Chapter 10: A Safe Haven (Part 2)

This one will be a bit shorter than other posts because I cut the chapter in half.  Partly because I had already written a lot on the first part of the chapter and I wanted to actually post something, and partly because it was a natural stopping point that was not taken advantage of.  The second part of the chapter could very easily have been its own chapter, and this book has enough pacing issues already.

Also, expect updates to be rather infrequent(er) until mid-December because I have finals coming up. Law school finals are awful.

So, anyway, let's move on to the second half.

Chapter Ten: A Safe Haven (Part Deux)

Kelsey wakes up the next morning to investigate the clothes that Ren bought for her (not that he would have had the time to do this).  It's mostly modern American clothes, and there's no mention of the fact that they don't fit her well, so someone must have eyeballed her to figure out her clothing size. Weird.

There's a pretty blue "Indian style dress" that Kelsey wants to wear.  So now our protagonist is playing dress-up.  I think this is an attempt to actually take advantage of the location, but when you factor in the previous discussion of the whole white savior complex thing...it just reeks of cultural appropriation.

It's, of course, incredibly stunning and it's got lots of pearls on it.  Nothing but the best for this protagonist.  She does feel a little insecure because it bares her midriff.  Okay.  I think this is because Kelsey is a bit curvy, based on some other comments made near the beginning, and some later comments that she has about how she's ~not worthy of Ren's love~ or whatever.  It would be nice to actually come out and say it though, but I think Houck is trying to not alienate the...skinny portion of her fanbase?  I have no idea.

(Look, I just think it'd be nice to have an explicitly not-rail-thin protagonist, but that might just be me.)

She decides to "make an extra effort" because of how fancy the dress is, and puts on makeup and does her hair all nice.  I only bring this up because a paragraph later, she says that she didn't plan on wearing the dress all day.  Then why did she make an extra effort to look nice because of how nice the dress is?  Consistency, what's that?

There's a scarf that goes with the dress, which Kelsey doesn't know how to wear.  This does nothing but highlight how ill-fitted our protagonist is for the story.  Once again, this is a great opportunity to write about reclaiming one's own culture if Kelsey were an immigrant or a child of immigrants.  As it is, it just throws the whole "white savior" thing into sharp focus and I hate it.

Kelsey meets Mr. Kadam downstairs and he fawns over how she looks.  The dress is apparently called a sharara.

These are a pretty representative sample of fancy sharara dresses, to my knowledge (i.e., Google images).

Notice something?  Yeah, there's no bare midriff.  All of the pictures that I could find seemed to suggest that sharara dresses go down to about your knees, and there are pants/skirt that flow underneath.  Houck seems to be confusing this style of dress for a two-piece sari, which can (but don't always) involve a bare midriff.

This isn't a traditional sari but I think it still illustrates my point.

Why bring this up at all?  Because it shows that Houck did the bare minimum amount of cursory research on this stuff before publishing it.  And then no one caught it.  And then I have to read it.  If you're writing about a living culture in a country where over a billion people live, you should try to at least do basic research!  I found this stuff in like five minutes on Google!

This lack of basic research is just constant and it wears you down after a while.

And this book is popular!  It has fans!

Ren apparently told Mr. Kadam to buy this dress for Kelsey, but didn't give any instructions other than "beautiful" and "blue."  The only other noteworthy thing that's been blue in this entire pile of dreck so far has been Ren's eyes.  So, uh, he wants her to dress in the color of his own eyes.  Which 1) is very possessive, and 2) is very narcissistic.  Don't forget we're supposed to like this guy.

Mr. Kadam had some help in selecting the dress from Nilima, who is is distant granddaughter.  Who's that again?  Oh, the flight attendant from the plane.  Glad that...mystery is...solved...?

Mr. Kadam has a number of living descendants, but only Nilima is privy to the whole immortal tiger curse thing.  I'm not sure why she's special, but she's been pretty competent so far (as in, not boring or offensive or creepy) so she's probably my favorite character right now.  Kelsey asks what happened to his wife, which makes him sad.  He says that she was aware of the effect the Matt Damon amulet had on him and that she was okay with it.

