Friday, December 16, 2011

Review: Tiger's Curse by Colleen Houck

This book was recommended to me by Joanne over at The Fairytale Nerd. When I went to Chapters and picked it up I had two thoughts. One: Oh, pretty cover! and Two: God help me -- if this makes me mad and I throw it at a wall I'll have to get it redone.

My walls need not have feared. I didn't just like Tiger's Curse. I actually loved it so much that I ordered Tiger's Quest and Tiger's Voyage even though I wasn't done with the book yet. This is my kind of story and I really loved getting wrapped up with Kelsey's adventures in India with Ren and Mr. Kadam. I also loved meeting Kishan. (Pssst! Can I keep him?) But now I'm rambling. Let's get this review underway so I can share all the details.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
Passion. Fate. Loyalty.

Would you risk it all to change your destiny?

The last thing Kelsey Hayes thought she’d be doing this summer was trying to break a 300-year-old Indian curse. With a mysterious white tiger named Ren. Halfway around the world. But that’s exactly what happened. Face-to-face with dark forces, spellbinding magic, and mystical worlds where nothing is what it seems, Kelsey risks everything to piece together an ancient prophecy that could break the curse forever.

Tiger’s Curse is the exciting first volume in an epic fantasy-romance that will leave you breathless and yearning for more.

As much as I loved Tiger's Curse I must tell you that the book starts slow. This is likely Colleen Houck's way of gently letting the reader get to know Kelsey before the adventure begins. As with all fantasy novels that use a call to adventure, this may work for you or it may not. Personally, I found myself drawn to the book right away, although I will admit that the speed I read at and the amount I read in a sitting definitely went up as the story progressed.

The next thing that needs saying is that Colleen Houck is a "details" writer. She has a very descriptive style of storytelling, which coincidentally is probably the only way this book would have worked. With Ren the way he is, and he and Kelsey traveling many places as a pair, having the book be more dialogue driven would have been a problem. The fact that the book is really descriptive actually worked for me here, too. I know I've given other authors a hard time about this, but Colleen succeeded in getting me to care about what she was describing, recognize it as being of value and pay attention.

This is a book with a tightly knit cast, and one of the major characters can only be in human form (and therefore speak) for twenty four minutes every day. In setting up her tiger mythos this way, Colleen presented herself with a challenge as a writer and I feel that she handled it admirably. I also want to commend her on how she balanced the tiger aspect of Ren and Kishan. There are definitely some things about them that do not match up with actual tigers, but since they are under a spell, seem capable of thinking in a human way even when transformed and the changes serve the story, I was good with this.

One complaint that I have heard about this book, and that I did notice to a certain extent, is that Kelsey seems to be a bit of a passenger in her own adventure. I am not going to weigh in on this here, since I know that this is book one of a series and there is a possibility that this well be addressed at a later time. We all know how I feel about passive heroines. However, for the *most* part (I'm going to ignore the "hunt" scene) Kelsey seemed like a relatively smart character who had her head on her shoulders where the adventure was concerned -- she was determined but believable and vulnerable as someone who is not use to the presence of danger should be. 

The Characters: 

I really like Kelsey. I found her compassion, courage and optimism in most things very admirable. I found her biting sarcasm fun too at times, although I think we may have seen a bit too much of it directed at Ren. I'm hoping we'll see more of Lokesh in the future -- the series needs an actual villain figure in my opinion. If Kelsey wishes to douse him with some of those acidic words that will go over well. I felt that on a general front that Kelsey was likable and well done. On a romantic front we have a few issues, but I'll get to those soon enough.

Ren is absolutely charming and totally swoon-worthy. I loved how kind he was to Kelsey, how he always looked out for her safety and comfort, and at the same time, how he didn't take her crap when she had her pain in the butt moments later in the book. It's clear that Ren is head over heels for her, but he generally exuded an air of confidence that kept him appealing from book start to book finish. Part of me does not get why he wants Kelsey at the moment, but if she *is* what he wants, I wish him all the best. Seeing him unhappy or in any way mistreated broke my heart because he seemed so sweet.

Kishan is my kind of guy. I loved his attitude and the clear differences between him and Ren. I also liked the fact that despite the fact that they are different, it was still clear that Kishan has a good heart underneath all of the more scoundrel-ish tendencies. I definitely hope we get to spend more time wish Kishan in the upcoming books because I think he was actually my favorite character. I also hope that even if he ends up caring about Kelsey that Colleen will eventually let him find someone who will love him, because I'm about 98% positive that Kelsey and Ren will end up together by series end.

Last up, this section wouldn't be complete if I didn't talk about Mr. Kadam, who was another total sweetheart, albeit of the more grandfatherly variety (thank goodness -- two guys is enough!). I liked hearing about his past and feel that he was a great choice as a character from the ancient world who had grown with the modern world. I also feel that his loyalty to Ren and Kishan, as well as the affection he feels for Kelsey, is very sweet. It kept him a strong and noble character, as opposed to one who regrets the path that he took in life.

The Romance:

This was both the best and worst part of Tiger's Curse. Lets talk about the good first. The pace of the love between Kelsey and Ren is set up well. The book practically can be broken into four sections: "Tiger", "Hey, Kelsey! I am a man", "we are interested in each other", and "oh crap, I'm scared he'll break my heart!". Three of these I liked. One of these made me want to strangle Kelsey. Repeatedly.

I think that the tiger section is good because it gave the reader time to get use to Kelsey, get a feel for the normal and be invested before things went crazy. I think I said that earlier.

The part where she finds out that he can become a man and they are getting to know each other is absolutely vital. This let me see how things were growing between them and built up tension so that I wanted them together.

And that totally paid off when they finally kissed. The chemistry between Kelsey and Ren is absolutely scorching and I think they are totally fantastic together. The contrast between the trust and caring they built through their adventures and the obvious attraction between them was great.

Which is why "Oh, no!" really was such an "Oh, no!" for me. The before and after did not line up. There was no logical reason for the way that Kelsey behaved toward Ren for the last hundred pages or so. We are told that Kelsey has never been in love / dated before and while I could understand her fear that her first love might not work out, the level of cynicism she showed, as well as her eventual reasoning that hardened her resolve, made no sense given this background.

I had a very hard time reading this part of the book and while Colleen *did* make sure to smooth a bit of the ending out so that it did not end blazingly angry, Kelsey is still going to have to work hard to convince me why I should want her to wind up with Ren after this fiasco. (When I said I was cheering for him earlier I very literally meant him.)

Since this is the first in a series I am able to forgive this somewhat. But now my guard is up and I'll be on the bookout for this kind of craziness going forward, which is going to make it a little tougher to reel me in.

In General:

Colleen Houck is very good at evoking emotions from the reader. (Or at least from this reader?) I laughed, I cried, I yelled and I gripped the book with fear when characters faced dangerous situations. When the emotions were sweet or scary or exciting this was great. When the romance was ticking me off this gift became a bit of a curse. Overall, though, I think this is an area in which the book excelled. I don't get to praise an author for this very often and praise is definitely needed and deserved here.

Another little thing I want to mention are all of the cool little notes and clippings that are scattered throughout the book. While stuff like this can be a pain for me and make me dig out a magnifying glass, I always appreciate these little touches because they help in making me feel that I was part of the adventure.

And I think that's how I'm going to sum this up. Tiger's Curse is a truly epic adventure and I felt like I got to be a part of it. I really loved this book and I totally can't wait to continue this series. As long as you are able to forgive Kelsey for being a bit of an idiot at the end, and realize that on the romantic front you're dealing with a Fellowship of the Rings type ending, I'm sure you'll have a good time. 


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