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Review: 'Tiger's Curse' and 'Tiger's Quest', by Colleen Houck

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Tiger's Curse  Tiger's Quest
Tiger’s Curse (January 2011, hardcover $17.95 (402 [+ 31] pages); audio CD $18.24)
Tiger’s Quest (June 2011, hardcover $17.95 (479 [+ 5] pages), audio CD $18.99)
Covers by Katrina Damkoehler; art by Cliff Nielsen. NYC, Sterling Publishing Co./Splinter.

It all started with Buffy, the Vampire Slayer in 1992.
Or did it? It presumably took a few years for the popularity of the movie, the 1997 Buffy TV series, its spinoff Angel, and all of their authorized merchandising calendars, CD soundtracks, cell phones, clothing, comic books, etc., to reach pop culture critical mass.

In 2007, I was asked to review the first four paperback novels in a series about Kitty Norville, a midnight radio talk hostess who is also a werewolf; and the various handsome vampires, werewolves, sorcerers, and “normal” human assassins [!] who come into her life.

This was my introduction to the paranormal romance genre. It seemed like around 2005, every paperback publishing company had started an annual series by a female author about a mid- or late-twenties woman who gets involved with sexy male supernaturals, usually vampires. Undead and Unwed; Tall, Dark & Dead; Bitten & Smitten; Love Bites; Sex and the Single Vampire; Magic and the Modern Girl, and How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire are some typical titles.

A couple of years ago, the paranormal romance spread to novels for adolescent girls. The difference is that the protagonists are teenagers or young-twenties with raging hormones, who either are or get involved with shapeshifters who turn into superficially ferocious but really gentle (to them) fuzzy animals. Cases in point: the Kindle-published Serengeti Shifters series, by Vivi Andrews, featuring hot young lion shapeshifters (“Warning: This book contains sizzling heat, adult language, no-holds-barred cat fights, and hot shifter lovin’ with an alpha male who takes inspired leadership all the way to the bedroom.” -- four novels so far), and the Granite Lake Wolves, by Vivian Arend, starring lusty young werewolves (also four books).

The brand-new Tiger’s Curse series of four novels, by Colleen Houck, is unique only in that it is more demure than most, and is designed to conclude in the last novel rather than being open-ended.

To momentarily digress, what the new Kindle publishing format with its direct-to-home-sales market has meant to fan writers is probably worth a separate article. One frustrated often-rejected author says: “Kindle has been a godsend. Books that I could just never get a publisher to even open now have an audience at last. The sales are about $700 a month, which has been a life saver!”

Today sexier and kinkier paranormal romances can get right to their readers, bypassing traditional publishers and bookstores. But this is not pertinent to the “Tiger’s Curse” novels, which use a regular hardcover/paperback format.

Houck’s India, of 300 years ago and of today, is reminiscent of the 1940 movie The Thief of Bagdad; colorful but not even pretending to be realistic. The 300-year-old setting is the neighboring mythical kingdoms of Mujulaain and Bhreenam. The villain is Lokesh, the evil raja of Bhreenam; a black magician who wants to rule both. He captures handsome young prince Dhiren of Mujulaain and transforms him into an immortal tiger – a white tiger with “big blue eyes”.

The present: Kelsey Hayes is a recently-orphaned, almost-eighteen Oregon high school graduate looking for a temporary summer job before starting college. She joins the small traveling Circus Maurizio as it passes through town, to feed and clean up after its exotic animals. Her favorite, with whom she develops an unexplainable bond almost instantly, is the gentle white tiger Dhiren, strangely friendly to her: “Those eyes. They were mesmerizing. They stared right into me. Almost as if the tiger was examining my soul.(p. 27)

A couple of days later, a very kindly, elderly man from India, Mr. Anik Kadam, arrives to purchase Ren and take him back to India to live in the Ranthambore National Park, its famous tiger nature reserve – and Kelsey, as his keeper, is invited to accompany them. Almost before she realizes it, they are in modern Mumbai. A few hours later, Kelsey finds herself abandoned in the countryside with Ren – who suddenly transforms into a young man, which he can only do for 24 minutes each day,Circus Maurizio banner to inform Kelsey that they have chosen her because she is the only one who can break his curse!

To go into further details would give away too many spoilers. The plot revolves around Kelsey’s adventures, in India and back home in America, to break the curse on both Ren and his younger brother Kishan (who is not completely innocent in the curse) that forces them to be tigers almost all the time; and on her choice to decide which of the two she really loves.

Basically, this is an adolescent girl’s romance, not a gory thriller. The story holds your attention, the characters act intelligently, and the details are reasonably rationalized (why didn’t Lokesh just kill his victims if he really wanted to get rid of them, and give them no chance to come back?), but there is no true suspense here. Far from being menaced, Kelsey is constantly being gifted with a mansion, a Porshe, and similar treats that average 18-year-olds could only lust for. The curse feels more like an annoying inconvenience, and a frustration to Kelsey, than a real tragedy.

As the tagline for 1987 horror-comedy flick The Lost Boys says, “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.” It seems only a little more awkward to be an immortal permanently youthful weretiger pampered by attractive young human women. In real life, the white tiger mutation is usually less healthy and shorter-lived than normal tigers; but of course a magical white tiger does not have these problems. But as an adventurous adolescent romance, centered around a heroine who is always comparing their situation to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it’s heady stuff (Tiger’s Quest, p. 108):

He seized me as boldly as a tiger captures his prey. There was no escape. And I didn’t WANT to. I would have happily died in his clutches. I was his, and he made sure I knew it. My heart burst with a thousand beautiful blooms, all tiger lilies. And I knew with a certainty more powerful than anything I’d ever felt before that we belonged together.

He finally lifted his head and murmured against my lips, ‘It’s about bloody time, woman.’

Besides the story, Splinter is to be complimented for an unusually attractive book package – high-quality paper, artistic endpapers, several pages sporting typographic embellishment, and the snazzy covers designed by Katrina Damkoehler with art by Cliff Nielsen.

The third novel, Tiger’s Voyage, has just been published (see below); the series' conclusion, Tiger’s Destiny, is scheduled for July 2012.

Comments

Your rating: None

I should first note my surprise and delight at encountering, I believe, the Fred I knew from yon APA days. ^_^

So, might this provide a potential film series? It feels like it has the quality of being at least "better than it needs to be", and perhaps quite a bit more than that. Though, of course, if I were to wish for more adventuresome Hollywood interest in sci-fi, I'd still happily admit to longing to see A Fire Upon the Deep brought to the big screen, in all its Space Opera glory, or C J Cherryh's Chanur saga. (And then of course, there's the more "fantasy" Spellsinger..) Ah, SF has so much to offer, yet so much of what we see on the big screen is invasions and takeovers.. where's the adventuresomeness?

Your rating: None

Yes, this foursome would make a viable feature film series. It would be comparatively cheap for a modern fantasy series since the special effects are limited to a few tiger/human transformation scenes and lots of tiger closeups -- I assume that it would be safer to work with CGI rather than with live tigers.

But I agree -- if I were to wish for any Furry s-f or fantasy novel or series to be filmed, it would something "furrier" than this. And the exciting reality is that with modern computer graphics, it's truly possible. Less than twenty years ago, Phil Geusz postulated in "Transmutation NOW!" that it would take some futuristic biological transformation process to make a human actor into a convincing White Rabbit for an 'Alice in Wonderland' movie. Today, with CGI, we've got that movie. (Geusz's novel is still a good read, though.) Less than fifty years ago, C. S. Lewis said that his Chronicles of Narnia should never be filmed because their fantasy would require too much unconvincing costumery. Today, with CGI, no problem! I'd love to see Foster's Mudge the otter in a CGI adaptation of his 'Spellsinger" novels. Ah, to wish ...

Fred Patten

Your rating: None

Yesterday I received the third novel in this tetralogy, Tiger’s Voyage (November 2011, 543 [+4] pages, $17.95), with a note from the publisher’s marketing & publicity director, “Please let me know if Flayrah lets you review Tiger’s Voyage. That would be so great!”
It’s not worth a separate review, but it is worth this acknowledgement and an Amazon.com link.

The jacket blurb:

Danger. Heartbreak. Choices. Is forever too long to wait for true love?

Five mythical Chinese dragons and the open sea beckon nineteen-year-old Kelsey who must embark on a third voyage – this time to find the goddess Durga’s Black Pearl Necklace and free her beloved Ren from both the tiger’s curse and his sudden amnesia. Ren’s bad-boy brother, Kishan, however, has other plans, and the two vie for her affection and try to outsmart those intent on foiling their goal.

Tiger’s Voyage, the third book in the Tiger’s Curse series, spins a deliciously suspenseful tale of enchanted creatures, love-torn hearts, and edge-of-your-seat action as Kelsey, Ren, and Kishan journey toward their true destiny.

A good blurb is almost as good as its novel. Also a good opening sentence: “Behind the thick glass of his Mumbai penthouse office once again, Lokesh [the evil sorcerer] tried to control the incredible rage slowly circling through his veins.” Not only weretigers, also dragons now. Those who liked the first two novels will not be disappointed by this third.

Fred Patten

Your rating: None

Besides the story, Splinter is to be complimented for an unusually attractive book package – high-quality paper, artistic endpapers, several pages sporting typographic embellishment, and the snazzy covers

Too bad they didn't put more attention into editing the actual story. I was going to cut-and-paste my one-star review from Goodreads, but it seems Goodreads ate it at some point over the last several months, and I didn't keep a copy. Overall, though, to me Tiger's Curse still read like a self-published book and had a lot of believability problems besides (sure her parents are going to let her go off to India at the drop of a hat with somebody they don't know!), and I wound up skimming the second half because it was either that or give up on the book entirely. Needless to say, I'm not planning to bother with the other books in the series. (Bear in mind, also, that I read a lot of YA fiction, so it's not that I was expecting something more adult-oriented or the like.)

Your rating: None

It does emphasize at the beginning of the first novel that Kelsey is an orphan with extremely permissive guardians who feel that a working trip to India under an apparently-responsible Indian government employee would look good on her college application. Yeah, I felt that it all happened too fast and too simplistically, but Houck did try to cover the point. And as I said, the story doesn't really try to be realistic. With an evil wizard, two handsome weretiger romantic interests (and now Oriental dragons), and a plot that has Kelsey being gifted with a mansion and a top-of-the-line sports car every few pages, it's obviously a teen wish-fulfillment fantasy.

Fred Patten

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About the author

Fred (Fred Patten)read storiescontact (login required)

a retired former librarian from North Hollywood, California, interested in general anthropomorphics