Review: Colleen Houck’s Tiger’s Curse

Spoilers: Tiger’s Curse

Warnings: This review discusses threatening and coercive behavior from the main love interest toward the main character. I also discuss some pretty pronounced racism in the book.


Image Description: A blue book cover with an intricate border, an image of a white tiger, and the title “Tiger’s Curse” written in white.

Recently I’ve noticed that a lot of the books I read contain romances which I find at best unrelatable, at worst extremely uncomfortable to read. I’ll talk about that more in a later post, but suffice to say I decided to do some research. So I’m reading various romance books, in particular supernatural romances, and I wanted to start with YA books, since those get a lot of flack. I heard about Tiger’s Curse on Chez Apocalypse, where they’ve been talking about it a lot. Apparently it has a movie deal, and it seems like the movie may even be going ahead, so I figured this would be a good book to talk about.

Also, there’s the fact that rarely has a book made me so profoundly uncomfortable. This book is a really great example of a lot of the things I’ve been seeing lately which bother me, all in one place and magnified about 100 times. It’s also worth pointing out that some of the issues in this book are the same ones I’ll be talking about when I start looking at fairy tales.

There is a lot  to talk about with Tiger’s Curse. Let’s start with the premise.

A white girl from Oregon is chosen by a Hindu Goddess to save not only two ancient Indian princes trapped in the bodies of  tigers, but also quite possibly all of India. That is the definition of white savior. And Tiger’s Curse somehow manages to maintain its racist white savior overtones (or undertones, or general…tones) without having the main character actually do anything. Excluding the magic words she says at the beginning, the first time Kelsey, our protagonist, seemed to take any plot related action was page 280—and she doesn’t do much after that, either.

Like I said, there’s a lot to talk about here, and I’ll likely be talking about it a lot in future, but here are some high points:

– Nothing in this book makes any sense. Let’s get that out of the way. This sort of factors into the representation issues—why did the Hindu goddess choose a white girl from Oregon, why does the “chosen one” never do anything—and really it seems to come from the fact that what we’re shown doesn’t match what we’re told. That, and the author ignores things like logic and realism in favor of her idea of romance and escapism. “Show don’t tell” is a pretty basic rule in writing, and it’s also a frequently cited problem with books like this, and it’s not that surprising in a first novel. When it interferes with the book on this level, though, it makes me wonder why the hell no one in the publishing company did something about it. (The answer, presumably, is that Tiger’s Curse was a fairly successful self-published book before the publishing company picked it up.)

One thing I found particularly annoying, which falls firmly into the “nothing makes sense” category, was most evident on  page 126, when Kelsey finds a note written by Ren for himself: why does Ren write what I believe is Hindi in English transliteration? English transliteration of Hebrew is painful enough for me, and I’m not fluent in the language being transliterated—and I am fluent in English. I can only imagine that transliteration is even more frustrating when the language you’re transliterating is your first.

– There is a passage where Ren asks Kelsey for permission to kiss her. Good for him! Very respectful, right? Except then Kelsey tells him that he’s being old-fashioned, and refuses to kiss him if he asks permission, because asking consent is wrong and unsexy and the cool kids don’t do it. Admittedly Kelsey regrets reacting this way pretty much immediately—but Ren and his brother still spend the rest of the book physically moving Kelsey whenever they want her in a different position. They also have a tendency to look her up and down, “appraising” her like an object—page 360 has a prime example—and laugh when it makes her uncomfortable. Kelsey’s body, the book seems to say, exists for the entertainment of the men around her. There are a few token objections to this, but the behavior continues, and a Kelsey/Ren romance is still clearly the endgame.

There is one particular scene that begins on page 359, which demonstrates this very well. Kelsey is surprised by a dinner with Ren, who begins by “appraising” her—utterly without shame, and without even trying to hide it, despite Kelsey’s obvious discomfort—then threatens to force-feed her when she doesn’t want to dine with him. Later, Kelsey complains that he looks at her like an antelope he’s hunting—which Ren agrees with, apparently delighting in making Kelsey nervous. It took me a while, but I think this is supposed to be flirting. Kelsey spends the night trying to convince Ren that she doesn’t want a relationship, but he basically says she doesn’t have a choice. And yes, Kelsey does have feelings for Ren, but that doesn’t make what he’s doing okay. Unlike the reader, Ren has no way of knowing what Kelsey’s true feelings are—and even if he did, the fact that Kelsey has feelings for him doesn’t mean that she’s obliged to be in a relationship with him. If I were Kelsey, and Ren told me that he wouldn’t “let me go” (pg 363), I’d be running the other way. Or possibly attempting to sneak away later so as not to antagonize him. And, to be fair, Kelsey does run away—but because she can’t resist Ren, not because he doesn’t respect her wishes. And somehow, I doubt they’ll stay separated when there’s several books left in the series.

– Now, the racism. In addition to the white savior premise and the issues of dehumanizing Ren and his brother, there’s the colorism that goes with having the “bad” brother be a black tiger. There’s also the fact that Ren’s mother apparently comes from “Asia”—it’s never specified where in Asia. Asia is constantly homogenized. And even before you get into all that, Houck’s attitude towards Hinduism feels less than respectful to me, given that Hindu is a religion practiced by a huge number of people, and Houck is presumably not one of those people.

And then there’s Phet. Oh, Phet. Phet is an Indian shaman. Because India has shamans, obviously. Phet also talks like a racist cartoon from the early to mid 1900s. His speech is nothing like that of an actual ESL speaker, and after reading the passage which includes him I had an astounding urge to take a shower. His chapter begins on page 96. A few examples of his speech.

“Hallo, little lady. You sleep long time. Very tired. Very, very tired.” (pg 98)

“Phet linger all day capture. Bird sing be-u-tiful song.” (pg 99)

“Alone is reasoned mind, hear things, see things. Added people is too many voice.” (pg 100)

See, I felt dirty just copying those over.

– And finally, one last time: Why would a Hindu goddess pick a white girl from Oregon as her chosen one?


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