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