Review Summary: A wonderful, moving sequel that is even better than the original great story.
Sequel to Tigers & Devils
After an eventful and sometimes uncomfortably public courtship, Simon Murray and Declan Tyler settled into a comfortable life together. Now retired from the AFL, Declan works as a football commentator; Simon develops programs with queer content for a community television station.
Despite their public professional lives, Simon and Declan manage to keep their private life out of the spotlight. Their major concerns revolve around supporting their friends through infertility and relationship problems—until Greg Heyward, Declan’s ex-partner, outs himself in a transparent bid for attention.
Though Simon and Declan are furious with Greg and his media antics, they can’t agree on what to do about it. Declan insists they should maintain a dignified silence, but both he and Simon keep getting drawn into Heyward’s games. Simon and Declan will once again have to ride out the media storm before they can return their attention to what really matters: each other.
I had been hoping for a sequel to Tigers & Devils for years because I loved that book so much and felt at the time that there were many threads in the story that could be explored further, so I was ecstatic when I received a review copy of Tigerland. To say that it met my expectations would be a considerable understatement as the writing brought the ensemble cast to life once again in new and vibrant ways, refreshed but with different troubles that threatened to tear them apart.
I don’t think Sean Kennedy has written a book that I didn’t enjoy immensely even though most of his stories are angsty and I’m not fond of angst. I love his stories because he never overwhelms the readers or manipulates them with doom and gloom – any angst is relevant and appropriate to the story and lives of the characters.
Tigerland opened with a scene that had me rolling on the ground laughing until I cried as Roger, Simon’s best friend who had been entrusted with the care of an expensive fake baby by his formidable wife Fran to prove he could be a responsible parent, lost that battle as the pram escaped and the baby’s head ended up smashed beyond repair in a battle with a bicycle. When poor Roger faced the wrath of Fran with the news of the doll’s demise is a scene that will live forever in my memory. 🙂
Dec and Simon have been a couple for 5 years, and 3 years after T & D there are many changes in their lives and those of their friends. Dec had retired from the AFL after one too many injury, and he and Simon are living together and even more in love. Dec is a commentator on a local sports network and Simon is a producer for a queer television show.
Tigerland‘s main plot centres around Dec’s manipulative ex, Greg Heyward, coming out with a huge fanfare when he retires from professional football. Greg’s strategy is to get Dec back by publicly proclaiming he still loves him and that they only broke up because of Simon, which of course exasperates Simon who can see all his moves even before he makes them. Dec is definitely over Greg after he used him in the past, but he believes in letting Greg fall on his face through his own actions rather than fighting back, a source of dissension between him and Simon until Greg tries to show Simon up in a very unflattering light, at which point Dec has to decide whether to continue to ride the scandal out or protect Simon’s reputation.
One of the sub plots involves Fran and Roger who badly want to have a baby and have spent all of their scarce financial resources on various treatments that were unsuccessful, and they have run out of options and money but refuse any help from their friends. To complicate matters, everyone around them seems to be having babies and Fran is devastated. Abe, Dec’s former teammate and his girlfriend Lisa form the rest of the ensemble cast of the book and they have their own issues which test their friends’ loyalties.
Sean Kennedy is one of the premier writers in this genre and he’s at his best when he writes about complicated personal relationships. As each couple struggles with their own issues that threaten their love Kennedy manages to make them human without wallowing in their despair. It’s been such a long time that I had read a new book by this writer I had forgotten how exquisite and fresh his writing is and especially that there is no over the top prose.
Like Tigers & Devils this book is told from Simon’s first person POV and his “voice” might tend to annoy the reader at times until you realize how vulnerable he really is and that the cynical, tough persona he shows the world is a cover for his lack of self confidence and other insecurities. Dec on the other hand is so tolerant of Simon’s various idiosyncrasies that I couldn’t help but love him even more. Some readers may feel that he’s too laid back but I liked it – two Simons would have been one too many.
There is pathos, love, humour, drama, friendship and lots of fun in this book, which makes it stand above the rest. I didn’t think the author could improve on Tigers & Devils but three and half years later he comes up with another gem that made my heart ache but at the same time made me feel that the characters could weather any storm. The emotions and bonds of friendship were like a live current throughout the story.
This story also has tenderness and romance. Internal and external conflicts rear their ugly heads and Dec and Simon had to band together to fight Greg’s attempt to come between them. The world building was exceptional and one scene with a whale was so incredible and magical it brought tears to my eyes.
The MCs Declan and Simon are three dimensional layered characters and the secondary characters Fran and Roger as well as Abe, Dec’s former AFL teammate and best friend, and his girlfriend Lisa are just as well drawn. Dec and Simon are as different as night and day and although Dec had only recently come out which was different to Simon who had been out all his adult life, he didn’t suffer from the self loathing or self destructive tendencies that seem to inhabit most gay characters in M/M romance. Simon is the most complex character in this story and his love for Dec shines throughout as he recognizes his inadequacies and self destructive tendencies that annoy others might drive Dec away but he can’t seem to help himself.
There is one bit of personal angst in the book that some readers may not appreciate but I like the fact that Kennedy weaves his disgust for the way the Australian government treats same sex couples and marriage into the story.
I must applaud Dreamspinner for allowing this book to be written without imposing American spelling on it as that would have spoiled Tigerland. It was Aussie speak throughout and so authentic I felt as if I were in the story. I still remember Dash & Dingo, another wonderful story by Sean Kennedy and Catt Ford that suffered a different fate which pulled me out of the story whenever I encountered it.
One of the qualities I admire in this author is his ability to write impeccable female characters, something that is not normally found in this genre where women are usually characterized as spoiled bitches or trash. Kudos to Sean Kennedy for not denigrating women in his books.
The end of the book will make you stand up and cheer with a HEA that is most fitting.
In closing this very long review I hope that Kennedy will consider writing another book in this world, one from Dec’s POV, as I would really like to get to know him better and understand his relationship with Simon from his perspective. We did get a bit of his POV at the end but selfishly I would like an entire book where we hear from this wonderful character.
This is not a standalone book even though the author included enough background about Tigers & Devils. I would strongly urge you, if you haven’t read the first book, to do so before reading Tigerland.
Highly, highly recommended.