Review: Tiger’s Quest by Colleen Houck

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Tiger's QuestTitle: Tiger’s Quest

Author: Colleen Houck

Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy-Romance

Pages: 479

Publisher: Sterling

Summary (From Goodreads): Back in Oregon, Kelsey tries to pick up the pieces of her life and push aside her feelings for Ren. Kelsey Hayes’s eighteenth summer was crazy. The kind of crazy nobody would ever believe. 

Aside From battling immortal sea monkeys and trekking the jungles of India, she fell in love with Ren, a 300-year-old prince.

When danger suddenly forces Kelsey on another Indian quest, with Ren’s bad-boy brother, Kishan,the unlikely duo begins to question their true destiny. Ren’s life hangs in the balance–so does the truth within Kelsey’s heart.

Tiger’s Quest, the thrilling second volume in the Tiger’s Curse series, brings the trio one step closer to breaking the ancient prophecy that binds them.

Guest contributor Vanessa returns to the Tiger Saga for another round!

In a break between assignments and required reading, some strange little thought in my head told me it’d be fun to read the second book in Colleen Houck’s Tiger’s Quest series. Maybe rather than write lengthy recaps on my blog, I could just do status updates on everything that was worth mentioning, from the finest-toothed comb of nit-picking to the plot holes so large one could drive the Knight Bus through them.

Yeah, I don’t really understand why I did it either.

Tiger’s Quest, is, predictably, just as bad as the first book, if not worse. It is a book where, despite the fantastical adventures our heroes find themselves on, nothing much really happens. Despite the description being (thankfully) dialled down from last time, I still feel like I’m drowning in purple prose. Despite our heroine taking measures to learn how to fight, gaining a nifty new lightning power, and researching mythology more diligently than she did in the last book, she’s still an idiotic milksop who is only animated by the plot and nothing else.

You see, there’s a very important thing to note when writing characters in any fictional medium. They need to display agency, and proactivity. Kelsey displays neither. The whole plot can be described as a series of events that simply fall into her lap. She is passive beyond belief, hardly ever utilising the martial arts training she has been given, and only using her powers in predicaments that would have been much more easily solved had she realised that she could fight off bad guys or zap an attacking bear with lightning, rather than allow it to claw open her leg and give her an infected wound so that she needs to be carried around by her companions.

Kelsey does occasionally have moments of self-awareness: ‘I recovered my senses enough to realise that I had a weapon of my

Author Colleen Houck. Image from Tiger’s Curse Wikia.

own. What an idiot I was. Some kind of fighter I turned out to be.’ (p. 258), but essentially, she gets caught or stands still for far too long before she realises she now has some combat training, or simply winds up being rescued by one of the men. If the author wanted to make Kelsey a much more capable character this time around, she failed miserably. She is so passive and awkward that she is asked out on a date by somebody she doesn’t like, and doesn’t realise she could easily just blow it off herself. Nope, instead Ren or Kishan have to step into the picture and be her knight in shining armour. Durga’s chosen champion is just doe-eyed and useless ninety-nine per cent of the time. I hate to tell a goddess her business, but… Durga, I think you ought to be have been looking for somebody else on the alternate timeline, who is a lot more headstrong and capable than Kelsey

In part, this is because a lot of the plot skims over these details. Kelsey talks about attending many wushu classes, how she reads tonnes of books on mythology, how she writes reports for her university programme, how she and her friends travel through various regions of Nepal and India, but we are never privy to this detail except for occasional circumstances where emotional conflict is brought into the picture. i.e., Kelsey’s boyfriend Li, and moments where she and Kishan come closer in this Nepalese hotel near the foot of Mt. Everest. I would have loved for there to be a few moments where we saw Kelsey studying and really getting into the mythology aspect. Not: “Well, I kind of left university after one semester but I was such a good student that my teachers allowed me to finish all my classes online and accepted a paper I wrote about my current adventures in India.”

Telling and not showing is a huge detriment to this book. I believe the two concepts can work in tandem with each other. It allows you to engage with both the active and the passive voice, and tests your skills as a storyteller. However… this is not the case in Tiger’s Quest. We are often told that a character is X, but scarcely ever shown. As a reader, it makes me engage a lot more with the character when we are shown interactions and gestures that allow the character to develop in your mind. Kishan tells Kelsey that she is a brave warrior at one point, and other characters talk about her courage. Kelsey is more prone to episodes of dumb luck than she is to any stab at heroism. Her power activates in dire circumstances, and she occasionally has dreams or visions pertaining to details that prolong this awkward plot even further along.

Perhaps if Kelsey had done brave things, I would have found myself having much more faith in her than I did. I should not be reading a book with a lofty, grand adventure plot and action-packed quests, where my mind just goes: “Oh, yeah, Kelsey’s either going to stand still and observe or just get herself rescued. Over. And over.” In fact, right at the end, the villain gets away pretty much because of a half-baked plan that Kelsey thought up. We are then told, via a conversation in the inexplicable mansion in the middle of a jungle, that oh, no, they used some clever tactics with the mythical relics they have found on the quest in order to drive out the villain. So basically, you read one chapter, and then the characters spend a lengthy amount of the following chapter telling you what happened, but it was totally different!