So Mr. Kadam whips out his Matt Damon amulet and shows it to Kelsey, which is the first real look we get at it, since we don't know what happened to the one that Kishan has.  It's a carved green stone, which makes me think it's jade or something, which I guess could make sense if it's from "Asia" (more specifically, China).  There are some words written on it, but Mr. Kadam can't make out what they say.

Mrs. Kadam apparently grew old and sick, and Mr. Kadam tried to give her the amulet to save her life, but she refused.  Mr. Kadam then kept living as his other descendants grew old and died, which made him eventually retreat into a life of secrecy and trying to break Ren's curse.

"Oh, Mr. Kadam, I'm so sorry.  Ren was right; you have sacrificed many things for him."

Why does Kelsey feel the need to say this?  It's literally just a recap of what we just read.  Does Houck think we can't remember what we just read in the conversation that's still currently happening?

Although, based on the level of consistency in the rest of the book, Houck probably thinks her readers have the same attention span she does.

Ren shows up in tiger form, Kelsey twirls around to show off her dress, and then Ren leaves.  What a pointless little interaction.

Kelsey and Mr. Kadam head into the library, where Kelsey pulls down an old book of maps.  So, an atlas?  Anyway.  She asks where Kanheri Cave is, which is, if you remember, where Phet told them to go to speak to Durga.  Kelsey also includes this explanation of what Kanheri Cave is, but she's not writing bad summaries online every couple of weeks, so this is just another example of Houck underestimating her readers' ability to understand basic plot points.

Mr. Kadam tells her that they're located in a national park in northern Mumbai.  So now we get to literally go exactly where we started when we got into India.  Great.  Literally the entire purpose of this entire detour is to kidnap Kelsey and talk to an offensive stereotype.

It's a tourist destination and active archeological site, but no one has managed to find any secret passages or messages from Durga.  Which is presumably why Phet told them to bring the Seal.  Mr. Kadam says that he has to run off to go get it from a bank vault (lol what) and that Kelsey should contact her foster parents to let them know she's safe.

Wait, she hasn't done that yet?!  I assumed that she did it as soon as she made it to Ren's house but didn't mention it!  You're telling me that she's been unable to contact her foster parents for multiple days and there are no consequences from this?  There's no police crawling all over India trying to find her because, holy shit, our foster daughter has been killed or sold off to a human trafficking ring?

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

I just...I'm having trouble, guys.

I nodded.  I really did need to call them.  Sarah and Mike were probably wondering if I'd been eaten by a tiger by now.

YES, BECAUSE THIS IS THE TIME FOR SMART-ASS COMMENTS.  YOU ACTUALLY HAVE BEEN KIDNAPPED AND YOU COULD BE DEAD.

Mr. Kadam fucks off (for what, the third time this book?) and Kelsey finds her cell phone in her bedroom.  "Nice of him to give it back after the jungle incident."  Oh my God, was she actually still concerned about that?  The fact that this is even on the table is extremely worrying.

Of course her foster parents aren't worried about her at all, though.  That would mean interpersonal conflict, and we can't have that.  They talk about "the food, the traffic, and the people of India."  We don't even get actual dialogue from them, because they matter that little to the plot of this story and to Kelsey personally.

Wow.

What's that?  You want more pointless description of a location we spend very little time in in the grand scheme of things?  Well, lucky you!

Kelsey decides to explore Ren's house and it has a full gym with a deck that opens up into the jungle. It's fully kitted out as an armory as well, and it has lots of spears and swords and stuff. There's an in-home theater and a music room with a fancy tv and a high-end sound system and a second library and five other empty bedrooms and then, omg, Ren's bedroom and

Are we supposed to be impressed by all of this stuff?  Yeah, Ren's rich because he's a prince.  Kelsey is enamored by all of this material wealth, and we're supposed to be similarly awed by the sheer fact that he has...money?

