A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: An interesting historical romance that is a m/m take on the Tarzan story.
Congo Free State, 1888
On a mission deep in the jungle, Oxford anthropologist James Litchfield comes face-to-face with a local legend: a wild man who wanders with mountain gorillas and lives as one of their own.
The chance encounter with the savage, whom James calls Michael, leads to a game of observation and exploration. Their mutual curiosity turns to an attraction—one that Michael has never experienced and James is desperate to deny.
When members of the expedition unearth James’s secret discovery—a living specimen of man at his most primitive—Michael becomes a pawn in their quest for fame.
As their relationship deepens, James is compelled to protect Michael from the academics who would treat him as nothing more than a scientific acquisition and London society, which threatens to destroy their passionate bond…
Jungle Heat is the first book by this author that I’ve read. It’s a pretty classic Tarzan tale with a twist, where the jungle man and his discoverer fall in love. While I can’t speak to the historical accuracy nor the controversy over the raping of the southern continents by the British, and though I had a few niggles, I liked the story just fine as a romance. I would now consider reading other books by her.
James is on an academic expedition deep in the Congo jungle when he is saved from a leopard attack by a man who has obviously been raised outside of civilization. Intent on finding the jungle man again, he sets out to befriend, learn all there is about and teach he whom he dubs Michael. Odd One (Michael) has known for a very long time that he is not like the Others, the group of gorillas who raised him. Generally ignored, he is forced to live on the fringe of the clan and is reminded daily that he is different. In Sky Eyes (James), he finds someone with whom he belongs. Although their interaction turns to attraction, James doesn’t want to give in to the desire for Michael for a number of reasons and tries to reject Michael at every turn. James keeps Michael a secret from the rest of the team for as long as possible, but an unfortunate situation forces Michael into the light and into the hands of greedy men looking to make a fortune and name for themselves. Though James tries to make it better, he holds no power on the team and cannot change the course of events. As they make their way back to England, James tries to prepare Michael for what is in store for them. Michael is intent on having James as his mate, wearing down the other man’s defenses and pressuring a consummation of their relationship. After they arrive in London, James denies further intimate involvement with Michael while trying to make sure he isn’t completely exploited to varying degrees of success, as well as making him ready for his upcoming custody hearing.
Jungle Heat is told via third-person POV that alternates between the two men, which I thought was successful. We are privy to both men’s thoughts, and we are able to clearly see, for example, James’ concern about Michael and his treatment from both the men looking to exploit him and society in general. I thought it was made very clear that both men have felt like they’ve been alone most of their lives — James because of his orientation and Michael because he wasn’t an ape — and that in each other they’ve found what they’re looking for.
I found the beginning of the book especially interesting as James and Michael try to work around their communication issues and James tries to teach Michael. I liked watching the two attempting to work out what the other wants and means, and Michael’s refreshing views on life as someone without the trappings of society as we would have known it at the time.
Conflict comes in the form of that which is external — the greedy bastards who want to exploit Michael — and internally, from James and his concerns over their relationship, and Michael, when he believes that James has betrayed him or is holding out on him needlessly.
There is quite a bit of sexual chemistry between our heroes, especially at the beginning, and the smexxin scenes are pretty steamy. While James is essentially a beta character, Michael is definitely an alpha, particularly after spending the majority of his life with gorillas and watching the at-times taking of mates. He has no social demands to conform to and has no shame when it comes to sex, and has difficulty understanding why he cannot have what he wants. Regarding the romance, I had some concerns about Michael’s understanding of the concept of love — that he was very much about desire and physical needs instead of the emotion behind it — but in the end I bought that these two had a strong bond and were meant to be together.
I felt that there were times that Odd One/Michael — especially in the beginning — used words in his thoughts that I don’t think he would/could have known to have given a name to (i.e. some objects, words for colors, sex). Even with the intelligence Michael obviously has, I doubt he would know what the words “blade,” “blue,” “brown” or “sex” were. For example, there is a sentence in the beginning:
His hair was brown.
I would have thought he would have said something like “His hair was the color of mud,” like he does in other parts of the story (“hard water—a mirror [James] called it”).
Lastly, something minor that jumped out at me: in the scene that brings James and Michael together for the first time — a leopard attack — the author refers to a big cat as a jaguar. Jaguars are only found in the Americas (southern North, Central and South).
Those looking for a historical romance involving two people from very different worlds coming together should pick up this story.