Tiger's Curse Spork: Introduction and Prologue

Introduction and First Impressions

Self-published e-books can be a bit of a mixed bag.  For every Andy Weir or Hugh Howey, there’s an E.L. James or, well, a Colleen Houck.  Houck self-published Tiger’s Curse in 2010 as the beginning of a five-part series; in 2011, she got picked up by Sterling Publishing and landed on the New York Times bestseller list.  There are now four books in the series, with a fifth on the way (EDIT: the fifth and final book, Tiger's Dream, was published on March 20, 2018).

It’s also terrible. Terrible.  It’s hard to overstate how terrible this book is.
           
It’s honestly really difficult to figure out how to start talking about this book.  If you talk about the plot (or lack thereof), you downplay the problems with characterization.  If you talk about characterization, you ignore the issues with dialogue.  If you talk about dialogue, you neglect talking about the prose.  Or the pacing.  Or the abject creepiness of our two main love interests.  Oh yeah, it also has a love triangle.

All of that also dances around one of the other problems I have with this book: there is a surprising amount of cultural ignorance, especially for a book that markets itself on its exotic location.  The majority of the story takes place in India, but it never really feels like they’re in India.  They eat Indian food and dress in Indian clothing, and a few characters are Hindu gods and goddesses, but outside of these aesthetic trappings there isn’t really anything in the story that grounds it in a specific culture. India (and Asia as a whole) are treated as cultural monoliths that are completely homogenized.  “Hindu” is treated as synonymous with “Indian,” even though that is very much not accurate at all, and the rest of the continent is just called Asia.  Yeah, Japan, China, Vietnam, and Thailand are exactly the same!  Not to mention that India is part of Asia in the first place.

Anyway. I first picked this book up because of the blurb on the cover.  Yes, it was a paranormal romance, but I thought it was really interesting that it took place mostly in another country and seemed to focus a lot on Hindu mythology, which I was both pretty unfamiliar with and very interested to learn more about.  I think I was envisioning a cross between Percy Jackson and (a better version of) Twilight that would let me learn about a different culture.

I was incorrect.

Here’s the blurb:

Passion.  Fate.  Loyalty.

Would you risk it all to change your destiny?

There is a lot of passion in this book, if “passion” means stealing hair ribbons to sniff and giving Anastasia Steele a run for her money in the ogling department. There is a prophecy (oh goody), so I’ll give “fate” a pass, but there’s no challenges of loyalty at all in this book.

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.

Kelsey does go to India with Ren to break a curse, so that’s pretty accurate.

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.

The “dark forces” never really make an appearance until the Big Bad wanders in about three quarters of the way through the novel.  There isn’t a whole lot of magic, either, aside from the curse itself and a few magic objects here and there, and Kelsey and co. spend most of their time driving or walking around or hanging out in various hotels instead of doing anything magical.  There is a single mystical world that they enter, and everything works pretty much as expected there.  The prophecy itself is already pieced together by the resident Exposition Expert, so she just has to do what it says.  Any mystery about what a part of the prophecy means is solved within the chapter it is brought up in.  Kelsey is also rarely in any actual danger because she has at least one (and sometimes two!) super strong hot tiger princes that keep her safe at all times.  I think she gets cut at one point, but it never feels like she’s in any danger.

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

The only true statement here is that it’s the first book in the series.

Yeah, unless you’ve read the book, you can’t see how inaccurate the blurb is. I was fooled!  Duped!

The last warning sign before starting the book is the quote on the back:

“...a sweet romance and heart-pounding adventure.  I found myself cheering,, squealing, and biting my nails--all within a few pages.  In short, Tiger’s Curse is magical!”
            --Becca Fitzpatrick, New York Times best-selling author of Hush, Hush

Yeah, the best quote they could get was from the author of Hush, Hush, which is a book with, uh, troubling implications. If I had known who Becca Fitzpatrick was beforehand, I probably would have gone in with very different expectations.

So, let’s finally move on from the outside of the book to the inside.  We don’t get into the action right away, as the book opens with the full text of William Blake’s “The Tiger.”  Except it’s actually called “The Tyger,” which means that the second word of the book is misspelled. This can only mean good things!

It’s a nice poem, I guess, but I have no idea what it’s doing in this book. It’s too long for a proper epigraph, and it doesn’t really connect to the story at all outside of the fact that it mentions the word “tiger.” A proper epigraph should really tie into the book in some thematic way.  A really good one is used in Frankenstein:

“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?”
            --Paradise Lost, X, 735-745

This puts the original poem into conversation with the story itself, and sets up many of the questions and themes in Frankenstein.

Heck, even the epigraph in City of Bones connects better to the text:

“I have not slept.
Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasm, or a hideous dream:
The genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council; and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.”
            --William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

I mean, it doesn’t really mean anything either, but it at least tries to establish a tone.

Prologue: The Curse

The book proper starts with an unnamed character referred to as “the prisoner,” who is held captive by a man called Lokesh.  If you couldn’t tell that Lokesh is evil, he is described as “[looking] on haughtily” and “[looking] down, eyes narrowed into contemptuous, triumphant slits.” The two stare each other down for the next couple of paragraphs as the narration exposits at us: the prisoner is the prince of the Mujulaain Empire and Lokesh is the raja of a neighboring kingdom.  Lokesh’s daughter, Yesubai, and the prisoner’s brother, Kishan, are also there.

