Hunting a Tiger Is Practice for Battling Something Much Deadlier In This Excerpt From Her Radiant CurseBooks Features Elizabeth Lim
Elizabeth Lim’s gently interconnected fantasy duologies are some of the best in the YA space, lushly imagined magical adventures steeped in Asian folklore and legend. Her latest, Her Radiant Curse, is technically a prequel, offering an origin story for the woman who will one day become Shiori’s stepmother in Lim’s Six Crimson Cranes duology.
But this is Channi’s journey before she becomes Raikama, and her story is very much her own. (It’s also easy enough for new readers to jump straight into without any exposure to Lim’s larger fictional world.) Two years old when her exceptionally beautiful sister Vanna was born, Channi is offered as a sacrifice to the witch Angma by her father in an attempt to save her mother’s life after childbirth complications. But when she’s rescued by the Serpent King, the witch curses the girl, giving Channi a face covered in scales and poisonous blood. Despite her monstrous appearance and the fact that she’s shunned by most of their village, Channi and Vanna grow up with their lives wound through one another’s, and the sisters’ unshakeable bond is the driving force behind this tale of loyalty, love, and survival.
Her Radiant Curse hits shelves on August 29, but we’re excited to bring you a sneak peek of the book’s second chapter, which sees heroine Channi hunting a dangerous predator (in more ways than one).
Seventeen years later
It is the perfect morning to hunt a tiger.
Last night’s rain still shimmers over the earth, and all around, bouquets of jasmine and moon orchids have blossomed. I’m counting on their perfume to mask my scent—or at the very least to bury it until I attack.
While the dawn light fans across the jungle, I steal under a veil of mist and hold my breath. The tiger is emerging from her den.
She is thin. Likely hungry. But that doesn’t mean she’s weak. Her striped fur is burnished with the luster of youth, and her muscles bulge as she stalks silently through the grass. She’ll head to the nearest pond for a drink, then hunt for breakfast.
But not if I get to her first.
Lanky, wet grass prickles my feet as I close the distance between us. I roll the end of my fighting stick in my palm. A few more steps and I’ll be within range.
Not every tiger is one of Angma’s demons, interrupts a voice in my head. You really think she doesn’t see you hiding in the mist?
There’s only one being on the entire island that would dare disturb me while I’m hunting, and I don’t have to look down to know there is a freckled green snake circling my feet.
Don’t you remember the last time you wrestled a tiger? he says. You’re lucky you got out without any scars. Imagine adding a scratch or two to your face—
I greet my friend with a venomous glare.
Just some advice, he says.
Which I don’t need. I stride forward, eyes on the tiger. I won’t hurt her if she isn’t a demon. But I need this, Ukar. It’s good practice.
Is it “good practice” if you end up as breakfast?
You’re more likely to end up as breakfast than I am, I scoff. I am not game, not when poison sings in my blood.
Every creature that breathes knows that. Even mosquitoes do not prick my skin for blood. One sniff, and they understand that I am not prey. That a taste of me will kill.
Only the snakes are immune to my poison, as I am to theirs. The Serpent King’s bite linked me to them, allowing me to understand their tongue and even exchange thoughts. “Lady Green Snake,” they call me affectionately. They practically raised me and have taught me their wisdom, their lore, their ways. They are my brothers and sisters. My friends.
Ukar, in spite of his constant hectoring, is my best friend.
I thought you said you weren’t coming into the jungle today, he remarks.
Leave me alone. I’m trying to concentrate.
Keeping to the bushes, I crouch low and creep closer to my target. I’ve been waiting all summer to find a tiger, and I am not about to let her get away.
Ukar follows me, making an annoying crackling sound as he slithers over some wet ferns. I glare at him again.
The snake glares back, tail shaking. Give it up. If that tiger were Angma, she wouldn’t be rambling around the pool, passing wind every few paces to make her mark. You’ve searched every leaf in this jungle for the Demon Witch. She isn’t here.
Ignoring Ukar, I quicken my pace, taking a series of calculated steps forward. Not a twig snaps, and the leaves whistle like they’re being played by the wind. I’ve grown into a spry and bony thing, with wide-set eyes and sloped shoulders far stronger than they look. I’m reedy enough to disappear behind the trunk of a teak tree and limber enough to climb it without rope. If not for my face, I’d look as plain as any girl of nineteen. But there is always my face.
My face, with its green-brown scales, which Adah forces me to cover with a mask whenever I am home. My face, which makes grown men shriek in terror and has robbed me of any human friendship other than my sister Vanna’s. My face, which has trapped me somewhere between beast and woman.
Right now, my face has its advantages: it blends perfectly with the green ferns and vines, allowing me to move unseen—until I am two leaps behind the tiger.
She has reached the watering hole, a crystalline pond in which I can see spotted frogs swimming. She bends, majestically tucking her legs behind her, and lowers her head for a drink. She is a magnificent creature.
No horns, no white hair, no reek of cold wickedness about her.
But the way of demons is to deceive, and the most formidable ones can take on the shape of nearly any beast. So no matter how sure I am, I will not know for certain if she is Angma . . .
. . . until I see her eyes.
I ready the stick in my hand. Keep your gaze up, Channi. Always up.
The reminder has nothing to do with the possibility that the tiger might have Angma’s demon eyes. It’s to avoid the water.
I advance toward the pond. It’s ironic that the villagers forbid children from entering the jungle to protect them from tigers, so they play by the sea, splashing and swimming with the colorful fish and tortoises. But I would rather face a thousand tigers than the monster that is my reflection.
To see that instead of the girl I should have been: one with black braids, brown eyes, a soft nose, and full lips. . . . I thought the pain would ease over the years, but it hasn’t. It’s only become more deeply entrenched, stitched into my very soul.
I suck in a breath. Luckily, I’ve gotten good at not looking down.
Enough of this, Channi, chides Ukar. You’re going to get yourself killed—
I scoop him up with my stick and toss him far from imminent danger. Without wasting a second, I leap out of the ferns and onto the tiger’s back.
She snarls with surprise. She’s not used to being ambushed. I have only seconds before her shock turns into anger, and then into brutal, tremendous strength.
I cling to her torso, squeezing as hard as I can. Even though she isn’t fully grown, she is easily twice my size. I feel her muscles ripple under her shoulders, her blood rushing under the heat of my cheek. She rises onto her hind legs and roars, making my ears ring.
If I want to know the truth, I’ve no choice but to look down. Honey-yellow eyes, dilated now from our fight, glare at me in the pool’s reflection. They’re flat and angry and dull. And their pupils are black.
Guess she’s not a demon after all, I realize as she flings me into the pool.
Her Radiant Curse will be released on August 29, but you can pre-order it now.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB