Hi guys! We have Julia Ember stopping by today with her upcoming release The Tiger’s Watch, we have a brilliant guest post from Julia that includes some exclusive pictures and we have a great excerpt, so guys, check out the post and enjoy! <3 ~Pixie~
The Tiger’s Watch
Sixteen-year-old Tashi has spent their life training as an 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.
Release date: 22nd August 2017
Pre-order: Harmony Ink Press ebook | Harmony Ink Press paperback | Dreamspinner Press ebook | Dreamspinner Press paperback | Amazon US | Amazon UK | B&N
With The Tiger’s Watch, I’ve been in a rather unique position for a traditionally published author – I chose my own cover artist and pitched a concept to her. Unlike self-published authors, most authors who choose to work with publishing companies have very little say over their covers. However, I had worked with Meghan Moss before at Harmony Ink. She also designed the beautiful watercolor cover for my first novella, Unicorn Tracks.
When it came time to make decisions about The Tiger’s Watch, I knew that I wanted another illustrated cover. Tashi is a genderfluid protagonist, and I didn’t want to use stock photos of a male or female character that readers might subconsciously tie to another book they’ve read that featured the same model. I also wanted a cover that captured the tone of the second world fantasy, and I thought that soft, flowing watercolors did this best. Meghan was up for another project and it was pretty simple to convince my editor at Harmony Ink Press to work with her again.
We went through quite a few versions of the cover and many sketches before both of us were satisfied with the final version of the artwork. The Harmony Ink art department also redid the text of the cover several times so the typography would be more visible. As exclusive content for MM Good Book Reviews, I’ve included some of Meghan’s early sketches of Katala the tiger that didn’t make the cut for the final cover:
WHILE THE capitol burned in a smoky hailstorm of tar and arrows, we escaped by elephant to the Chirang monastery. The elephant struggled to keep his balance on the slick, frozen ground as Pharo clicked his tongue to urge him forward. I rode behind the beast’s ears, both arms wrapped around Kalx’s warm, limp body.
An arrow hissed past my ear. I nearly screamed, but Pharo’s brown hand covered my mouth as he pushed me down onto the elephant’s neck. The coarse hairs on the creature’s nape stood up sharp against my cheek. Another arrow flew over my head. The yellow feathers in its tail quivered as it embedded in a tree trunk just feet away.
The beast flattened his ears and charged through the graveyard of butchered trees that surrounded the city toward the remaining forest in front of us. Smoke rose like a paper screen at our backs. I tried to breathe in time with Kalx’s steady, unconscious heartbeat to keep myself calm. Once we reached the trees, we could disappear into the mountains, but until then, we were exposed to the Myeik soldiers who guarded Jakar’s outer wall.
Fear made bile churn in my empty stomach. If the army caught us, we’d die.
I tightened my hold around Kalx.
“Call Katala,” Pharo hissed, his breath hot against my frozen skin. His muscular arms circled around my waist, enveloping Kalx and me together. “I’ll brace you.”
I bit my lip, considering. The elephant picked up speed, nearly throwing us backward. “What if you can’t hold us? We’ll all slip.”
A bolt of fire pierced the dawn as a flaming arrow blasted through the sky like a falling star.
Pharo shook me. “We don’t have time to argue. Just do it!”
I closed my eyes and searched for the thread of magical connection with the animal I’d trained alongside for the past seven years. I could sense her in the distance—poised and waiting, watching us. My body went rigid in Pharo’s hold as my link to Katala solidified. Silver orbs formed in the air and hung around us. Then Katala’s growl echoed through me. I felt ghost leaves brush my fingers as she crept through the foliage, her sharp eyes trained on an archer’s gray mare. The soldier’s yellow cloak was streaked with soot and ash. His fear made the air smell of musk. Katala crouched low, her muscles gathering beneath her as she prepared to pounce. Gasping, I broke our connection so I wouldn’t have to watch the slaughter. She knew what needed to be done.
A moment later, a scream ripped through the smoky air. The sound curdled my blood like sour milk. Then with a final burst of speed, the elephant stampeded under the cover of the trees.
I exhaled slowly. Cold sweat dripped down my neck. Pharo unwrapped his arms and leaned back as the beast slowed to a trot.
“Do you think he was the only one following?” I asked.
