Happy Monday and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for TIGER HONOR by Yoon Ha Lee! I’m so excited to share an excerpt of the book with you today, AND more information about the author and tour, PLUS you can enter the giveaway to win a print copy!Tiger Honor by Yoon Ha Lee
Series: Thousand Worlds #2
Published on January 4, 2022 by Rick Riordan Presents
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Multiverse, Mythology, Queer, Retellings, Science Fiction
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Author Links: Website, Twitter, Goodreads, Amazon, Instagram
Sebin, a young tiger spirit from the Juhwang Clan, wants nothing more than to join the Thousand World Space Forces and, like their Uncle Hwan, captain a battle cruiser someday. But when Sebin's acceptance letter finally arrives, it's accompanied by the shocking news that Hwan has been declared a traitor. Apparently, the captain abandoned his duty to steal a magical artifact, the Dragon Pearl, and his whereabouts are still unknown. Sebin hopes to help clear their hero's name and restore honour to the clan.
Nothing goes according to plan, however. As soon as Sebin arrives for orientation, they are met by a special investigator named Yi and his assistant, a girl named Min. Yi informs Sebin that they must immediately report to the ship Haetae and await further instructions. Sebin finds this highly unusual, but soon all protocol is forgotten when there's an explosion on the ship, the crew is knocked out, and the communication system goes down. It's up to Sebin, three other cadets, and Yi and Min to determine who is sabotaging the battlecruiser. When Sebin is suddenly accused of collaborating with the enemy, the cadet realizes that Min is the most dangerous foe of all...
Juhwang Sebin, Cadet, 1728-99746.
Name, rank, and serial number. That’s all I’m supposed to say if I’m captured.
Every member of the Thousand Worlds Space Forces knows that, even one as junior as I am.
It’s a little ludicrous to worry about that, though, because the few people still active on this ship know who I am and what I’ve done. And those who put me here are my comrades. You’re nothing but a traitor was the last thing Min said to me as she left me locked up in this cell.
The others don’t need to be told what my name is, or any of that. They’re perfectly aware that I’m a tiger spirit from the Juhwang Clan on the world of Yonggi, and that I’m responsible for the pickle we’re all in.
Beyond that, there are more complications. I’m a prisoner on my own ship, the battle cruiser Haetae. We’re still in transit through a Gate, and I don’t know how much more time we have until we emerge on the other end.
I have, however, had ample opportunity to inspect the brig. The cell is approximately three meters square. Walls of bland gray metal, toilet and sink in the corner, physical bars instead of a force field. A smart precaution, considering that the last time I checked, half the power systems on the Haetae were knocked out.
In this cell there’s a strip of faint lights running on backup power. I don’t know how long they’ll last. At least, as a tiger spirit, I have good vision even in dim illumination. I hope it’s enough.
Just in case, though, I’ve memorized the layout of everything I can see, and I tried my best to memorize the maps of the ship that I was shown earlier, which included the restricted areas. I might be able to use that information—if only I can get out.
The other cells in this row are empty. Even if I couldn’t see into them, my senses of smell and hearing would have told me that. It’s almost a relief that it’s just me here and not some additional unfortunates as well.
Besides, having to free other people would slow me down. Not a nice thing to think about, but everything has crystallized into hard practicalities. After all, if I don’t stop the people who have fallen under the evil spell of a monster, we all thought extinct, everyone on this ship is doomed.
I test the bars. They’re specially reinforced to hold super naturals like me. Goblins and dragons, to say nothing of tigers, are all stronger than the ordinary humans who make up the greatest part of the Thousand Worlds’ population.
Brute-forcing my way out of this cell isn’t going to work, even if I changed from my human form into my native tiger shape. There’s enough space for me as a tiger, barely, but claws wouldn’t put a dent in this metal.
People have always seen my kind as excellent fighters. There’s some truth to that. My family emphasized training and discipline when I was growing up.
But tigers aren’t just fighters. In the oldest stories, we’re known for our cunning, too. Some of us are more cunning than others. If I’d been smarter, maybe I could have avoided getting trapped in here by the people I thought were my friends. Who might yet be my friends, if I can free them from the monster . . .
There’s only one person I can count on now, assuming he finds me before the monster subverts him—or returns for me. While I’m trapped, I suppose I ought to reflect on how this all began, and how I started on the path that led to this cell. . . .
When the mail arrived, it should have been the best day of my life.