This is really similar to Beauty and the Beast, actually.  A girl is kidnapped remains with her host by choice and the story revolves around changing an animalistic creature back into a human.

Okay, wow, this is a lot more similar that I thought.

Anyway, the Beast is rich because he's a prince, but Belle isn't taken in by the simple fact that he has a lot of stuff.  The two begin to grow closer when he shows her his library, but it's not because it's a big library--it's because he learns about her interests as a character and knows that she'll like it.  And this happens after they've started growing closer as characters before this, anyway.  It's a way for the two of them to bond and, shock and awe, develop as characters.

Ren doesn't develop as a character.  He's barely in the story up to this point (because, well, tiger) and Kelsey didn't even know he was human until a few chapters ago.  The material wealth isn't used as a plot device to further personal connection; instead, it's just there because...having a lot of stuff is cool, I guess?  It's not there for any particular reason so stuff is just happening which makes the whole book feel like filler.

Kelsey decides to do some revenge creeping on her own and snoops in Ren's room.  There's a poem written down on a sheet of paper, which reads:

Kelsey Durgaa Vallabh
Bhumi-ke-niche gupha
Rajakiya Mujulaain Mohar
Sandesha Durgaa

Nine people have highlighted this, by the way.  I don't think there's ever a translation of this because Houck hates me, so I'll put it here for now.  I don't care if it's spoilers because there are zero stakes associated with "What do Ren's love poems mean?"  

Unfortunately, the message boards seem to be pretty quiet about what the heck this translates to, so I'll have to turn to my old friend Dr. Google and its handy-dandy Hindi to English dictionary.  Here's my attempt:

Kelsey Durga Vallabh [which is a name, I think]
Underground cave
Official Mujulaain Seal
Communicate with Durga

To my greatest surprise, this actually isn't a love poem.  It's just another statement of things we already know.

So why is it in the book????  People who can actually speak Hindi will be bored out of their skulls, and people who don't will think it's a love poem because it's sitting next to one of Kelsey's hair ribbons that Ren stole.

Oh yeah, he also stole one of her hair ribbons.  To sniff, I guess.  Gross.

After a couple of hours of just hanging out, Ren finally reappears on the veranda as a human.  Kelsey says hi, and--

He turned and openly studied my appearance.  His gaze drifted ever so slowly down my body.  The longer he looked, the wider his smile got.  Eventually, his eyes worked back up to my bright red face.

YIKES.  Houck seems to have forgotten that these people have had exactly two conversations with each other.  If they had had, uh, any interaction other than him lying to her and keeping her in his house wearing clothes he got for her that he wanted her to wear...this would be only slightly less creepy.  As it is, AN ADULT MAN WHO IS OVER THREE HUNDRED YEARS OLD IS OPENLY DROOLING OVER A TEENAGER.

He bowed deeply.  "Sundari.  I was standing here thinking nothing could be more beautiful than this sunset tonight, but I was mistaken.  You standing there in the setting sun with your hair and skin aglow is almost more than a man can . . . fully appreciate."

I don't like the implications of that.

Also, glad to know that Ren's attraction to Kelsey is purely physical.  That's a good thing to impart onto young teenagers reading this.

Also, sundari means "most beautiful."  Houck actually translates this one for us.  Except this is also wrong, because the word is actually sundara and just means "beautiful."

Once again.  Five minutes to fact check that.

Kelsey lets him know that she snooped in his room and found her hair ribbon.

"Why would you want it?"

He shrugged, looking embarrassed.  "I wanted a memento, a token from the girl who had saved my life."

You know who takes mementos without asking?  Serial killers.

"A token?  Like a fair maiden giving her handkerchief to a knight in shining armor?"

He grinned.  "Exactly."

Except the whole point of a maiden's favor is that she chose to give it to the knight.  The knight didn't break into her room and steal a highly personal item of hers.  The fair maiden knows the knight has it.  The fair maiden isn't being taken advantage of.

