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Spoiler Warning for Book One: This review covers the second book in a series, and there are some spoilers for the end of the first book. These are in the book description for The Archer at Dawn and are primarily related to where the main protagonists stand with each other and which sides they are on at the end of the first book. If you want to avoid this information but learn more about this trilogy, you can read my review of the previous book here.

The Archer at Dawn is the middle book in The Tiger at Midnight trilogy, following Swati Teerdhala’s debut novel with the same title as the series. Inspired by Indian history and Hindu mythology, this YA fantasy trilogy is set during the aftermath of a rift between two nations, a kingdom and a queendom once bound and mutually thriving because of magic the gods gave both royal families long ago: a rite requiring the blood of a man descended from one twin and a woman descended from the other.

About a decade before the beginning of the series, this bond was torn asunder when the king’s younger brother murdered the other royal family and took their queen’s throne for himself. Without a woman to contribute blood to the rite over the years, the former queendom’s land has been deteriorating, and the drought will soon spread to the neighboring kingdom. The only hope of restoration for both lands is finding the princess rumored to have escaped the massacre—and when the Blades, a rebel group seeking to remove the usurper, discover evidence that the treacherous king is hiding someone who must be she in The Archer at Dawn, they plan to rescue her.

The upcoming Sun Mela celebration provides an opportunity to liberate the princess—as does the fact that Kunal, the enemy soldier who pursued Esha in her guise as the legendary rebel known as the Viper, has joined the Blades. His mission is to return to his post at the Fort like nothing has changed after his failure to capture the Viper, allowing him to search for records with details on the princess’ location. When the rebel group discovers it would be useful to have someone in the area designated for competitors in the traditional tournament, Kunal also enters the games, a test of archery, combat, and chariot-racing skills. He is tasked with doing well enough to remain in the competition but not so well that he attracts attention to himself, but that plan goes awry when he is blackmailed: he must win the games or else Esha will pay the price.

Meanwhile, Esha attends the celebration as an adviser to the prince of her kingdom, who was invited to his traitorous uncle’s court for the festivities. There, she becomes acquainted with various nobles, trying to learn where their allegiances lie and which may be willing to aid in the fight to remove the usurper—but when she discovers the soldier who killed her ambassadorial parents is also attending the celebration, Esha’s desire for revenge threatens to get in the way of her other goals. And between her secrets and Kunal’s, both their blossoming romance and their team’s plans are put in jeopardy…

The Tiger at Midnight was an entertaining novel, and one that I felt showed the strength tropes can have in the hands of an author who understands what really makes them work. It left me with the impression that Swati Teerdhala was having great fun with familiar elements—like foes whose lives are complicated by their mutual attraction, the combination of a ruthless character and a softer one, and secret identities—and that was a large part of why it was great fun to read.

I felt much the same way about The Archer at Dawn. It has even more drama with even more secret identities and sneaking around, more about the second rebel group and how their goals differ from the Blades, a tournament with unexpected deadly twists to its games, and unfortunately, a love triangle. (I don’t always mind these, but the more prominent love triangle was the one thing that disappointed me a little about this installment. There are already plenty of obstacles for the two main characters, and I much prefer their dynamic to the one between Esha and her other romantic interest.) The ending was especially filled with tense moments and exciting revelations, and it left me curious about how everything will be resolved in The Chariot at Dusk, the final installment that was recently released.

I also appreciated that this book expanded the world by revealing more about its magic, history, and politics, and that the main characters—especially Esha—keep learning that the conflict between their nations isn’t as simple as they’d thought. More of the bigger picture is revealed, and though these are not books with great depth of character, they do continue to show the antagonists as people with some sympathetic qualities that keep them from seeming like evil caricatures (and make them the most interesting secondary characters to me). The first book showed that the usurper’s general did care for his nephew and protected him in ways he didn’t even realize until later, and when Esha meets the king for herself in this novel, she realizes he’s not as monstrous as she’d always imagined. She’s still enraged by what he did, but she also sees that despite his cruelty and anger, he’s loyal and protective of his men—and she recognizes the Viper in his particular mixture of strengths and flaws.

This combination is part of what makes Esha the more compelling of the two main characters. Although neither has a lot of dimension, Esha has the most since she’s still grappling with who she wants to be. She has to decide whether or not to keep dwelling on the past and her desire for vengeance, or if she wants to start looking ahead and work toward building her future. The latter prospect is difficult for her since it requires a different type of bravery than facing her enemies: the courage to dare to hope.

Her character is more in flux than Kunal’s. Although he has learned more about his country’s bloody history and seen enough of the effects on the land to want the king dethroned, his decisions have more to do with how he should handle things rather than grappling with himself. He’s killed people and it weighs on him, but he is ultimately the honorable type. While Esha rushes to kill captured enemies who may be able to hurt her and her team later, Kunal opposes taking any more lives.

Their different outlooks are part of what make them such a great duo: thoughtful, sensitive Kunal may be one of the only people who can convince Esha to break the cycle of meeting violence with more violence, and Esha can bring out the less serious, more playful side of Kunal that few people ever see. They have their disagreements, but they also balance each other well.

Even though it had more plots and did not have the game of cat and mouse, The Archer at Dawn seemed very similar in style to The Tiger at Midnight: fast-paced, fun, and compulsively readable. Just like the previous book, I enjoyed the mythology and appreciated that it moved quickly enough to hold my attention during times I had difficulty concentrating in 2020—and also like the first book, it didn’t have the type of notable prose or depth of character that would have made it particularly memorable to me, even though I found it to be an entertaining diversion.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from a publicist.

Reviews of Other Book(s) in The Tiger at Midnight Trilogy:

  1. The Tiger at Midnight

Read a Sample from The Archer at Dawn

Listen to an Audio Sample from The Archer at Dawn

Read “The Unlikeable Heroine” by Swati Teerdhala