Pharo shrugged. “I think however many there were, Katala will handle it.”
I attempted a smile and reached for his hand, giving it a squeeze before wrapping both of my arms around Kalx again. Pharo was right; Katala had always surpassed any challenge thrown at her. And I didn’t think the soldiers would try to follow us now. The forest scared the Myeik. Their country was all open plains and stretches of water. The trees hid traps and disguised beasts they didn’t understand.
The elephant answered to our teacher, and he knew where to take us. We settled into silence, catching our breath and watching the path behind us with fear-sharpened eyes. I didn’t know what to say to ease the tension, so I reclined atop the great beast lumbering below us and watched the sun rise above the snow-capped mountain peaks. I wanted to search out Katala again, to check on her, but if she was midfight, one second of distraction could get her killed. Kalx shivered in my hold, and I pulled my cloak tighter around him.
After an hour of silent travel, Pharo leaned across the elephant’s back to speak, straining his voice over the moaning wind. He pointed to the chiseled, narrow ridge ahead of us. Years of blistering ice wind had whittled the rocky mountain into the jagged shape of a tower. “We should be getting close. Mistress Lhamo said it was just below the castle peak.”
His voice was cheerful, falsely light. I pushed my fingers deeper under Kalx’s armpits to warm them and tried to ignore the wet cold seeping through my woolen cloak. “I need a bath.”
Pharo laughed. He tapped the elephant’s rump gently with his stick when the animal stopped to pull a pinecone from the tree above. “Do you think they even have hot water up here? Everything looks wet or frozen. What do they burn?”
I stuck my tongue out and caught a snowflake on the tip. The lone drop of water only teased my thirst. After weeks of siege, the rivers of the capitol had smelled of urine and decaying vegetables, too putrid to drink. I relished this first, fresh taste of the mountains. “After these last few weeks, I’ll be glad to see clean water at all.”
He clapped my shoulder, but I could feel his fingers shaking through his threadbare gloves. He turned and looked behind us as the elephant pushed through a barrier of sapling pines. “I hope the wind picks up. Those tracks are deep. I don’t want to lead them straight to the monastery.”
I nodded, and we went back to our silence.
When we cleared the thick trees and entered a canyon, my jaw dropped. Nested high in the rocks with sheer cliffs on three sides, the Chirang monastery reminded me of a giant bird of prey with its head folded under one wing. Its strong white outer walls were covered in lacy feathers of ice and snow. Flashes of orange turrets and golden temple domes peeked through the cracks in the walls, hinting at a whole world beyond. Needles of ice pelted my face as the wind grew stronger, but we’d been riding for hours, and by now I was almost too numb to feel them. Pharo let out a whoop of triumph. He grinned and pointed as snow blew across the elephant’s tracks like a frozen sandstorm.
The monastery’s iron gate creaked open as we drew near. An elderly monk pushed the heavy metal panel aside and tapped his crooked staff against the ground. He wore open sandals and a patched red cloak that hung off his skinny, bare shoulders. I could only imagine what the ice-wind felt like on his naked, russet brown skin, but he stood straight and didn’t try to brace himself against it.
Before we fled the academy, Mistress Lhamo had warned me that the monks of Chirang had their own brand of magic, a conviction of belief that ran so deep and hot, it coursed through them like liquid fire, making them immune to pain, invincible. She’d urged me not to underestimate them simply because they didn’t practice the same magic we did. The old monk seemed to prove what she’d said.
The elephant halted and shook his great head when Pharo attempted to steer him up the slick final slope. The animal’s body started to tremble as he took a tentative step forward onto the steep incline. Then he dug his feet into the snow and dropped to his knees.
I drew my cloak tighter around my shoulders. Pharo climbed down first, sinking up to his thighs in white. We tried to maneuver Kalx’s limp body to the ground feetfirst—the way Mistress Lhamo had shown us back at the academy. But hours of freezing and stillness had made my fingers clumsy. Kalx’s arm slipped through my grasp, and he tumbled into the snow. I bit my lip hard. I wasn’t good at caring for Kalx like Pharo was.
After I jumped down after him, my frozen feet hit the ground hard. Numb pain spread through my knees, and I doubled over, rubbing my shins and trying to stomp out the ache. Pharo grimaced, giving me a look of sympathy, and then lifted Kalx. He slung him over his broad shoulders as if my friend weighed nothing. I swallowed down an iron bitterness that could have been blood from my chapped lips or jealousy. I was too cold to care which.
