motifs that make you wonder why sand has not been seen in so many different ways before. It makes me think about when the Disney Animation team was working on Frozen and how snow was in most of every shot and they had to present it in different ways so it wasn’t just stark white during the entire film. The movie showcases snow in a beautiful variety of colors and shapes from individual flakes to ice to heaping piles of snow. This is how sand and the desert is presented in TIGER QUEEN, clever and crafty and yet ultimately at its heart.
In the beginning of the story, the encompassing desert of Achra is seen as harsh, cruel, and unkind with water, rationed by Kateri’s father, the king, as a savior. Ironically we learn that Kateri’s own lineage stems from Tamlin, the first king who emerged from the desert and was claimed to be the “desert’s choice” of ruler. We also learn that her mother was a sand dancer, those who create patterns as they move, and once taught Kateri some traditional dances before she was killed as we later learn, not from the Desert Boys as Kateri’s father claims, but by her father himself. We learn early that sand and the desert is both harsh yet beautiful and ingrained — not to be punny — into Achra’s culture since the beginning of its creation.
Looking back to the story, most of what Kateri knows of the desert — and even its sand — is from her father. She lives in a palace where she has the luxury of unlimited water to drink and bathe in while the rest of her kingdom is dirty from the sand and thirsty due to its hot climate and water rations. Her father and captain of the guard control the water rations — and later, the water itself — to both keep the people in line and to blame the Desert Boys. Once again the desert is blamed when in other ways its their heart of the kingdom. Metaphorically, the tigers, seen as the souls of the desert, also represent Kateri, kept by her father in the palace and from her true calling as soon-to-be-queen of Achra.
When Kateri leaves for the desert to train with the Desert Boys, we see how different the boys treat the desert versus her father. They embrace it as they literally live in it. They understand it harshness and yet don’t fight against it. They train with it and understand it. Their initiation literally and figuratively references the sand grains by each boy dumping a handful of sand on Kateri’s head and acknowledging each individual to be like a sand grain: they are not impactful individually, but together they can create great change.
It is a long journey for Kateri to learn this message as she had been hurt by those around her who have claimed to love her. However, it was not really love, just a cruel form of manipulation — understandable as her father acts as the king and savior due to the healing water he is holding back to obtain the Achrans’ unending and mass loyalty. He does not see his people as individuals; he sees them as a mass he tries to control. In contrast, Kateri learns to see her people — like the Desert Boys — as both individuals and her fellow Achrans. He fails to control those around him as he does not understand how to wield the desert like Tamlin and, later, Kateri does: the desert is not one hard object like a rock. It is made of many particles that can erode buildings and escape into crevices. Like individual people, sand particles can create great impact. When Kateri understands this, she becomes the “desert’s choice,” leads the people she loves, and ultimately become queen that is one of them.
Sullivan’s TIGER QUEEN is a fantastic standalone filled with determination and heart. The use of sand as a constant motif is well done and I look forward to CURSE OF GOLD once it releases in 2020.
What did you think of Annie Sullivan’s TIGER QUEEN? I’d love to hear your comments below!
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