Mail—physical mail—came once a week at best. The Juhwang Clan of tiger spirits had made our home on the world of Yonggi for the past several centuries. Our ties to the land dated back to the steaders who settled this planet back when traveling between stars took decades, or even centuries. My grandmother, the Matriarch of the clan, claimed she could remember what the world had looked like before it was terraformed, when it was a ball of mud and toxic sludge. “Back then there was no mail,” she always said, her tail swishing ominously. “No food, no medical supplies, no fuel—nothing. That was before the Thousand Worlds came together, and you couldn’t ever rely on anyone but family.”
But when our home security system announced that the mail had been dropped off, all I cared about was whether there was anything for me. I’d been obsessed with the mail for the past three months, ever since I’d applied to the Space Forces Cadet Program.
Normally you could only join the Space Forces at the age of fifteen, but due to raids at the Thousand Worlds’ borders, they’d started recruiting younger cadets to accustom them—me, I hoped—to the rigors of space travel at an earlier age. They especially welcomed applicants with supernatural natures suited to the service, such as goblins, celestials, and tigers, like me. Even if I hadn’t already been eager to join, the Matriarch would have encouraged it. It’s important for us to build our power base, she’d said mysteriously.
Every time the mail arrived, I hovered over it in hopes of the coveted response, maybe even an acceptance letter. And every time the response failed to arrive, I consoled myself by reading more of the Space Forces handbook so I would be ready the next day, just in case.
My aunt Sooni was the only one who didn’t laugh at the way I was fixated on the mail. Aunt was approximate—she was at least a hundred years older than me. (Tiger spirits don’t age the same way humans do.) Aunt Sooni’s understanding was the only thing that made it bearable to be the youngest in the clan.
We were in the middle of some martial arts exercises that involved shifting between human and tiger form to dodge attacks when the mail drop arrived. Aunt Sooni was an orange and-black blur as a tiger, and a gray one as a human. I, too, was an orange tiger, unlike my favorite relative, Uncle Hwan, who visited when he could. He was a rare white tiger, and I often wished I had been born that color. It was because of Uncle Hwan that I longed to be accepted by the Space Forces—to someday become a battle cruiser captain just like him.
“Focus, Sebin!” Aunt Sooni called when I stopped in mid exercise and turned toward the mailbox in my eagerness to pounce on the mail. “Remember discipline. Discipline is the most important thing. You have to finish the set.” I mock-snarled at her. She cuffed me lightly on the shoulder, not hard enough to hurt, but with enough force to remind me of her supernatural strength. Even in her human form, that of a short, stocky woman with touches of frost in her hair, she could wrangle a fellow tiger. I’d learned that the hard way. With a growl, I condensed back into my human shape. At thirteen I was already taller than she was, if only by a mere inch. (Half inch, according to her. I always said we should round up, and she only shook her head.)
“All right,” I said, resigned, because I knew Aunt Sooni was perfectly capable of snatching the mail and hiding it from me until I had performed my exercises to her satisfaction.
“Just for that,” she said, and this time I knew to suppress my groan, “we’ll add some high kicks. Go!”
Approximately four million kicks later, my legs burned with the exertion and Aunt Sooni declared herself satisfied with my efforts. “You know it’s important to stay in shape,” she said. “We have standards to uphold.”
I wasn’t so much concerned with the Space Forces’ standards as my own family’s expectations. We were the Juhwang Clan of Yonggi, after all, and, as the Matriarch liked to remind us, we had to be prepared in case our enemies moved against us, even if I’d never so much as witnessed an attack on the estate. Right now, that meant making sure I did all the exercises as perfectly as possible.
As much as my body hurt, I ached to sprint to the mailbox. My family had indulged me by letting me check the mail for the last month. Normally I don’t reward moping, my mother’s nonbinary mate, my nini, had said in their usual dry tone, but perhaps a little is understandable under the circumstances. Still, I didn’t want Aunt Sooni to think of me as an irresponsible tiger cub, so I walked at her side. It was a good chance to recover my breath, anyway. If I was accepted, I’d have to do more than just make a good impression on my family. I was determined to excel in the Space Forces, maybe even outshine Uncle Hwan someday.
To reach the mailbox, we had to cross the estate’s outer courtyard. Both the inner and outer courtyards, each spacious enough for tigers to roam in, were bright with flowers, cultivated by my parents and some of the others from time to time. You wouldn’t think that tigers would care about gardening. But, as my mother liked to tell me, we thrived in nature, whether that meant overgrown groves of bamboo or the graceful sweep of willow branches. The art of gardening consisted of arranging plants, so they looked like they had grown in the wild, except more picturesque.
I appreciated the gardens, but I yearned to leave the planet and see other worlds. I could watch the holo programs, which depicted everything from fantastical ruins to the extreme temperatures on tidally locked planets in other systems, where one hemisphere was in eternal day and the other in eternal night. But it would be so much better to visit those places myself ! And my best chance of doing that was getting into the Space Forces.
