LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52626-3
Fantasy Romance, 2005
Marjorie M Liu’s debut Tiger Eye is compared to Christine Feehan‘s books and aside from the sequel-itis that inflict both authors when it comes to their books, I can see why the comparison crops up. Just like how I often find Christine Feehan’s prose clumsy and laborious and her attempts at humor artificial, I find Marjorie M Liu’s reliance on short, incomplete sentences and telling as opposed to showing just as hard to get into. The first half of the book is really tough for me because Ms Liu seems to operate under the principle that there is no flowery phrase that she doesn’t like and doesn’t use.
Like Ms Feehan, Ms Liu tells too much. Inside of slowly building up a scene, she prefers to spell out everything the characters are feeling without subtlety and – ironically, considering how Ms Liu loves her similes – grace. Consider a typical example of her prose:
If the Magi takes hold of Dela, he will just not kill her. He will make her suffer first. The horror of that possibility staggered him. He would rather die than to see Dela endure the same fate as his sister. The Magi might not want a child this time, but he was a man of deep, violent lusts. Hari could still see his sister’s eyes, broken with sorrow, her bleeding hands clutching her naked belly. The young woman, trying to protect her unborn child – and unable to, at the very least.
Everything is laid out bare. There is very little change in sentence structure to vary the mood. The rhythm I get when I am reading Ms Liu’s prose is like a ricocheting gun – bang, bang, bang relentlessly – to the point that I soon become bored by the monotonous prose. Also, a hero “staggering from horror”? Staggering is so dramatic an action. Considering the fact that he is a 2,000-year old immortal shapeshifter who has done and seen all sorts of nasty things that made him disillusioned and heartless, shouldn’t he be “staggering” from something more fiendish than “making her suffer”?
I know, I know, I haven’t given a synopsis of the plot yet. Our heroine Dela Reese manages to obtain a mysterious “riddle box” in Beijing shortly before she is pursued by a strange man and experienced a near-fatal “accident”. In her hotel room, she studies the box and ends up releasing the above mentioned shapeshifting (alternate form: tiger) hero Hari. Hari and Dela are soon plunged into a fantastical adventure involving Mafia, the heroine’s larger-than-life superhero-like action figure brothers, magic, mayhem, and of course, the obligatory Evil Subplot where the Villain wants just to rape, plunder, and make babies. At least there is no magic baby prophecy here, I suppose, or any other “We Must! Have Sex! NOW! To Save! THE WORLD! Oooooooh!” nonsense.
My biggest problem with this book is not in the premise, which is fine and even intriguing at times (those kinky love scenes, by the way, are not for the faint of heart), but in the writing. Ms Liu tends to introduce too-fantastic things that are, unfortunately, at the same time border on being gratuitous. I am fine, for example, with Dela making knives, swords, and some of her brothers’ toys – I like that – but I groan when the author has Dela making swords for people she normally won’t just because they offer to donate some money to kiddie charities. Hey, if I want to rob a bank and I pledge fifty grand to the local SPCA shelter, will Dela make me a super bazooka? Other aspects of Dela that the author introduces serve to make Dela a supreme Mary Sue heroine. Woo, Dela had an African-American boyfriend before so she Knows All About Prejudice! Dela’s best friend was an orphan who was kidnapped and tortured by some sadist before she survived only to die of rare brain cancer (people in this book don’t just die of common diseases, they die of Very Rare and therefore Special diseases, because they are all Special, Special People), so Dela not only knows Special People, she knows what it means to be Strong! Caring!
So much so that Dela isn’t a heroine, she transcends that common vulgar term because she is Understanding, Courageous, Honest, Open-Minded, and Special. When Hari is released from the box, she isn’t scared or terrified – remember, she’s Special – she instead is So Shocked that people would think of enslaving other People. Of course, she knows in her Special Heart that Hari doesn’t do anything to deserve that imprisonment, just as Hari knows in his Special Heart that Dela is, er, Special. No wonder the villain is obsessed with “making her shine” with his “seed”. These are Special People, after all. You don’t get pedigree as good as Dela’s or Hari’s. The heroine’s brothers are Special too. They do Special things that superheroes would envy. And their Special books are coming up soon.
Even if I overlook the overly-staccato writing and overdramatic attempts at super-deifying the main characters, the author’s little inconsistencies in her writing drives me crazy. One moment Hari will say that Dela is special, and then in the next page he will say that one day Dela will betray him so he can’t get close to her. And later he will say that he wants to sleep with her and it’s just desire. And then he will say that he has never seen anyone like her. Huh? For an ancient immortal who has done plenty of things to make him cold and angry, Hari comes off instead like some confused little boy, while Dela comes off like the perfect understanding pure princess that every fanfiction-writing teenage girl dreams of growing up into.
I hope I am making sense in this review. Really, the premise is fine. I like it even, because some of the things here, like Dela’s superheroic brothers, are interesting. But there is too much telling and not enough showing. It isn’t enough for Ms Liu to tell me that Hari’s heart tells him this or Dela’s heart tells her that, I want to know why he or she feels this way. I am not content with the author telling me that “there is too much blood and pain” between Hari and the Magi. I want to know what these “blood and pain” are. The author just can’t put these things in one neat sentence and expect to move on without describing, elaborating, and building up the scene. Also, I feel that the author is putting too much emphasis on the wrong things. Instead of developing her characters to give them depths, Ms Liu instead chooses to make her characters more fantastic, more superhuman, more perfect and soulmate-y, to the point that everything in their life is over-the-top fantastic (see Dela’s dead best friend, described previously, for example). There is this overpowering “Mary Sue fanfiction” feel to this story.
With a writing style best described as too linear and too prettified in all the wrong places and characters too hell-bent on being Super Perfect and Special Fantastic instead of being well-developed with realistic emotions, Tiger Eye comes off like the work of an author that tries too hard to impress me with her extensive knowledge of similes, metaphors, and alliteration and with her Super Super Super characters. There are plenty of flashy fireworks, so to speak, in this book but ultimately, the substance is lacking.