For those of you that know me pretty well, you all know I have slight obsession with Colleen Houck. The Tiger’s Curse series is possibly one of my all time favorite series. Seriously..if you have not read Tiger’s Curse you need to start, like yesterday. Check out my review of Tiger’s Curse to see what I mean here.
In Tiger’s Promise we follow the story of Yesubai, the daughter of the evil Lokesh. Yesubai struggles to keep her magical abilities from her father all the while suffering from his physical and mental abuse. When she is old enough she is promised to a prince of the neighboring kingdom as a way for Lokesh to destroy the ruling family. She then must decide if she is willing to expose her secret that could help protect those that she loves or stand by while Lokes’s darkness destroys everything.
When I heard Colleen was working on a prequel novella for the series, I was extremely excited. Not only did I get a chance to dive back into the amazing world that Colleen created, I got to learn more about Yesubai’s character which honestly changed my whole perspective on her that I had formed originally. I have to admit, when I first read Tiger’s Curse I somewhat hated Yesubai. In Tiger’s Curse I was only given a little information on her and that information really did not paint her in the best light. After reading Tiger’s Promise my whole perspective of Yesubai has changed and I now actually love her as a character.
Tiger’s Promise is filled with action with a mix of romance in an amazing world that Colleen has created. This prequel has just made me even more excited for Tiger’s Dream (the final book in the Tiger’s Curse series). I give it 5/5 stars!
The trembling girl drew her shawl tightly across her shoulders as if by doing so she’d be able to protect herself, but the bunched fabric made a flimsy sort of armor and in her heart she knew she’d never feel safe again even if she had been girded from head to toe in the strongest of steel. The seventeen year old stood in the warlord’s bedchamber and pondered what had led her to this fate.
Her father’s servant had unceremoniously left her at the doorstep of the king’s military leader, a man even the most powerful of her father’s friends had dared to whisper about only behind their hands. She’d known that her father, a merchant by trade, had recently made some influential new friends. How else had he become so suddenly successful? But she had no idea his connections went so high.
They’d always been well enough off, but Yuvakshi was the eldest of seven children and with so many mouths to feed, she had come to expect that her parents would make a match for her at a very young age. She’d held out hope though that the man she’d be given to would at least be closer to her own age if not one of the young men of the town who had shown interest in the past.
There’d been quite a number to choose from and Yuvakshi’s favorite pastime as she worked with her mother or took inventory in the store was to dream of what her life might be like if she was matched to one of them. She had her favorites of course, most of those having a handsome form or a handsome wallet, or, if she was lucky, both. And her father was a clever man who kept his beautiful daughter in plain sight of all who graced his business, so she had plenty of opportunities to consider who might be a part of her future.
All who laid eyes on Yuvakshi agreed that she was a rare beauty who any young man would be proud to take as a wife. Even if she hadn’t been comely, the sons from poorer families would have visited often, hoping to catch her eye and win not only her hand but a stake in the merchant’s business. Any one of those hopeful boys, even the fat one with the ruddy complexion whose breath stunk of onions would have been a better option than this.
Yuvakshi had expected that when she left her home as an adult that she’d at least have an honorable union with a man who would take her as his wife. Not in her most fearful imaginings did she expect her father to use her in such a shameful manner. To give her away to one who intended to steal away the future she’d dreamed of. Nothing could be worse.
When her father announced his intentions, there was nothing Yuvakshi’s mother could do to stop him. No amount of tears would change his mind. “A bargain is a bargain,” he’d said, throwing his hand up in the air to halt the discussion before he abruptly left after issuing the cryptic instructions to prepare his daughter for her departure.
As the young girl was led outside with only her two finest dresses in a small bag, her mother wrung her hands and murmured quietly to her husband of dark things Yuvakshi didn’t want to hear, but even she could see the fear in her father’s eyes as her mother begged him to consider an alternative or to at least negotiate the possibility of an official marriage first.
Without even a goodbye, her father took hold of his tearful wife, clutching her to his bosom as he nodded abruptly to the servant who led the girl out of the market. Her steps were slow as she followed the man who wound his way through the busy shops and up to the main road. She was surprised as the business side of town gave way to homes that were more affluent and then they passed the residences of various diplomats and politicians. Still the man kept going.
Yuvakshi began to wonder at her circumstances. Perhaps her mother had been wrong. Perhaps her father had chosen well for her after all. Perhaps someone of substance had caught sight of her pretty face and selected her out of thousands to be the consort of a city leader. The girl bit her lip. Even if the man was older, it might not be so bad.
