A smart, vibrant adventure romance wrapped in a quest, fashioned to touch a wide audience.
The setting for this tale is India–the India of today, but also the India of yore and that of Western imagination, with its hot colors, heavenly scents and rich mythic history. Eighteen-year-old Kelsey Hayes finds herself in the subcontinent in the company of a circus tiger she was caring for back in Oregon. The tiger, named Dhiren, is also Alagan Dhiren, Prince of Mujulaain, commonly known as Ren–but that was back in 1657 AD, the year a curse was placed on him by Lokesh, a raja greedy for wealth and power whom Ren had thwarted. Kelsey can break the curse, and that quest takes the protagonists through challenges that would make Steven Spielberg proud. Houck has a mostly steady hand with the story’s pacing, purposeful and deliberate as she takes her time to unspool colorful nuggets of Indian history and flesh out each milieu–visiting, for instance, the butler’s pantry and spice room in Ren’s house, or the elephant’s stables and the king’s balance in the fabled city of Hampi. But she drags her feet when detailing Ren and his brother’s squabbles and takes forever to make even the most demure hay between Kelsey and Ren. Still, when she does it’s sweet fun–â€œI have no idea how long I was kissing him like this...My bare feet were dangling several inches from the floor.” Minor missteps–what is a GPS doing in a quest?–don’t seriously detract from the fun. Houck suffuses the book with the sheer otherness of India–monkey gods, battle elephants, caste relationships, the drape of a sari and the possibility of pure magic. Readers can’t throw a brick without hitting one shape-shifter or another in these pages. Houck conveys the mysteries with ease and clarity, drawing in readers, who’ll be glad for the wide-open ending.
A well-shaped piece of exotica, full of danger, dash, allegory and love under the banana tree.