“Here we are,” Aunt Sooni called as the mailbox came into sight. It was shaped like a miniature pagoda whose roof came off if you worked a cunningly hidden latch. I loved everything about it, even its absurdity.
More intriguingly, someone had left a package at its base.
That couldn’t be for me, but I was curious about it anyhow. Aunt Sooni, taking advantage of my distraction, added, “Race you!” and shimmered into her tiger form as she sprang into action. I did likewise, reveling in the fact that I became stronger and swifter in my native shape. As a tiger, you couldn’t tell I was thirteen years old. I looked almost adult, complete with a fine orange pelt and deep black stripes, and a long, long tail.
Perhaps it wasn’t strictly fair that Aunt Sooni had started the race before I’d had a chance to shift. But one thing my family emphasized was the importance of being adaptable. I remembered the last time I’d complained about the conditions of a training exercise being unfair. My mother had looked at me with disappointment and then explained that in time of war, everything might be “unfair.” The enemy wouldn’t give their opponent a fair chance, so a true warrior dealt with the situation instead of griping about it. From then on I’d kept my mouth shut and redoubled my efforts.
Spurred by the memory, I gathered myself for one great leap as we neared the mailbox. Even so, Aunt Sooni’s own was more powerful than mine, and she arrived a second before I did. Her momentum carried her past the mailbox, and she swung back around, resuming her human form as she did so.
I changed back as well, trailing in her wake. “I almost had you!” I said, knowing that she wouldn’t hear it as a challenge the way the rest of my relatives would.
“You did indeed,” Aunt Sooni agreed. “Well done.” I ducked my head, trying not to let her see how much the words of praise meant to me. The rest of my family rarely gave out compliments. That didn’t distract me from my purpose, however. I wanted to rise on my toes and reach for the mailbox, but I knew I had to await permission. Even Aunt Sooni had her stern side.
“Very good,” she said, acknowledging my patience. “You may get the mail.”
I had to restrain myself from lunging forward and picking up the package to shake it. The box was larger than I had realized, no more than a foot wide and only six inches deep, but almost half as long as I was. Aunt Sooni might not mind, but the other tigers would disapprove. It’s probably something completely unrelated, I told myself as my heart pounded. I couldn’t let Aunt Sooni see my hope—or my dread.
From time to time we got curios from Uncle Hwan, accompanied by brief but exquisitely calligraphed notes on expensive mulberry paper. More often the Matriarch received cryptic little parcels, which I wasn’t allowed to ask about or show interest in. The Matriarch had made it especially clear that I was never to mention the existence of those parcels to any outsider who might happen to show up at the estate. I assumed this larger package, too, had to be kept secret.
I made myself step forward and calmly work the catch of the mailbox as though it were an ordinary task, as opposed to the one thing standing between me and my lifelong dream. The catch did its trick, and the roof of the miniature pagoda sprang open on its hinge. Inside was a letter, which I picked up as decorously as I could manage. I sucked in a breath when I turned it over and saw that it was addressed to one Juhwang Sebin and stamped in red ink with the seal of the Space Forces. A letter for me! I was in an agony of suspense wondering if it contained good news or bad.
Aunt Sooni’s reaction took me by surprise. “Check to see if there’s another one in there?” I could smell her own dread, as if she expected bad news. She could have nudged me aside and reached into the mailbox herself, but she was allowing me to save face.
I peered into the mailbox. She was right. I’d been so excited to find a letter for me that I hadn’t thought to look for anything else.
“Huh” was all I could think to say when I drew out the second letter. It also bore the red seal of the Space Forces. But unlike my letter, mine, it was addressed in formal calligraphy to the Matriarch of the Juhwang Tiger Clan.
Then I knew. I should have figured it out sooner. The box contained a sword—an officer’s sword. Like the one Uncle Hwan always wore on his visits. That, plus the letter, meant— No. It couldn’t be.
I could only think of one reason why the Space Forces would return a captain’s sword: because he was dead. My eyes stung. It wasn’t the first time a member of the Juhwang Tiger Clan had died in service, but I’d hoped to follow in Uncle Hwan’s footsteps and make him proud.
Not Uncle Hwan! I thought in dismay. The uncle who had always made sure to bring me something special every time he visited, whether it was a knife of my own or a cinnamon candy. The uncle who had told me stories about his adventures as an officer, fighting off pirates or saving his comrades from the Thousand Worlds’ enemies.
“We must take this to the Matriarch right away,” Aunt Sooni said. She pursed her lips as she regarded the package, her expression grim.