If he was an amenable sort, he might even consider marriage if she handled the relationship delicately. At the very least, she thought she wouldn’t be hungry. It wasn’t until she was led up to the nearly impenetrable gates of the king’s military stronghold that she began to truly understand what was happening.
“Am I to be the consort of a soldier?” she asked the man walking beside her.
He scoffed. “Not a soldier. Your father wouldn’t give you over to such as that.”
She blinked and mulled it over before saying, “The king?”
The man laughed outright at that. “Do you think yourself beautiful enough to make him forget the wife he loved?”
Yuvakshi wasn’t sure how to answer that question. To say what she truly thought would be considered boastful and yet if there was one thing she was confident about, it was her appearance. She didn’t need to answer it turned out because at that moment the heavy gates swung open and the man escorting her gave them a quick salute before spinning around and heading back the way they’d come.
Suddenly surrounded by the king’s guard, Yuvakshi had never felt so alone. She asked one of them to name the man she was meant for and not only did they not answer her, they didn’t even glance in her direction. They were as stony and as unfeeling as statues. Uncontrolled fear spilled out in the form of trickling tears. Heavy doors were unlocked with rattling clanks that sounded to her like the weighted sound of a jail cell and even her stride felt slow and lumbering as if her ankles were manacled and chained to a heavy ball.
A stern faced woman met her at the top of a winding stairway. Being that close to the palace, and with the size of the home being larger than anything she’d ever seen, Yuvakshi thought the interior must have been opulent and grand but, instead, the passageways were confusing and dark. There was a distinct lack of windows and the ones she did see were made impassable with thick iron bars.
The ceilings were low and there were so many twists and turns that she felt like she was stuck in a garden maze where the plants were growing around her trying to overtake the path and smother those daring to traverse their borders. The woman sent to lead her had all the warmth of a witch who had been wrongly crossed.
She guided Yuvakshi to a room that was, if not opulent, then at least better than the corridors she’d traveled through. It quickly became obvious that this was not the space she’d be living in as her bag was promptly removed and a thin white gown was placed on the bed. The woman left with a warning that her master would return within the hour and if she was smart, she’d try to please him.
One last time Yuvakshi asked, “Who is he? Your master?”
The flash of pity the girl saw in the woman’s eyes must have been a trick of the light since it wasn’t there long enough to offer any comfort. At least she answered the question though. “His name is Lokesh,” she said before leaving the room and locking the door behind her.
“Lokesh?” Yuvakshi whispered. Surely the woman was mistaken. The marketplace buzzed with rumors about the military leader who served the king. The atrocities he’d been said to have committed ranged from betrayal to the slaughtering of innocents. The kind ones said he’d gained power by making a pact with a demon but most of them said that he was the demon. How could this be? How could her father have given her over to such a man?
At least now the fear in her father’s eyes made sense. If anyone had bargained with a demon it was her own kin. And she would be the one to suffer for it. Instinctively knowing that it would be wiser of her to play up her strengths with the aim being to gain any kindness the man possessed in his demon’s heart, Yuvakshi carefully dressed in the gown given to her and finger combed through her dark tresses, pulling out the carefully woven braids until her hair hung in long waves down her back.
She smoothed imaginary wrinkles from the gown and stepped into the sunlight, turning her body so that the sun’s rays reflected on her face and lit her eyes. The wait was long due to her nervousness but it was shorter than she would have wished. With a heavy clank, the door swung open and the object of her fear stood immobile staring at her.
Yuvakshi said not a word but straightened to her full height, angling her shoulders and widening her eyes before lowering her lashes demurely. “My lord,” she said quietly and bowed her head briefly.
Boldly, Lokesh strode forward, grabbed her chin roughly and lifted her face so he could look at her. His eyes narrowed and his nostrils widened. “What is your name?” he demanded, his breath hot on her flaming cheeks.
“Yuvakshi,” she said. “Daughter of—”
He squeezed her jaw, cutting off her words. “I don’t care whose daughter you are.” His hot gaze trailed down her form and back up to her face. “You’re beautiful enough, I suppose.”
“Do not speak.” Wisely, Yuvakshi held her tongue.
Lokesh turned away then and began removing his cloak. Then he sat and angrily gestured for her to help him with his boots. She did, but when she struggled to get them off, he thrust her aside. She fell against a table and knocked it over, bruising her hip in the fall. His hand had barely touched her and yet the push was so forceful, she could barely regain her footing.
At that moment, Yuvakshi knew two things for certain. First, the man she’d been given to was more formidable, more powerful than the rumors accounted for and second, he was a man with a violent temper who held no softness in his heart. Pleasing him would be the only way she’d survive, so she made survival her life’s purpose.
