To Journey in the Year of the Tiger is a tale about honour, love, racial boundaries, discovery of self and the world, all while the shadow of death looms nearby.
Something, or someone, is killing the Empresses Council of Seers – those with the best talent with the gift of vision and far sight. In response to these deaths, the Empress sends a diversely skilled group to uncover the truth, bring the killings to a stop, and punish whoever is responsible.
To Journey in the Year of the Tiger is the first book in the Tails of the Upper Kingdom saga and through the pages, Dickson opens our eyes, and those of her characters, to the great scope that this journey will take.
H. Leighton gives us a diverse group of characters, all of whom bring skills to aid them in either surviving the journey, or determining the cause of the deaths. Kirin, the brave and noble Captain who, even if it goes against his deepest wishes and desires, will follow the traditions of his people and the orders of his Empress. Kerris, Kirin’s brother, an easy going, Geomancer who has traveled across more of the world than most. Fallon, a young upbeat Scholar whose wisdom well exceeds her years, while her views on the world challenge the traditions of the Upper Kingdom. Shera the alchemist, shrouded in mystery and who weaves spells to keep it that way. Ursa, the Captain’s right hand woman and Major in the army, has a tongue that is often sharper then her blades, and strikes with just as much accuracy. Finally, benAramis, last of the Council of Seers, whose very life rests in the hands of the others.
Her characters are well defined, and even when a chapter or section opens without directly stating who is thinking or speaking, it is made clear by the character’s actions or mannerisms. The clacking of heels and pacing can only belong to the Major, while an incensed filled room belongs to Shera. Their pasts define their actions and are revealed through small moments and glimmers, making it all the more clear that their choices are rooted by who they are and their experiences, thus making them deeper and richer characters than the standard tropes.
Unlike most sagas, Dickson has not completed a story in this book that will resume in the next. Instead, book one is just the start of the journey, and I found this quite a refreshing change. Instead of trying to cram a small story into a book that is part of a greater arc, Dickson has taken the arc and separated it. This change is bold, but something I sorely needed, as it seems that with most trilogies (or sagas) that the characters can’t seem to get a break from one book to the next. This series seems to be telling one tale in the span of multiple books and it gives me hope that when I reach the end, the survivors will have come through their stories changed, but alive, and allowed to rest, and live their lives.
H. Leighton’s choice to spread her arc over many books is not the only aspect that separates her books apart, but also her choice to make her characters anthropomorphic. The Upper Kingdom belongs to cats of all breeds; snow leopards, cheetahs, lynx, tigers, and most important of all lions. Mating between the breeds is considered blasphemy, and any mixed breeds are ostracized as mongrels. This has become a consternation for more than a couple of characters when their hearts belong to someone of a different breed. It will be interesting to see if the characters will choose to betray their culture for love, or live lonely and duty bound.
Another unique aspect to the world is that Dickson has found a way to modify our world and that of her new world. It is still unclear exactly how those worlds are connected, but I have no doubt that by the end of the journey we will learn how this new world came to be, and what happened to humans, if we still even exist on the same plane.
I cannot wait to continue this journey with Kirin and his headache educing companions (especially Kerris… love that lion), and see where To Walk in the Way of Lions takes me.