Maybe it's my memories of Shere Kahn from "The Jungle Book" and Siegfried and Roy's unfortunate incident, or maybe it's the stigma of crazy cat ladies, but I never would have considered a tiger to be a natural fit for a fictional romantic lead. Sookie Stackhouse's sometime-weretiger boyfriend Quinn (in the Charlaine Harris novels, not yet in "True Blood") made the idea a little more palatable. But brothers Dhiren and Kishan in Colleen Houck's "Tiger's Curse" make a pretty good case for themselves.
The first in Colleen's "Tiger Saga," which was pretty popular when she self-published it last year before its official print version came out last week, "Curse" follows Kelsey Hayes, a 17-year-old orphan who lands a two-week temp gig at a traveling circus in her Oregon hometown. (Sign me up with that temp agency!) In addition to running the concessions stand, one of her duties is to feed the white tiger (naturally). She feels sorry for the majestic Dhiren as she watches him go from his small cage to his mundane tricks in the ring, so she begins to visit him at night and read him "Romeo and Juliet" (!).
A few more leaps of logic later, and Kelsey is on a private plane with an older Indian man named Mr. Kadam, on their way to take Ren (as she's nicknamed the tiger) to a wildlife preserve in India. Except it turns out he's not a tiger at all but an Indian prince who was placed under a curse more than 300 years ago by his fiancée's power-hungry father. He is only a (super-drool-worthy) man for 24 minutes out of the day, and for some reason, Kelsey is the only person who can help him lift the curse. Here, at last, is where things get cooking.
The writing isn't masterful, and every once in a while, Kelsey's naivete is irritating. But the way Colleen weaves Indian culture, Hinduism and her own made-up fairy tale into an action-packed love story is captivating. The author herself aptly calls the saga "Twilight" meets "Indiana Jones." And the characters, who have both met with tragedy long before the story begins (Kelsey's parents die in a crash; Ren is betrayed by his brother Kishan before both are turned into tigers), aren't your cookie-cutter hero and heroine. They're fighting inter-species, interracial and inter-century barriers, but they also have a few normal tiffs and cute conversations that make them identifiable.
Good news for anyone who gets sucked into the story: Book two, "Tiger's Quest," comes out in June, followed by "Tiger's Voyage" in November. And the movie rights have been optioned already, which raises two questions: Who can play the blue-eyed half-East-Asian, half-Indian Ren, and how will they make him realistic as a tiger?
In the meantime, I'm betting the saga inspires quite a few trips to India. For the, um, scenery.
Have you read "Tiger's Curse"? Share your reviews and casting ideas in the comments and on Twitter!