A memory flashed before me of the last time Uncle Hwan had visited the estate. He’d been resplendent in his Space Forces uniform, dark blue with shining gold braid, and along with his blaster he’d had a sword belted at his side. He’d let me look at the sword up close and then draw it from its sheath for a magical moment.
It was a masterwork, that sword. Even its sheath was finely ornamented, with gold scrollwork and symbols pieced together from mother-of-pearl. The hilt was wrapped in oiled leather, and a blue silk tassel hung from its pommel. I’d been disappointed to discover that the blade itself was blunt, and the corner of my uncle’s mouth had crooked upward in amusement. “This sword represents my honor,” he’d said. “It is my honor that gives it its edge, not the metal itself.”
I’d said I understood, although I didn’t. Honor was all very well, but what good was a blunt sword against pirates or raiders from the Jeweled Worlds?
Now, as I looked down at the box, I trembled. Surely it couldn’t contain Uncle Hwan’s sword. “It can’t be,” I said to myself.
“That’s not for us to find out,” Aunt Sooni said briskly. Still, that acrid worry-smell came from her again. She hoisted the box with ease. “You can come with me, since I’m sure the Matriarch will want to hear your news, too.”
We padded solemnly through the courtyard and to the separate building where the Matriarch kept her residence. From the outside, it resembled the mailbox pagoda with its peaked roof and decorations in the traditional five colors of black, red, green, yellow, and blue. Someone’s idea of a joke, although I had a hard time imagining the Matriarch had a sense of humor.
We stopped by the profusely blooming azalea bushes whose magenta blossoms masked the entrance to the pagoda. I craned my head back to squint at one of the thoroughly modern windows above us. I glimpsed a shadow moving behind it. The Matriarch liked to keep an eye on all the approaches.
“Matriarch,” Aunt Sooni called out, “we have a package addressed to you, and a letter from the Space Force.” She used the most deferential language, on account of the Matriarch being the head of the family, and the oldest one here.
The wind rustled the azalea blossoms and their glossy leaves. For a moment, I wondered if the Matriarch had heard us. Even if she hadn’t, we’d have to wait here until she acknowledged us. It was her way.
Then a hoarse voice with a hint of a growl in it said from above, “Come in, Sooni, and bring the cub with you.” I hated being called cub as if I were still a child, but the fact remained that I was the youngest tiger spirit in the family. Besides, I knew better than to object. I followed Aunt Sooni up the stairs to the foyer, where we both took off our shoes before continuing up the stairs into the pagoda proper. The Matriarch sat cross-legged on an embroidered floor cushion, her back straight. Her long white hair had a single black streak remaining in it, and she had yellow eyes, which made her look impossibly tigerish even in human form. I had never seen her in anything but a hanbok, the old-fashioned dress of the Thousand Worlds. The jogori, or jacket, was a faded orange with subtle gold embroidery, and her chima, or skirt, was an equally faded black.
We bowed deeply. I was impressed by how Aunt Sooni managed it without dropping the box on her toes.
“Bring it here, Sooni,” the Matriarch said in her growling voice.
Aunt Sooni did.
Aunt Sooni kept her fingernails sharp, as did all the elders in the family. Or maybe she’d turned them partway into claws. I wasn’t sure which. I didn’t have that kind of fine-grained control over my shape-shifting; most tigers didn’t. She sliced the package’s tape and opened the lid.
My breath caught when I recognized the sword. “It’s Hwan’s,” Aunt Sooni said.
The Matriarch’s eyes flicked to me, sharp as a knife-cut. “So it is.”
The Matriarch noticed my distress. Instead of rebuking me directly, she said to Aunt Sooni, “Sebin is disgracing themself.” I knew she’d meant for me to hear. I immediately lowered my gaze, flushing in shame.
The Matriarch opened the letter that Aunt Sooni gave her. Her eyes flickered. Then she looked at the two of us. “Space Forces Command informs us,” the Matriarch said, “that Hwan of the Juhwang Tiger Clan stands accused of treason and has disgraced his uniform. There is a warrant out for his arrest. He will be court-martialed upon his capture.” That can’t be right! I wanted to cry out. Even though I was relieved that Hwan wasn’t dead, this was almost worse. Uncle Hwan was the one who’d taught me about honor. He couldn’t have deserted.
And if Uncle Hwan had been branded a traitor, what did that mean for me? Had my dream of serving among the stars just evaporated with the arrival of Uncle Hwan’s arrest warrant?
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What do you think about Tiger Honor? Have you added it to your tbr yet? Let me know in the comments and have a splendiferous day!