Tiger Eye, by Marjorie M. Liu

>> Monday, October 09, 2006

Angie's TBR challenge for October is to read "a paranormal romance or a fantasy". I don't want to be on the Wall of Shame, so I'm getting this one in early.

Title: Tiger Eye (excerpt, extras)

Author: Marjorie M. Liu

Year published: 2005


He looks completely out of place in Dela Reese's Beijing hotel room—like the tragic hero of some epic tale, exotic and poignant. He is like nothing from her world, neither his variegated hair nor his feline yellow eyes. Yet Dela has danced through the echo of his soul, and she knows this warrior would obey.

Hari has been used and abused for millennia; he is jaded, dull, tired. But upon his release from the riddle box, Hari sees his new mistress is different. In Dela's eyes he sees a hidden power. This woman is the key. If only he dares protect, where before he has savaged; love, where before he's known hate. For Dela, he will dare all.
Why did you get this book?: IIRC, because of the review at AAR.

Do you like the cover?: Yep. I like the colouring, I like the cover model (don't even mind she's half-naked), I like the skyline at the bottom....

Did you enjoy the book?: Very much, especially the beginning. It became not quite as wonderful near the end, but it was still good. A B+.

Tiger Eye starts out in Beijing, where Dela Reese is on vacation. Everything's going fine until the day she decides to go treasure-hunting at the Beijing Dirt Market.

Right after a vendor she's just finished haggling with insists on selling her a puzzle box for the extremely low price of 1 yuan, Dela is almost kidnapped by a creepy-looking guy. And the kicker comes when she gets back to her hotel room, and manages to open the puzzle box. In a moment reminiscent of Sherrilyn Kenyon's Fantasy Lover, a 7-foot-tall enraged warrior appears, fully-armed, in the middle of her room.

Dela is stunned, but maybe not as stunned as you or I might be. That's because she's no stranger to the weird, being part of a family in which psychic gifts are the norm, not the exception. Her family have even founded Dirk & Steele, an agency which recruits people with gifts such as theirs and channels their talents to help people.

While not really part of the agency, Dela has, herself, a mental affinity for metal. Metals "talk" to her in her mind, which allows her to do things like mentally scan people for weapons. Oh, she prefers to call what she and her family and friends do "science", rather than "magic", but her mind is obviously more open to possibilities than the regular person's would be.

So anyway, rather than faint upon the big warrior's appearance, Dela talks to him and soon gathers the pertinent facts. The guy's a 2000-year-old shapeshifter named Hari, who was imprisoned in the box by an evil Magi, intent on torturing him. The curse the Magi has put on him means that he's compelled to obey the commands of anyone who owns the box and summons him. He is their slave, and over the years this has meant he's been through a lot. He's been used as weapon and as sex-toy (Liu takes care to imply that he's only been used thus by women, though), so he's been forced to do horrible things, things he never would have wanted to do and forced to endure horrific torture whenever his masters and mistresses wanted to punish him.

Dela is horrified by all this, and after touching one of Hari's knives and "seeing" the imprint of his soul, assuring herself that he's a good person, quickly assures him that he's free. Or at least, as free as he can be, given that the curse doesn't allow him to wander far from his owner. Hari is doubtful at first, afraid to hope, which is understandable when you consider that he hasn't really been in contact with the best part of humanity since he's been imprisoned, but he soon begins to realize that Dela is different. Unlike with his past masters, he actually wants to protect her. And a good thing, too, because it soon becomes clear that someone is after her, a very determined someone who wants her dead.

It's been a while since I read a book so immediately absorbing as this one. The plot is original and interesting, but it was the characters who drew me in.

I might have expected, given the plot, that this would turn out to be an extremely hero-centric book (come on, a shape-shifter, extremely tortured hero? Most authors would write the book as being all about him, with the heroine being nothing but the possessor of the magic hymen that will save him). That wasn't the case here.

I LOVED Dela. She's the best kind of kick-ass heroine, perfectly capable of protecting herself, but knowing when to accept help. What I loved best was how protective she was of Hari, realizing immediately that though he was invincible physically, he was still very vulnerable emotionally, and doing all she could to make him feel better.

As for Hari, well, I liked him almost as much as I liked Dela. I liked that he's an extremely powerful warrior, so scary even the box's owners, who knew he was their slave, feared him, but with Dela, he's a total marshmallow. For a seven-foot-tall killing machine, the guy's positively beta!

I love the way their relationship developed, from Hari's initial mistrust to his realization that this woman is serious when she says she means to do anything she can to help set him free. I loved how his increasing trust is mirrored by his sexual feelings for her.

Tiger Eye is at its best while Hari and Dela are still in Beijing, but about half-way through the book, they go back to the US, and the book becomes merely good. Part of the reason why I liked it a bit less after that was that the Beijing setting was wonderfully enough done that I hated to lose it. Beijing is not written as "anonymous Far East city". Liu paints a city with a strong identity, and I loved it. From the food to the smell of the air, from the fact that people pay no mind to police, but fear the soldiers, to the ubiquitousness of 2008 Beijing Olympics souvenirs, the little details rang true.

But the problem wasn't just the change in settings. Maybe the reason why I thought this part wasn't so amazing as the first one is that by the time they get to the US, there's just practically no conflict between Dela and Hari. They each have accepted that they love the other, and Hari knows perfectly well that he can trust Dela. The only thing left is the love scenes, which Liu holds off for a long while, and this was probably a wise decision. When those love scenes come, I'd been waiting for them, and they do pack a punch. They might squick out some readers, but they worked for me!

There's also the problem that we have two suspense subplots running, completely unrelated from one another. There's the danger from the Magi, and then there's people with a much more mundane reason for wanting Dela dead, a reason I never completely bought. And during the second half, it's the second killers who get all of the author's attention. The Magi, so much more interesting, only appears at the end, and when he does, those scenes feel somewhat anticlimactic and confusing.

Still, even with those small problems, it's an excellent debut. In addition to the good things mentioned above, Liu has a very vivid voice. Her writing sometimes comes a bit close to purple territory, but I think she dodges the bullet most of the times, and the style is simply beautiful, not purple.

Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again?: She was new to me (this is her debut, actually), and there's no doubt that I'm reading anything of hers I can get my hands on. I've already got Shadow Touch (sometimes glomming without having read works out), and a friend is sending me The Red Heart of Jade. All I need to do now is to get her story in Dark Dreamers. It pisses me off that apparently 2/3 of the book is a Christine Feehan story, but what can you do.

Are you keeping it or passing it on?: Keeping it, definitely.

Anything else?: I forgot to mention that in the second half, we're introduced to some of the other members of the Dirk & Steele agency. While very obviously sequel-baiting, these are interesting secondary characters, and I liked the dynamics of the group of friends, into which Hari is quickly inducted.


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