If Tiger’s Curse was a half-baked Twilight rip-off, then Tiger’s Quest somewhat follows New Moon. While Kelsey thankfully doesn’t turn into Bella Swan, writing in her journal and sobbing over her lost boyfriend, we do get her developing a close friendship with Kishan, our Jacob analogue. Even though Kishan was one of my better-liked characters in Tiger’s Curse, he is tedious as all hell throughout Tiger’s Quest. There’s a scene where Kishan discovers what happened to Yesubai, the princess he has been grieving over for three centuries, and rather than it shaking his foundations to the core and him needing some time to get over it, or even following the psychological stages of loss… It’s simply washed away with a conversation along the lines of: “I understand why she had to do what she did. Really. I’m okay with it!” and never brought up again.

 

Durga regrets her choice of chosen one. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Speaking of the Twilight series, Ren really does become like Dead-Weird Sullen in the agonisingly dull first act of the book. It is over one hundred and forty pages of Kelsey living in an enormously expensive mansion in the mountains, being given a Porsche, having her university tuition paid for her, and getting all sorts of ridiculously expensive trinkets and dresses before Ren arrives to live in the mansion’s annex, and from there on in it is just Kelsey faffing around with her feelings for Ren, awkwardly dating the other guys she has met at university, and kissing Ren. I know YA books are supposed to be quite chaste, but I have never read a YA with a larger focus on kissing than this one. Not dating or other mutual displays of affection. Just kissing. Every single romantic moment with Ren and Kelsey winds up with some form of her drowning in his kisses, or “omg he kissed me and my mind went blank and I immediately began thinking about the things it was doing to my heart in purple prose because it was just SO hot.”

I don’t know about you, but I find it almost unspeakably boring when the love interest in these kinds of books is supposed to be unfathomably attractive that all the ladies fall over him, and Kelsey insists that “no girl in her right mind would reject him!”

Another thing I find completely objectionable? Ren is cruel, spiteful, mean and possessive in the early parts of this book. In fact, I was almost glad that he was taken out of the picture. Surely it’s a pretty big red flag when your boyfriend asks you where you think you’re going, dressed like that when Kelsey goes out in a dress, minimal make-up and high heels. Or how about the time where Ren attended one of Kelsey’s martial arts classes, where Kelsey and one of her male friends demonstrated a throw? Ren’s response is to actually go up to said male friend and toss him halfway across the room. Then it went into one of the silliest, most ridiculous martial arts fights that I have ever witnessed in a book. Complete with running up walls, back-flipping, doing these impossible backwards sacrifice throws that would likely break both of your arms, and Kelsey simply standing there as some sort of damsel in distress rather than vocalising a protest or physically breaking them up. Funnily enough, that’s one of the more well-written fights in the book. All of the others follow a mechanical process of: “I did this. I did that. This happened. That happened.” Over and over and over.

Stymphalian birds. Not Hindu mythology. Image from Tufts University.

One of my biggest problems with Tiger’s Curse was the weird mash-up of different mythologies. Okay, sure, there were kappa featured in Tiger’s Curse. (Which makes even less sense than before, considering Ren and Kishan’s mother, who taught them about these beasts, was of Mongolian descent. Japan had implemented an isolationist policy during the time, so how in the hell did she know about kappa, and how to defeat them?) Tiger’s Quest ramps up the mythology until it’s some disgusting mush. Kelsey and Kishan visit Shangri-La, which is apparently accessed by going through a Japanese spirit gate up a Tibetan mountain pass. (Also, the only research Kelsey does… is read James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. A white guy’s take on an Asian legend during a colonial period.) The remnants of Noah’s Ark are there, and all the animals have bred in this paradise, and are perfectly friendly towards humans. Oh, and there’s a fairy grove with tree nymphs, a sequence I’m sure only existed to ramp up the drama because Ren and Kelsey were reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream before he was kidnapped. There’s also a quest to climb up the Tree of Life, which is apparently guarded by Jormungandr, who is on vacation from slumbering beneath the ocean. There are Stymphalian birds, too! Both heroes have to be allowed into the tree to do these tedious trials, which just pad the book out longer. All this, by the way, for a scarf! Which they then use to parachute down from the highest branch, whilst flipping around in the air and fighting off the Stymphalian birds with a combination of lightning powers and bow and arrow tricks that not even an Olympian archer could pull off.

There are other, numerous clankers – one of which being Kelsey and Kishan hiking up to the snow-line (5,200 metres – higher than some alpine mountain summits!) of Mt. Everest, and only deciding to change into appropriate winter hiking gear on the way down from Shangri-La. No mention of them using snow treads or mountain-hiking poles at all, either!

