Tuareg

Title: Tuareg
Author: Sarah Black
Cover artist: Justin James
Buy link: n/a
Genre: M/M Romance/Multicultural
Length: Short novel/136 PDF pages
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

A guest review by LadyM

Review summary: A romantic fairytale for adults with a dash of mystery in which our damaged protagonist gets his prince sheik Tuareg tribal leader in the end. Escapism at its best.

Blurb: When photographer Leon Davis takes a job tracking down the nearly-extinct Zanzibar leopard, he isn’t expecting to fall in love with the mysterious and sexy Tuareg tribal leader, Ibrahim Ag Akhamok. Ibrahim has his own secrets, and he knows more than he lets on about the leopard. And what about Piers, the murdered photographer that Leon replaced? Until Leon discovers what Piers was doing in Zanzibar, and who killed him, he can’t face his own demons – and he can’t earn the love of the powerful and dangerous Tuareg.

Review:

Hunted by his past (figuratively or literally – it’s your choice to make), freelance photographer Leon Davis is not one to stay too long in one place. When his colleague is killed during the assignment in Zanzibar, Leon is sent to replace him, report on wildlife conservation efforts and, due to his brief stint in LAPD, investigate what happened to Piers. But, what really attracts Leon to the assignment is the possibility to find and photograph the legendary, presumably extinct Zanzibar leopard. What Leon finds on the beautiful island is more than he bargained for.

Whenever you read one of Sarah Black’s stories, you can count on the fact that she will transport you to the most unexpected place and, if you are anything like me, you’ll love every moment of it. The descriptions of Zanzibar in this novel are so vivid that you can smell it, taste it, hear it. Here is just one example:

Leon sat back and closed his eyes for a moment. It was hot, and he could feel a trickle of sweat running down his back, but the tangy ocean was so close, the air was sweet. The voices of the merchants and the women speaking in Swahili. The tiny, hopeful voices of the cats. The crack of claws. The metal of knives cutting down into succulent ripe fruit, hitting wooden cutting boards. The rough putt-putt of Vespas on the outskirts of the market. The faint scritch-scritch of rope sandals against the rock sidewalks. The taste of fresh mango and grilled lobster.

But, the descriptions aren’t what makes the image of Zanzibar so vivid to the reader and so seductive to Leon. The story is peopled with the most amazing secondary characters that added so many layers to the backdrop of Leon’s story that I absolutely have to start with them. They are crucial, I believe, to understand just how different Africa really is, how different the people, their morals, their values. Jelani and Sefu, two former police officers who now work for the mysterious Ibrahim, their wives Rachel and Aeeshah, Makhammad, grandfather of Ibrahim and Bazu, Sabah, Jewish-American housekeeper, Bazu, lively, flamboyant, beautiful teenager and, naturally, Ibrahim appeal to lonely and damaged Leon individually and as a tightly knit family and enable him to come to terms with his past and begin healing. Each of these characters added a different face to Zanzibar and Africa: dependable and wild, masculine and feminine, modern and traditional. The setup was perfect and it sucked me into the story and seduced me as much as it seduced Leon.

Leon lost his friend and mentor Charlie in a terrible event. The pain and rage this loss caused made him do the unthinkable. Now, Leon is estranged from his family, always on the move from one assignment to the next, never really connecting to anyone. Charlie is his only companion, in his dreams and his head, a reminder of what have happened, his only comfort. He is so burdened by the guilt that he can’t have sexual relationships with anyone, so he is a virgin at 26. He is so lonely that he has a habit of spilling his guts to complete strangers. Leon is also an artist, attracted to beauty, and, in spite of unsatisfying career in the police, to the mystery – of both Zanzibar and Ibrahim and, once he discovers what he was doing in Africa, the mystery of Piers’ murder. Ibrahim is more difficult to get to know. He is a successful businessman, a tribal leader, a man with a vision for his family’s chosen home, with the eyes set on the future. But, it is his unfailing loyalty to his family and his strong personality that attract Leon to him (not to mention his sexy bod!). He is also immeasurably patient with Leon even when he is pushing him to just where he wants him. A more private part of him remains mysterious until the end, but that worked well within this story and in this particular setting.

