Jul 7, 2011

Book Review–Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck

Tiger's Curse is Colleen Houck’s first novel.  Its first release was as a digital offering on Amazon where it sat at the top of the Children’s Best Seller rankings for 7 weeks.  It’s subsequently gone on to become a new york times best seller.  It’s published in Australia by Hodder.

The Tale
Kelsey Hayes has  finished High School and is facing a summer of temp work while she decides what to do with her life.  She’s carries a bit of baggage, – the loss of her parents and the emotional scaring that it brings, but on the whole she’s your average young adult ready to see what the big wide world has to offer.

  She lands a job with a visiting circus as a spare pair of hands for two weeks.  It’s from this point on her life begins to take an unexpected turn.  She falls in love with the circus’ white tiger; captivated by his calm demeanour, blue eyes and almost human sentience. 

We soon find out that not all is as it seems with the Tiger Dhiren or Ren for short, he’s a cursed Indian prince, trapped in Tiger form until the one who can free him comes along.  The one happens to be Kelsey and Tiger's Curse takes the reader on an adventure to India, modern and mythological, as Mr Kadam (Ren’s manservant and adviser), Kelsey and Ren attempt to unravel clues to break the curse. There’s magic, adventure and romance as Kelsey and Ren are thrown together.

 An epic fantasy-romance that will leave you breathless and yearning for more?
I am aware that I am not the target demographic for Tiger's Curse , but the fact that a book is written for teens is should not excuse it for what I see as some of its faults.  I wasn’t breathless (frustrated at points certainly) and I don’t yearn to read the next volume -though I have it and hope to see some growth in Houck’s writing.

The romance in this fantasy-romance was the strongest part of the novel, at least until the end where I found the somewhat juvenile bickering and melodrama could have been resolved(then to be ripped asunder by an evil and ingenious plot device).  

Kelsey is, to my mind, too cynical of love, for someone who is experiencing real lust/love for the first time. She acts like someone who has had her heart broken too many times and displays wisdom that I think only comes with having loved and lost (romantically – I don’t think the loss of her parents translates). 

I felt that it was right for her to have misgivings and doubts, to be a little bit scared of her first real relationship but her continued rebelling against her own desires and Ren’s obvious interest in her felt distinctly unrealistic.  Towards the end of the novel Ren’s speech about having watched human society over 300 years, and knowing what he wanted should have convinced Kelsey that Ren was an adult who could make up  his own mind.  As I hinted above, I think the romantic tension between the two should have been resolved here, only to have them pulled apart somehow, leaving the reader on a cliff hanger.

Indiana Jones meets Twilight
The above is a pitch from Houck herself.  Tiger’s Curse can be compared to the Spielberg/Lucas classic in as much as there are temples, jungles, booby traps and hidden artefacts.  The element that it lacked, at least for me, was the suspense.  The adventure is fairly linear – they do some research, got to a site discover a secret door or unravel a puzzle.

In unravelling clues or finding secret passages, success seemed to be achieved through happenstance as opposed to intelligence.  I think there was a chance missed here, to draw the reader in, to get them to figure out some of the mystery along with the characters.

Despite the booby traps and mythological dangers I never felt that Kelsey or Ren were in any danger. Indeed the only danger to Kelsey was that her overly stubborn denial of her love for Ren would dash any chance she’s have with him.  The various physical trials they had to pass seemed to be overcome with relative ease.

For the favoured of a goddess Kelsey ain’t no slayer.
Kelsey is set up as some fated saviour to the cursed Ren.  In that role though, she seems to rarely step beyond that of a plot device.  Other than being a compassionate person she doesn’t bring much else to the table (in the way of skills). 

Early in the story we find out that she is the favoured of Durga and she is granted a magical weapon, the Gada which she wields with ease, yet Mr Kadam (who plays somewhat of a Mr Miyagi to Kelsey’s Daniel-san, or so I thought)  finds difficult to lift. I was thinking at this point Kelsey was going to become a weapon wielding avatar.

I felt like we were being set-up for some buffy-esque heroine who under the tutelage of Mr Kadam would project a strong female figure - a young woman that could fall in love with her handsome Indian Tiger-man prince and able to handle herself.

Indeed I could see some possibilities for conflict between ancient Indian concepts of gender roles and modern American ones.  The reader is even given a backstory to Mr Kadam, who was the Kings military strategist and proficient in several fighting arts.  The mansion in which they live had a fully equipped training room, bedecked with ancient weapons. 

Alas though, it’s Ren  that uses the Gada, it’s Ren gets them out of any physical danger. Kelsey appears to be just along for the ride, a passenger.

A vacation for readers
I appreciate what Houck was trying to do in exposing young American readers to another culture. The execution of this left a little bit to be desired .   There were a couple of very blatant info dumps that read like they were written for a non fiction piece or a travel book, wedged into awkward pieces of dialogue.  It did get better though, the scene where Kadam is touring around the old palace and reminiscing, felt very natural.

To appreciate a different culture there has to be some interaction with it, we get plenty of references to Indian cuisine and dress but it feels a bit superficial.  As mentioned above I think Houck might have missed an opportunity to present conflicts between American and Indian culture.

Did nobody see?
I don’t get too worried about typo’s, nowadays, especially with eBooks and the rush to do parallel releases in all formats.  Traditional publishing is no longer a guarantee(Was it ever?) that the book, whatever container it comes in will be without error. 
I can forgive formatting errors, I can forgive repeated phrases and goodness knows I publish my fair share of grammatical errors.  For the life of me though I can’t understand how the following made it through the  a) author b) thousands of readers c) professional editors.
‘Back then Kishan and I tried to avoid each other as much as possible back then.’
page 287 Tiger’s Curse

Final thoughts

The book is YA and from the reaction from Teen readers, it’s been pretty well received in that demographic. So who am I to argue with success?  I am aware that I bring experience from life and from reading that teen readers won’t have. I do, however, think that Houck can do better and I think that teen girls deserve a little bit more from their heroines than a passenger with confused romantic notions.

This book is a review copy provided by Hodder at no cost to myself.

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