I think we all know the real reason he took it.  But it's a bit too crass to include in a YA romance book so Houck half-asses the explanation.

I jested wryly, "Too bad you didn't wait for Cathleen to get a little older.  She's going to be very pretty."

Oh, God damn it, Houck.  That's just creepy!  Your protagonist is actively telling Ren that it's okay to creep on a young teenage girl and wait for her to turn eighteen so they can be in a relationship!  That's called grooming, you absolute BUFFOON.

Seriously, I am getting very worked up about this.

Ren immediately dismisses this line of thought, not because it's abjectly one of the worst things I've read in a book purportedly intended for children, but because Cathleen isn't the chosen one.  Then in an immediate effort to dispel the implication that he's only in love with Kelsey because Plot, he says he would have chosen her anyway.

"Why?"

"A number of reasons.  I liked you.  You were interesting.  I enjoyed listening to your voice.  I felt like you saw through the tiger skin to the person underneath.  When you spoke, it felt like you were saying exactly the things I needed to hear.  You're smart.  You like poetry, and you're very pretty.

I actually don't have anything to say about this.  They're thoughtful reasons why he would like her.

But the problem is that, again, the two of them have had very little interaction outside of a couple of conversations.  This might be a good thing to have after they get to know each other for a while and after their relationship develops for a bit.  As it is now, their relationship is incredibly static.  Ren starts off madly in love with Kelsey, and finishes up madly in love with Kelsey.  Kelsey's view of the situation develops somewhat, but it just makes Ren into a boring, flat character.  With occasional creep tendencies.

Kelsey's only reaction to his reasons are to think that she's not pretty.  I think this is supposed to appeal to the demographic of self-conscious teenagers, but it's just annoying.

She tells him that he can keep his stolen memento.  Ren is happy that he can keep his weird jerk-off trophy.

They talk about their plans to get to Kanheri cave.  It involves another hike through the jungle, and there's...banter...

"Great.  Nothing like breaking in new hiking boots on a trek through the Indian jungle," I teased.

"It shouldn't be that bad, and even new hiking boots should be better on your feet than your sneakers."

"I happen to like my sneakers, and I'm bringing them along in case your boots blister my feet."

It's not good banter, but at least they're having a normal non-creeper conversation?

Kelsey is going to drive them back into Mumbai and they'll sneak into the park after it's closed to avoid the tourists.

Ren touched my cheek with his fingers and gently turned my fact to his.  "Rajkumari, I want to say thank you.  Thank you for staying and helping me.  You don't know what this means to me."

I mumbled, "You're welcome.  And rajkumari means?"

He flashed me a brilliant white smile and changed the subject.  "Would you like to hear about the Seal?"

You know, I might find this charming if I actually liked the character who was doing it.  Here, it's just irritating and rude.  For the record, rajakumari, as it's actually said, means "princess."  Which would be freaking amazing if he meant it sarcastically, but I think he's just being incredibly forthcoming with his intentions here.

He explains what the Seal is (it's basically exactly what you think it is), and Kelsey tells him to call her "Kells."  He offers to teach her how to wear the scarf that she put on that morning.  It's apparently called a dupatta scarf and there are a number of ways to wear it.  They fuck around with the scarf for a bit, which would be a nice scene if I liked either of them, but it's just wasting space.

I found myself drawn to him.  He's so . . . attractive, charming, magnetic, compelling . . . captivating.  

It's nice to know that Houck is getting her milage out of her thesaurus.

He gropes her hair and then the two of them head off to bed.  Then the chapter ends.

Finally.

Closing Thoughts

Not a lot of plot happens in this part, as the second half of the chapter is dedicated to letting our two leads get to know each other a bit better.  Which is good!  Because Ren is an important character and he hasn't done anything so far.  I also hate him because he's a massive creep, but that's nothing new.

Next time, Chapter 11: The Cave of Kanheri!  And actual plot!

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