Excerpt from Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Beasts of a Little Land

A Novel

by Juhea Kim

Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim X
Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim
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    Dec 2021, 416 pages

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Prologue

The Hunter

1917

THE SKY WAS WHITE AND THE EARTH WAS BLACK, LIKE AT THE BEGINNING of time before the first sunrise. Clouds left their realm and descended so low that they seemed to touch the ground. Giant pines loomed in and out of the ether. Nothing stirred or made a sound.

Hardly distinguishable in this obscure world, a speck of a man was walking alone. A hunter. Crouching over a raw paw print, still soft and almost warm, he sniffed in the direction of his prey. The sharp smell of snow filled his lungs, and he smiled. Soon, a light dusting would make it easier for him to track the animal—a large leopard, he guessed, from the size of the print.

He rose quietly like a shade among the trees. The animals moved without a sound, here in their own domain, but the mountains belonged to him also—or rather, he, like the animals, belonged to the mountains.

Not because they were generous or comforting, for nowhere in these woods was safe for man or beast. But he knew how to be when he was on a hill, to breathe, walk, think, and kill, just as a leopard knows how to be a leopard.

The ground was mostly covered with red-brown pine needles, and the footprints came few and far between. Instead, he looked for scratchings on tree trunks or places where the thickets were left almost imperceptibly disturbed, perhaps just a few wispy hairs caught at the ends of a broken branch. He was closing the gap between them, but he still hadn't caught sight of his prey in the past two days. He had long ago run out of his provision, coarse barley balls flavored only with salt. He'd spent the previous night in the split-open trunk of a red pine, looking up at the white sickle moon to keep himself from falling asleep. But his hunger and fatigue made his feet lighter and head clearer, and he decided he would stop moving when he fell dead, but not before then.

There were no killings left behind thus far. Rabbits, deer, and other small beasts were dried up in winter, and it was just as hard for a leopard as it was for people. At some point it would have to stop, and that was how he was going to kill it. They both needed food and rest, but he was determined that he would go on longer than his prey, as long as necessary.

He came upon a glade, a circle of young pines huddling away from a rocky ridge. He walked up to the overhang and looked around the surrounding mountains in their wintry down of charcoal and ash green. The sheets of clouds, blown by the wind, were caught at the throats of hills and billowed like torn silk. Beneath his feet, there was a fall into the wild white abyss. He was glad to have been led to this place. Leopards loved rocky cliffs, and it was more than likely there was a den here.

Something soft and cold gently touched his face. He looked up at the sky and saw the first sprinkling of snow. Now he'd have more footprints to track, but he would also have to find the animal quickly and descend the mountain before the snow thickened. He tightened the grip on his bow.

If his instincts were true, and the leopard was just below him in its den on the side of the cliff, he wouldn't have to struggle to find it any longer. But he would have to wait at that spot until it came wandering out again, which might be in another hour, or three days hence. By then, the snow would go over the top of his head while standing. He would become snow and rock and wind, his insides would feed the leopard and his blood would nourish the young pines, so that he may as well have never had a life down below as a human among other humans.

In that life, he'd been a soldier in the Imperial Army, handpicked from the best archers in the country. No one could surpass him with a rifle or a bow. They called him PyongAhn Tiger, after an old saying about the personalities of each province. Of course, there were ferocious beasts in every mountain and forest in the little land that even the ancient Chinese had called the Country of Tigers, but the name suited him more than the farmers from the South. His people were born hunters, who survived where the land was too steep and unforgiving for tilling.

Excerpted from Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim. Copyright © 2021 by Juhea Kim. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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