Tiger Queen tells the story of sixteen-year-old Princess Kateri as she trains with the rebel Desert Boys to overthrow the cruel captain of the guards in the mythical desert kingdom of Achra, where an ancient law forces her to fight in the arena to prove her right to rule. But when Kateri’s final opponent is announced, she knows she cannot win. In desperation, she turns to the desert and the one person she never thought she’d side with. What Kateri discovers twists her world—and her heart—upside down. Her future is now behind two doors—only she’s not sure which holds the key to keeping her kingdom and which releases the tiger. Let’s ask Annie what happens next!
Hannah VanVels: Hi, Annie! We are so thrilled to be talking Tiger Queen. Tell us about your inspiration behind this book.
Annie Sullivan: I’ve actually wanted to write this book for a really long time—basically since I read Frank Stockton’s infamous short story “The Lady, or the Tiger,” which has a cliffhanger ending. My English teacher asked us how we thought the story ended, and I couldn’t decide. That indecision drove me to retell the story with the ending it always should have had (at least in my opinion!).
Hannah VanVels: Princess Kateri is everything we love when it comes to a “strong female character,” and one thing that we love about her is that she is far from perfect. Why do you think it’s important for readers to meet characters like Kateri?
Annie Sullivan: Kateri is a very strong, Wonder Woman type character who wants to lead her people and be a force to be reckoned with in the arena. But she’s also stubborn, quick to judge, and often thinks she knows best. And I love that Kateri is all that wrapped into one because she’s a realistic character who shows readers that you can be strong and still have what you think is right questioned—because in the Achran desert, not all is as it seems.
Hannah VanVels: Tiger Queen is set in the fantastical desert of Achra. What inspired this setting?
Annie Sullivan: The setting is inspired by my travels around the world. If I had to pick, I think the two places that inspired it the most would be Egypt—where I rode camels and climbed on sand dunes—and Antarctica, which is actually one of the largest deserts in the world because of how dry it is. There, snow whips right through you just like sand does in the desert. I wrote a great deal of Tiger Queenwhile I was traveling to Antarctica, so I simply replaced the way the snow blew at me with sand to get some of the descriptions of how the desert behaved and how isolated I felt with nothing but white snow around me.
The other part of the setting is the fantasy side, of which the unique desert creatures are all a part. There are tons of creatures I made up to inhabit this desert—and the Achrans both fear these creatures and have learned to use many of them to survive and thrive in the desert. One of the things I love most while writing any book is coming up with creatures that don’t exist, so I can’t wait for readers to encounter this desert crawling with things that are familiar, and yet not.
Hannah VanVels: One of the major themes of the book is the importance of family—whether that’s your blood family or the family you make. Can you share with us a bit about why this is an important theme in Tiger Queen?
Annie Sullivan: I don’t think this is just an important theme in the book—it’s an important thing to remember in life. I have a very close-knit family, and I love them dearly. And the older I get, the more I realize how important it is to have family around and to celebrate everything you can together. I think that knowledge comes through in Tiger Queen, but it also shows that sometimes you can’t pick your family. Maybe you love them. Maybe you don’t. Families can be complicated, so it’s also about finding the people who love you even if you don’t share the same blood and making them into the family you deserve.
Hannah VanVels: Tiger Queen is your sophomore novel after A Touch of Gold, and both books are retellings of famous stories. What draws you to the retellings subgenre?
Annie Sullivan: I often like to joke that I’m a forgotten middle child (the third of four kids, so technically I have to share being a middle child), and as such, I like to look for people whose stories aren’t told. That true in A Touch of Gold, where the story typically follows King Midas. I wanted to tell things from his daughter’s point of view and discover her story. For Tiger Queen, again, the main focus is on the King. I wanted to mix that up and see things from a different perspective. Also, I grew up being read fairytales and watching Disney movies. There’s something so personal about those stories and how much I love them, so it’s fun to revisit them as an adult and retell them with characters who more modern readers can relate to and look up to as role models.
Hannah VanVels: How has the Tiger Queen experience been different than your experience with A Touch of Gold?
Annie Sullivan: While there can be a lot of pressure and expectations that aren’t there for your first book, I actually think Tiger Queen has been something that I’m super eager to get out in the world. It’s completely different from A Touch of Gold, so it will introduce readers to a whole new side of me. Plus, I cannot wait to see what readers think of the ending. Spoiler alert: I did consider leaving it as a cliffhanger like Frank Stockton did in his short story, but I knew deep down that the story had an ending, and it was time for that ending to be told. Although, I think readers will be surprised to find out what exactly that ending is.
Hannah VanVels: What is the #1 reason that people who love YA fantasy will love this book?
Annie Sullivan: A princess has to fight suitors in an arena in order to win her right to rule. That right there is why readers will love it because it pits a strong female character against strong contenders, but it also throws in unique setting elements (like the fact Achra might be running out of water) to really throw things for a loop. Oh, and did I mention there are secrets the sands have long kept hidden? Secrets that people might just kill to keep them that way???
Thank you so much, Annie! We can’t wait for this book to come out!
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About the Author
Annie Sullivan grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. She received her Masters degree in Creative Writing from Butler University. She loves fairytales, everything Jane Austen, and traveling. Her wanderlust has taken her to every continent, where she’s walked on the Great Wall of China, found four-leaf clovers in Ireland, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, and cage dived with great white sharks in South Africa. You can follow her adventures on Twitter (@annsulliva) or on her blog: anniesullivanauthor.wordpress.com.