The monk beckoned us toward him. Pharo scrambled forward, but I hesitated, resting my hand on the elephant’s side as he shivered in the wind, not moving from his knees. The beast’s dark eyes closed. I wondered if he already knew what would happen to Mistress Lhamo, now that the Myeik were inside the walls of Jakar.
Mistress Lhamo was the oldest of our instructors. She and this once powerful old elephant had been bonded together for over four decades, their souls existing as one. As inhabitors, we all bonded with one animal at the age of eight, and our life force linked to theirs. If the elephant died in the snow, he could spare my teacher the misery of being questioned, auctioned, and sold at the block by the invaders. For my proud, gifted instructor, accustomed to leading and being obeyed, I thought the indignity of slavery would be the worst torture the army could devise.
The elephant let his trunk sag into the snow. He sighed and I couldn’t tell if it was with relief or pain.
Pharo grunted under Kalx’s weight. “Come on, Tashi.”
“We should stay until he passes on. He shouldn’t be alone.”
“He’s not alone. We’d know if he was.”
I nodded. The elephant’s gentle eyes glittered with intelligence and a kind of grave resignation that was all too human. The cloak I wore suddenly felt too heavy. The wool made my arms itch. I pulled it off and spread it over the animal’s wrinkled flank. The creature blinked slowly and reached out for me with his trunk. He smoothed the deft tip across my cheek, and his eyes closed again.
Pharo balanced Kalx by pressing a hand to the small of my friend’s back. Then he slipped his other hand into mine. It was comforting, even though it made me feel weaker. We trudged up the hill, onto the ice-covered cobblestones that framed the monastery’s entrance. I had to grip Pharo’s arm to keep my balance on the slippery ground. He shook his head, smiling when he spoke. “I’m not sure I can support your weight as well as his.”
“You’ll manage,” I croaked, squeezing his arm a little tighter for reassurance. Pharo was built like a bear, solid and muscular with just the right hint of hibernation fat to soften him up. With his striking near-black eyes, dark amber skin and playful smile, I’d always thought he was gorgeous, but I’d never tell him that. Our friendship was complicated enough.
Raising his arm in a frigid greeting, the monk shuffled toward us through the snow. His body was willowy, nearly skeletal, and his step was light enough that the snow didn’t crush under his sandaled feet.
As we drew up alongside him at the gate, he reached out and tugged on a lock of my hair. I winced and cringed back toward Pharo. The monk pressed his lips together, leaning some of his weight onto the staff. “The hair will have to go.” He coughed a laugh into his sleeve. “You’re both going to have to blend in, so if the invaders come here, you’ll have camouflage among the rest of our novices. I hope you’ve studied up on your theology.”
I bit my lip, looking at Pharo for help. The day I sealed my own bond with Katala eight years before, I had stopped hiding my identity. Before we bonded, I never had the confidence to tell anyone I felt trapped and invisible in my ever-changing body—a body that didn’t always fit with how I felt about myself. But linking with Katala gave me the courage to express how I’d always felt at the academy, that my gender wasn’t set, binary. I didn’t feel like any of the things people expected of boys or girls fit with me. Some days I felt more masculine and others more feminine. My instructors had been supportive, but it had taken time, pain, and Pharo’s hulking glare, to convince the other students to stop calling me a boy. I didn’t want to start over here.
I had always felt like my hair was visual reminder that I could control. The boys at the academy wore their hair short and neat. The girls had long, untouched locks. My hair was shorn one side of my head, nearly bald, but I grew the other side past my shoulder. It meant that when I looked in the glass each morning, I could turn my head and decide which part of me to see or look straight ahead and see myself as just me, not forced into anyone’s mold. It was a small thing, but it was mine.
I wished Katala were here now. I couldn’t let this monk make me hide the part of myself I’d struggled to bring into the light.
Pharo’s head jerked up in alarm. “You can’t cut their hair—”
The old monk sighed and gave me a look of sympathy. “Your teacher wrote to me about you. But we have to hide you.”
“You can’t force them.” Pharo made a sound in the back of his throat that was almost a growl. He’d always been the first one to my defense, even when we were kids.
“I need…,” I began. My breath was shallow, and I felt like my blood was slowing in my veins.
“We have to hide you.” The monk glared right through me and the explanation died on my frozen lips. My gaze fell to the snow.
Grunting, the monk poked Kalx’s motionless form with the end of his staff. “What’s wrong with him? When will he wake?”
Pharo took a step back. “Don’t touch him like that.”
“He won’t,” I said, and ice hardened inside me. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t expect Pharo to bear the weight of that too.
I expected the monk to question what I’d said, but instead he just nodded. “Faelg.”
The faelg, a magical coma, took hold of inhabitors when our bondmates died. No one had ever woken up from it. A week before, one of the Myeik invaders had shot an eagle from the sky. Our legends said that when the bird’s heart stopped, Kalx’s soul went into mourning—too devastated to care about its host body or emerge again into the light. As inhabitors, our bodies could survive for a while. We didn’t pass into the afterlife until our bondmate died too. Pharo believed against the odds that if we took care of Kalx, his soul would remember us and think that maybe his friends were worth living for too. He thought we could break the magical bond. I wished I could be as hopeful.
We all took vows to care for the bodies of others who had entered the coma when we became inhabitors. I’d never understood that vow, since our death was inevitable anyway. It seemed almost cruel, to prolong suffering.
“Bring him inside. We will put him in the infirmary.” The monk beckoned, and we followed him through the gate into the open courtyard.
A cherry tree stood at the center, in full bloom despite the weather. Pink, red, and white flowers mixed together, alive yet covered in frost. I reached out to pluck a blossom for luck. A jolt of energy pulsed through my fingers, making me drop the soft petal. But before I could touch another, the monk’s staff darted out, viper fast and just as vicious, rapping my wrist so hard I could feel a bruise form along the bone.
I cradled my wrist against my chest and swallowed hard.
At the edge of the temple, the monk slipped off his sandals and gestured toward our boots. I removed my own and then knelt to help Pharo. He wobbled under Kalx’s weight as he lifted each foot in turn.
The old monk gave another satisfied grunt. As we stepped over the threshold, a young novice came out of the shadows. Like his teacher, he wore his robes hanging off his bare shoulders, but goose bumps covered his exposed flesh. He marched in place to keep warm. The boy motioned to Pharo. “I’ll show you to the infirmary.”
Grabbing me roughly by the wrist he had smacked, the older monk pulled me along the dim hall while Pharo followed the novice in the other direction. I looked over my shoulder at my friend, silently begging him not to leave me alone, but he’d already turned away.
Inside, the temple had smooth wooden floors swept so clean I couldn’t feel even a grain of dirt beneath my bare feet. Statues sitting in a curled lotus position lined the passageway, each overlaid in gold with red smiles carved from ruby. Their cruel emerald eyes followed me as the monk unlocked a plain door at the end of the hall.
“Mistress Lhamo has entrusted us with your safety,” he said, setting his staff down against the wall. He shuffled over to a table by the window and picked up a short blade.
Up close, I could see he wasn’t as old as I’d thought, but his skin was weathered like well-used leather boots. “She is a friend of mine from many years ago. I feel that I owe it to her, but it’s more than that. Thim can’t fight the Myeik in open battle and win. We all know that. If we’re going to have any chance at all, we have to keep our inhabitors protected.”
I nodded, rubbing my cold hands together.
“Sit down,” the monk said, pointing to a wooden stool next to the table. He pulled a bucket of half-frozen water from the corner. Then, with unexpected gentleness, he whispered, “I’m sorry.”
I backed away from him, pressing my body against the wall. Something in his tone told me I wasn’t going to like what he did next. I could almost feel Katala’s growl resonating inside me.
“Sit down. Now.”
A crawling sensation spread down my back as ghost hackles rose, but my legs betrayed me. With shaking thighs, I sat down on the stool.
The monk poured the water over the blade, watching me instead of the knife as the liquid dripped from the silver edge. His long fingers swept my matted hair back from my eyes. The knife kissed my forehead, and I closed my eyes against the dull scraping that followed.
When I opened them again, a pile of black hair surrounded my feet. Then the monk knelt and swept up the last of my freedom with a dustpan and a little wire brush.
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. 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.