I’m not entirely sure why we get everyone else’s names and ranks but not the prisoner’s (who, spoiler, is Ren).  It seems like it’s setting up the “plot twist” later that the prisoner is also the guy who’s been turned into a tiger, but like Twilight this reveal is completely ruined by the book’s own back-cover blurb.  Even if you didn’t read the summary, it’s painfully obvious who this guy is, so I’m just left scratching my head as to why we’re preserving the mystery of the character’s name.

It’s revealed that the prisoner was going to marry Yesubai to unite the two kingdoms together, and while he was away taking care of vague “military operations” his brother Kishan made a deal with Lokesh to marry Yesubai instead.  Ren calls Lokesh out for being a traitor, saying “You have fooled us all.  You are like a coiled cobra that has been hiding in his basket, waiting for the moment to strike.”  The prisoner then confuses his own simile by shouting at his brother that “Your actions have freed the viper, and we are bitten.  His poison now runs through our blood, destroying everything.” Because they’re Indian!  And every metaphor has to relate to snakes!  Does it matter that cobras and vipers aren’t even remotely the same thing?  No!

Lokesh laughs and says that he doesn’t care about uniting their kingdoms.  He only wants something that the prisoner has: his piece of the Damon Amulet.

Damon.  Amulet.  1) Damon is not even remotely era- or location-appropriate, considering “Damon” is a very European name (specifically Greek) and 2) all I can think about now is Matt Damon.

Lokesh tells the prisoner that if he hands over the Matt Damon Amulet, he will let him survive, reiterating that Kishan will be allowed to “have” Yesubai (gross).  He’s also pretty confident that the prince’s father wouldn’t try to retaliate for literally committing treason because “He certainly would not destroy Kishan’s new family.”

Okay, several problems with that.  You betrayed the king’s trust, and are planning on blackmailing him into going along with your plan because your kids are married.  How is that supposed to work?  One, your daughter is ter is married to his younger son, who isn’t going to inherit the throne at all if you’re not going to kill his older brother.  Second, Kishan was involved in the plot from the beginning, which makes him just as much a traitor as you, regardless of family ties. Third, the Mujulaain Empire is much bigger and stronger than your tiny kingdom, so the king could demolish you with no consequences, especially since he would just be taking out a couple of traitors.

Lokesh continues, saying, “Even should I allow you to live, I will rule both kingdoms.  This makes no sense, considering that Yesubai is going to marry the younger son, who has no right to inherit the throne, and the fact that the king is still presumably alive, considering everyone is referring to him in the present tense.  And since he really shouldn’t have any reason not to completely obliterate you, I’m not entirely sure what your plan is, Lokesh.

Kishan is not happy with this arrangement, since he apparently only agreed to exchange his marrying Yesubai for Lokesh taking his brother’s Matt Damon Amulet.  Lokesh monologues that he can take anything he wants, and then throws Kishan’s Matt Damon Amulet into the deal as well. Here we have one of the first confusing inconsistencies in the narration:

“Lokesh squeezed Kishan’s wrist until it cracked loudly.  Kishan didn’t react at all. [Paragraph break.] Flexing his fingers and slowly rolling his wrist, Kishan sat back…”

So Kishan doesn’t react, but then the next sentence shows him reacting.  Consistency!

Lokesh gets all hot and bothered for a reason that I still can’t figure out despite reading the passage five times, and then begins to take the prisoner’s Matt Damon Amulet by force, which apparently involves cutting the prisoner’s arm and dripping blood onto “a wooden talisman.  I don’t have any idea what this talisman is, or if it’s another piece of Matt Damon, but I don’t think it’s ever mentioned again in the entire book.

This apparently hurts a lot and, “though strong, [the prisoner] wasn’t prepared for the pain,” because those things are definitely related.  Yesubai and Kishan attack Lokesh together for...reasons?  Lokesh pushes the two of them away, and Yesubai falls over and hits her head on a dais that appears out of nowhere (seriously, the first mention of “the dais” is when Yesubai hits her head on it).  We fade to black as the prisoner loses consciousness and the prologue ends.

All in all, it’s not a horrible prologue.  It sets up several characters that become important later, as well as their relationships.  We see the Big Bad, and we do know what he wants, even though we don’t know exactly what he wants it for.

Unfortunately, even though the prologue sets up a potentially interesting plot, it doesn’t go anywhere.  Lokesh isn’t even referred to at all until the very end of Chapter 21.  Out of 24.  He does nothing of consequence in the first book, so setting him up as the Epic Villain means nothing unless he actually does anything!

As a side note, I have no idea why Houck uses “king” as a title, considering the fact that the Mujulaain Empire is, well, an empire.  It would make more sense to refer to him as an Emperor or Maharaja. Not that it matters, because he isn't referred to again.  He doesn't react at all to both of his children going missing and, presumably, the empire either falls apart or is taken over by Lokesh.  Not that it matters.


This is also the best prose we’re going to get for the rest of the book, as well as the best dialogue.  You have been warned.

Comments

  1. "He’s also pretty confident that the prince’s father wouldn’t try to retaliate for literally committing treason because “He certainly would not destroy Kishan’s new family.” "

    This strikes me as terribly naive. I don't know much about Indian culture or history and what little I do know are bits and pieces without much context. Still I doubt that the Indian royalty was much more merciful than European and those folks didn't really have much compunction against hurting their own family if they felt it necessary. For example Bolesław III Wrymouth the Duke of Poland, who had ordered his brother Sigismund's eyes to be gouged...

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