She suffered no illusions about her place in his life. When she wasn’t needed, she became as small and invisible as possible, but the moment he had use for her, she came to him and offered him all he wanted. It wasn’t long before her former life seemed like a dream. Were there once people who loved her? Who wanted to make her happy? It seemed impossible.
Her whole world was now this man and the pain that hung around him in a black cloud. There was no predicting when the lightning would strike or how taxing and sore the punishment would be. If there was a pattern she would have discovered it. She was good at that. Good at sensing when someone was ready to buy or if they were just wandering the market looking to steal an apple or trying to finagle a better deal.
With this man there was no figuring him out. He was volatile. Angry at the world. And yet there was an incompleteness about him. He was…fragmented somehow. There was something he wanted and wanted desperately, but as carefully as she paid attention, he never gave away any clues.
When she discovered she was pregnant, she was hesitant to give him the news. On the one hand, he might feel as if her purpose no longer served him and he’d kill her. On the other hand, he might simply discard her instead. It was possible that her mother might take her in but it was unlikely. She was shamed and with child.
There were places such women could go, but the life of a tainted woman and her child would not be a happy one. Still, survival on the outside might be easier than life with Lokesh. She was worrying over her options, not finding an outcome that would be pleasant for her and her baby, when her master returned home. After helping him with his boots and handing him a cold drink from the water pitcher, she decided to simply tell him.
As she took the empty cup and turned, placing it on the table, she said, “I am with child.”
She kept her back to him, the fear over his response turning her into a coward. When he didn’t say anything, she hesitantly faced him. There was an expression of…not joy or happiness but…satisfaction on his face.
“Are you certain?” he finally asked.
“I am,” Yuvakshi replied. “I believe it is the third month.”
“With child.” He mused as he studied her briefly and then left the bed chamber.
Lokesh didn’t return all evening. The next day he found Yuvakshi and told her to prepare herself for marriage. He had arranged a wedding for them to take place the following week. Yuvakshi didn’t know what to think but his reaction to her news was much better than she could have hoped for. She comforted herself by thinking that if she had to be wed to a demon at least her child would be born honorably.
That theme seemed to be reflected in Lokesh as well. He frequently made mention of his son being born legitimately. It seemed important to him for some reason and Yuvakshi hoped that if he bore no love for her then at least he might soften a bit toward his child. And he did soften…somewhat.
After the wedding, a small ceremony where her parents wished her well but studiously avoided looking into her eyes, Yuvakshi was given a more comfortable room, more maidservants, and, what was even better, Lokesh spent most of his time with her talking about the baby and her comfort, consulting with midwives, and gaining even more prestige and control in the kingdom than he had already. He said he wanted to build a legacy to pass down to his son.
Though Lokesh constantly spoke of a son, Yuvakshi ignored the niggling doubts she had over what would happen should a daughter be born. She hoped that he would coddle and spoil a daughter though that did seem unrealistically optimistic when she considered his character. Surely the gods noticed her quiet suffering and would favor her with a boy.
Sadly, it was not to be.
When her travails began, Yuvakshi relished in the hurt. It was nothing compared to the beatings her husband had given her before she’d announced her pregnancy. She knew that in giving him this precious gift that she’d be securing a place for herself and her child. Perhaps she could make this work after all. She’d try even harder to please him, to mold herself into what he wanted her to be.
The midwife said she’d never seen such an easy labor. As a servant wiped her brow and gave her a drink of water, Yuvakshi thought the gods had indeed blessed her. She heard the cry and saw the midwife wrap the bundle in a blanket. All Yuvakshi could feel was relief and satisfaction in giving her husband what he so desperately wanted.
Servants bustled about after the delivery and the new mother drifted off to sleep with a smile, a bittersweet and broken reflection of the beautiful and happy girl she’d once been. How sad it was that the little thing that made that smile possible, the tiny baby girl that rested in a cradle next to her, would be the last fleeting sense of happiness in Yuvakshi’s short life.
The lovely girl, only eighteen years old, with long, dark hair and shining eyes of violet, the wife of a monster, woke from a pleasant dream to find her husband hovering over her, his face purple with rage. As he wrapped his hands around her, crushing her throat and stealing the breath from her body, she remained alert only long enough to discern from the threatening words he spat in her face that she’d had a baby girl.
In the brief, transitory moment found between life and death, Yuvakshi grasped onto one thought. It wasn’t about what was stolen from her, or of her disappointing parents, not of her murderous, abusive husband, and not of the pain in her lungs. In those priceless and all too short seconds, Yuvakshi thought of the only thing in her life that gave her true happiness—the love she felt for her tiny, precious daughter.
And she was content.