This book also had me stating: “RIDICULOUS!” so many times I think my neighbours thought I was trying to ward off a Boggart. Kelsey defeats the Big Bad by using one of the mythical relics to summon a shower of jawbreakers to distract him. I am not kidding. She also turns the military vehicles his henchmen are using into useless chassises with engines made out of sponge cake. But… she doesn’t exactly stop the villain from getting away. ‘I could have used the Golden Fruit to stop up his engine, but I chose not to.’ (p. 424) Well, it’s amazing how our hero actually has the choice to stop the villain in his tracks, so he won’t wreak havoc, enslave an entire tribe with black magic, or murder or torture anybody ever again, but she just chooses to let him go. FOR SOME REASON.

Speaking of the villain, my god did the author overdo it. We get it, he’s evil. There is no need to make him whisper threats of torture in his every appearance, have Kelsey note he’s completely evil in his bearing every time he shows up, or gasp in horror at what he’s done to Ren in his torture dungeon. I mean, there’s this thing called subtlety? Lokesh had the conniving persona of Emperor Palpatine mixed with the sadistic cruelty of Hannibal Lecter. He craved power at any price, like Lord Voldemort, and he displayed the pitiless brutality of Ming the Merciless, who, like him, had killed his own daughter.’ (p. 423) Yup. Rather than develop him so we know he is cruel, conniving, brutal and wants power over everything else, here’s a lazy grab bag of characters in popular culture you can relate to.

Kelsey is perhaps the biggest detriment, and I hate how I have to admit that. Female characters in general deserve much better than this awful excuse for a heroine. It’s as if somebody took Bella Swan at her very worst and decided to inject her with the most hideously wholesome and corny personality imaginable. Kelsey still talks like a horrendously sheltered teenager, compares herself to a barren desert (p. 370) because she misses her lover that much, and is so, so passive during this entire adventures that she only figures out what she must do to save Ren when Odin’s ravens (yes, seriously) peck into her ears, whispering secrets and removing certain memories. On page 332. Of a 479 page book. The preceding 300 pages are nothing but utter waffle about the life and feelings of a protagonist I absolutely do not care about, because of how utterly bland and passive she is. Everything happens to her. She doesn’t make a concerted effort to do much of anything, and I don’t care what gender main characters are, I expect them to do something rather than sit around and wait for plot-convenient things to fall into their laps.

Odin's Ravens resent being part of this mythology mish-mash. Image from Wikipedia.
Odin’s Ravens resent being part of this mythology mish-mash. Image from Wikipedia.

Hell, there’s a part where Kelsey makes a half-assed guess at something Mr. Kadam has been researching for months, and guess what? She turns out to be right! Because, you know, clearly the white girl’s half-baked knowledge is superior to that of a scholar who actually belongs to the culture. Even one of her first year geography essays for universities is instrumental in helping Mr. Kadam figure out this mythological quandary he’s been puzzling over for weeks!

Kelsey masters her lightning power in a matter of days, as well as kendo and archery, and other forms of self-defence. (Yet she almost never uses them!) Kelsey is also the only person who can give the answer desired by the Ocean Teacher, who is supposedly the Dalai Lama’s instructor. It’s amazing how this kind of knowledge takes a lot longer for the native people to study, but the perfect white person can snap their fingers and come up with the answer immediately.

I still find it particularly disgusting that Kelsey is using the Golden Fruit to her own means, when it’s a fucking relic that can ensure the whole of India is fed. Because clearly, using it to stop two immortals who can turn into tigers would… accomplish what, exactly? Ren and Kelsey and Kishan are perfectly happy in the first part of the book. In fact, their tiger nature isn’t so much a ticking clock or a harrowing supernatural werewolf-type condition anymore. They’re so human most of the time that when Kishan went into this big spiel about how he’d struggled to adapt to human life and eternally struggled with his bestial side, I didn’t believe a word of it. Solve dire problems with malnutrition and poverty, or ensure your boyfriends don’t turn into tigers any more, so they can kiss you all day?

I was a fool for going into this book and maybe thinking that now we’d gotten the introductions and the first stupid quest out of the way, the story would naturally pan out into a fun adventure. Surely this was the book where it had been properly edited so that the research was not some half-assed skimming of Wikipedia, the characters would no longer be bland or horribly flawed, or the nature of the story wasn’t ludicrously convenient. Sadly, Tiger’s Quest accomplishes none of these, and it’s just such a drudgery to get through that it could have easily been a hundred pages shorter. If it reins in the romantic angst next time, it’ll probably have time to show the characters developing, learning and growing rather than following a bland line of events. Pfft. I doubt it.

Vanessa is a Brit from the boonies who’s been reading for so long she decided to start blogging about the books and manga she reads. She reviews books, manga & film and writes recaps of novels, notably the Tiger’s Curse series, on her blog

1 COMMENT

  1. Wow.

    I detested the first book, but this sounds even more ridiculous, as well as incredibly racist. I thought it was racist when I first read it, but I didn’t understand how truly offensive it is until I discussed it with my husband, who is Indian. Actually makes me sick to think of what a racist message it’s sending to young readers.

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