As you can see, mystery isn’t listed as a genre of this novel, although there is a mystery of sorts within the story. Truly, the resolution of the mystery was almost irrelevant for the big picture. The understanding of what happened and why and Leon’s interaction with the various characters is far more important than the identity of the murderer. Also, the murder victim is so repulsive that his disappearance from this world only made it a better place. The mystery subplot provided some of the darker moments in the story, especially once when it was revealed what Piers was doing in Africa. It also made Leon to face his past and motivated him to seek redemption and begin healing. The darker moments were balanced with humor and often colorful details. For example, Jelani is a Harry Bosch fan (which made me absurdly happy), Sefu and Aeeshah have a baby that remains nameless because they can’t agree on the name (Aeeshah’s choice is Tiberius, she is a Trekkie!), Bazu’s exuberance is simply fabulous.

There is a fairytale feeling to the story. In fact, there are many fairytale motifs in Tuareg: (self)banishment, dark past, quest, mysterious country, friend that offers support (in his ghostly or imagined shape), bad guy with no redeeming qualities, challenges and transformation, awards. The wonderful description of Zanzibar only added to this feeling. Even Leon acknowledges this:

It was all so unreal anyway, like something out of a romance, with the handsome sheik acting all sheik-like, and he, the silly virgin slave boy, bound to do his lord and master’s bidding…

I had very few niggles. The bad guys were one-dimensional, practically paper dolls. There were many things happening in the story and, in the end, I felt Leon and Ibrahim needed more page time on their own. There was a slight imbalance in their relationship which made me – not quite, but almost – uncomfortable at times. Maybe it was Ibrahim’s domineering personality, maybe the fact that this was Leon’s story above all, but I felt that more page time would have strengthen their connection in my eyes. There was also this misunderstanding between the two men about the leopards (no, I won’t tell you anything about the leopards) that was, in my opinion, resolved too quickly.

Tuareg is beautifully written, multilayered story and this review simply cannot touch every aspect of it (environmental or cultural for example). If Sarah Black decides to revisit these two men on their lovely island or tell us a story about Bazu one day, I will be the first in line to read it. Until then, I can wholeheartedly recommend you to experience her world on your own.

20 comments

  • I loved this so very, very much. Sarah Black rocks! I thought the dialogue was inspired- the mix of contemporary with this exotic world amazingly effective. Leon is now one of my favourite heros.

    Great review.

    Reply
    • Yes, Sarah Black definitely rocks. I think Bazu is competing for the title of my favorite character too.

      Thanks, Raine!

      Reply
  • I was quoting Sarah herself.

    This was meant to a reply to LadyM earlier comment re. “grandmotherly”, clearly I hit the wrong button.

    Reply
  • Must-have, certainly. The story is all the review promises and more.

    I loved Tiberius.

    He would have been my favourite character if it hadn’t been for that cushiony grandmotherly-looking nurse practitioner, who is apparently Sarah Black making a cameo appearance. I love any nurse who holds his/her victim’s hands after half a dozen nasty shots.

    Reply
    • Tiberius is one of the many highlights of this story.

      That’s a nice interpretation of the nurse character, although I’m not sure Sarah can qualify for grandmotherly. XD

      Reply
    • Hey, Feliz, I think you’ll really enjoy it! Zanzibar didn’t make it to my future (or imaginary) World Travel Map, until I’ve read this book. XD

      Let me know what you think. 🙂

      Reply
  • I loved this one, thank you for the review. You know the funny thing is that her writing can make me like something I usually won’t. The slight power imbalance? I usually do not it, but because as rdafan7 said I felt Leon was forceful in his quiet ways I enjoyed it. I do not like big difference in ages, I do NOT like virgin hero. I loved this story. Yes I want Bazu’s story too 🙂

    Reply
    • You know the funny thing is that her writing can make me like something I usually won’t.

      YES. She even made me like the guy who cheats on his boyfriend in one of her stories.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story. And, if I have to guess, Bazu will only make the guys’ lives more interesting once he sees some world. 😆

      Reply
  • I LOVED this story and highly recommend it also!

    I liked the dynamic between Leon and Ibrahim and felt that Leon needed someone to be the stronger one in the relationship. This did not mean that Leon was a wimp, I found him to be forceful but in a quiet way.

    I hope Sarah will revisit these two, maybe on their desert crossing? And bring Bazu along!

    Reply
    • rdafan, I’m glad you liked the book.

      Oh, I don’t think Leon is a wimp and I, kind of, agree with you – for the time being. But, part of me wanted the reassurance that their relationship will be more equal in the future.

      I hope Sarah will revisit these two, maybe on their desert crossing? And bring Bazu along!

      Absolutely, YES! 😀

      Reply

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