A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: This witty and at times hysterically funny story takes the reader on an adventurous journey through a mystic AU Amazonian jungle against the backdrop of a low-keyed, serious message.
The Blurb: Three years out of grad school, anthropologist Adrian Thornapple is still stuck in that “temporary” office job. When his former mentor invites him on a rainforest expedition, he says he can’t. He has obligations. He has security. He has…a dead neighbor on his doorstep? It seems she’s fallen victim to a new and deadly designer drug shipping up from the rainforest. Accused of involvement in her death, Adrian suddenly comprehends that life is short, civilized doesn’t mean “safe,” and that he should follow his dreams.
Captain Thomas Ferrell hates the supernatural. When the Army kicks him out for weird behavior, he signs on with paranormal investigators Borderless Observers Org. Three missions in, Tom’s learned BOO does a lot more than observe. And that their paranormal investigators really are paranormal investigators. Sent to stop a drug operation in the Amazon basin, he’s unwillingly shapeshifted into a huge black jaguar. He believes he must regain his humanity before he can complete his mission. Is he wrong?
Adrian’s expedition morphs into a nightmare of illegal drugs, slave labor, and a terrifying quest through the rainforest and the spirit world. Worse yet, his companion and protector is a giant man-eating jaguar with whom he might be falling in love!
The Review: By any rights, Adrien Thornapple should be exploring foreign cultures and taking sensational pictures of hidden historical treasures. He’s a man of many talents, more open to the unusual and outlandish than most, a brilliant anthropologist and photojournalist with a knack for languages and an unique talent of coping with onerous living conditions. But he’s stuck with a job as a HR specialist which he had taken on in order to pay the bills. When his old mentor, Doctor Socrates Kawasaki, invites him on an expedition to the Amazonas jungle, Adrian is reluctant to give up his relative safety. Then he finds his young, pregnant neighbour on his doorstep, dying from a new designer drug, Indigo. The shocking experience makes Adrian think twice about his life, and he decides to accept Doc Soc’s offer.
On the flight from his native Canada to South America, Adrian happens upon attractive ex military-man Thomas Ferrell. A chance meeting in the waiting line for the airplane’s bathroom, some convenient turbulences and an immediate attraction lead to a hot, passionate and mutually satisfying sexual encounter which leaves Tom with a smile and a fond memory. The former US Army Captain could use a little brightness in his life. Dismissed from the military after an harrowing incident involving paranormal powers and left without a perspective, Tom reluctantly joined B.O.O. but insisted on only taking on “normal” missions and refused to team up with his many paranormal colleagues. This was the reason he ended up on his own with his current mission, delivering a serious warning to the drug producers in the columbian rainforest and putting an end to their business if they don’t heed his advice. It’s quite the task for one man alone, even if Tom wasn’t distracted by seeing the very man he joined the mile-high club with in apparent association with his enemies. To his relief, he finds out not much later that Adrian is an innocent victim.
Adrian, though, is the one who finds himself enslaved to making Indigo alongside his old mentor and an entire village’s worth of natives. He manages to escape one stormy night when a huge black jaguar breaks into the drug factory. Cornered by the slavers, Adrian takes up the fight. But once again the huge black jaguar butts in, killing Adrian’s pursuers. Scared by the beast, Adrian falls into a river. How surprised is he when he wakes up at all, even more so finding himself in a hidden cave, in the company of the same beast which has scared him so? What’s more, the jaguar doesn’t show any inclination to attack Adrian, instead showing almost human understanding. No wonder, since the jaguar is none other than Tom, involuntarily shifted into this form, apparently by a native shaman called Chaj.
It takes a while for Adrian to truely believe this, despite Tom’s efforts to communicate with him. It helps that Tom and Adrian apparently share each other’s dreams. Adrian’s topmost priority is freeing the slaves, but he knows he can’t even find his way back to the factory on his own, much less do the rescue. He needs Tom, the man. Likewise, Tom needs to change back, and soon, since he feels his humanity slowly slip away the longer he stays in cat form, despite the dream conversations with Adrian, which, by the way, end in dream sex more often than not. Following the pointers Chaj gives them in their dreams and Tom’s instincts, the strange pair goes on an adventurous quest for a mystic temple where, according to Chaj, they will find a way to change Tom back.
This story was an original approach at the old shapeshifter theme, brimming with scurrile people, quirky ideas, wickedly hilarious incidents and brilliant word games. The worldbuilding was a stroke of genius, with a reality not too far away from our own, except for a bunch of supernatural beings, which nevertheless mostly exist outside most people’s everyday experience. But this slight angle made the perfect backdrop for the more mystic ways of the rainforest natives, which were artfully pictured to a point where I almost came to accept they could exist in our reality as well. At times, the tone of the narrative changes to serious, particularly when dealing with issues like slave work, drug trade, rainforest destruction, but this was done in a sensible way and never turned to preaching. Instead, it kept the story from dropping into a mere hilarious romp à la “Romancing the Stone”, lending it more depth (although there were several tongue-in-cheek referrals to Indiana Jones & Co. ) Unfortunately, the author borrowed another trick from Dr. Jones, too , at times using convenient shortcuts in order to solve insolveable situations; on more than one occasion, even the fantasy reality was stretched a little too thin to hold up.
Both Adrian and Tom were great, memorable characters, full-fleshed with their own oddities. Adrian, who used to be a little gullible and kind of a drifter, had to cope with the most sinister living circumstances and find his own way and inner strength. Tom, so set in his ways and self-relying had to learn to trust and open his mind. I loved the balance in their relationship, the way they took care of one another in turn. Although Tom was more of an alpha male, Adrian held his ground to him, making them equal partners despite the fact that Tom was a pony-sized predator most of the time. Not even the sexual attraction between them suffered from the latter fact, since it built through their dreams, where they met as humans. The story led both of them through considerable character growth towards an entirely satisfying and, in the context, believable ending. I was reluctant to leave them behind.
I highly recommend this funny and entertaining read.