Young Australian Micah Johnson is the first AFL player to be out at the beginning of his career. Retired professional football player Declan Tyler mentors Micah, but he finds it difficult, as Micah is prone to making poor life choices that land him in trouble. Nothing Dec can’t handle. He’s been there, done that, more times than he’d like to admit. Being Simon Murray’s partner all these years has Dec quite experienced in long-suffering and mishaps.
As usual, Simon thinks everything is going along just fine until his assistant, Coby, tells him a secret involving an old nemesis. Simon and Dec’s problems mash together, and to solve them, they must undertake a thousand-kilometer round trip in which issues will have to be sorted out, apologies are finally given, and a runaway kid is retrieved and returned to his worried parents.
Dear Sean Kennedy,
Both Sirius and I were so happy to see that you were working on a new romance in your Tigers and Devils series. Independently, we bought it on the day of release and read it that first week. Rather than arm-wrestle through the internet to decide who got to review it, we’re doing a joint review.
Sirius: The first book in this series was and still is one of my favorite m/m romances of all time. I liked the sequel, Tigerland, a little less but definitely enjoyed it enough to one click this book almost the second I saw it was out. I am happy to report that I liked it better than the second one and almost as much as the first one.
It was a pleasure to see how far both Dec and Simon have come in their relationship. One of the first questions I asked a book buddy at Amazon group was whether Dec and Simon break up during the course of the book. If the answer had been yes, I would have approached the story with a much more cautious mindset. Of course a long term couple can break up temporarily or permanently, but especially in fiction, I expect that the reason for the break up would be much stronger than what I usually get in an m/m book. I expect a mature couple to be able to deal with small everyday conflicts without storming out on each other. I also realize that the story does not exist without the conflict, however once again, after Dec and Simon had been together for eight years, I was hoping that they learned how to diffuse their disagreements, how to argue and stay together.
Sunita: I totally agree on this. One of the great pleasures of this installment was seeing (not just being told about it, but seeing in the story) how Simon and Declan had progressed and become comfortable with each other. You can trust someone in a new and healthy relationship, but the kind of trust you have when you’ve been together and weathered storms for a while is different. Their relationship shows that difference, especially compared to the previous installments of the series.
Sirius: I am happy to report that for me the book delivered on that front in spades. Of course the guys get into some disagreements – there were two main challenges life threw at them in this book. One was how to deal with Simon’s long term nemesis (and readers of the series know his name, but because blurb does not name him I am going to stay quiet just in case) who became and who was likely to remain, a permanent fixture in their lives. Another challenge was to help Micah, the young man named in the blurb whom Declan was mentoring and who was lashing out at everybody around him including Declan and Simon.
Sunita: I was quite intrigued to see how The Nemesis was going to be dealt with, because he was so awful in the earlier installments. We got a sense of him as a person in Tigerland, but of course we were still totally on Simon and Declan’s side. Now we have to accept him as a potential member of a group we’ve grown very fond of over the books, and how on earth is he going to make us do that?
I liked the way this dilemma was handled. The Nemesis doesn’t undergo a personality transplant, but he becomes more multi-dimensional, and we see him accept some of his failings. I don’t trust him yet, but we all have people we have to accept for the sake of those we care about, whether we want to or not. I appreciated that by the end of the book I believed in his good intentions (but I’ll be watching him closely!).
Sirius: Simon narrates the book again, and of course he still whines sometimes (I am calling this a whine, but I really do love his voice, always did), but it is obvious that he has matured a lot since the first book – of course he is annoyed that his “nemesis” is back and he may have to be civil toward him and vice versa. And he is annoyed when Declan tells him that he may just have to learn to deal, but he does that because he wants to see his friend happy and his partner happy and he does admit to feeling sorry towards his “nemesis” (I keep putting the nemesis in quotes not because I disagree that the other guy did do shitty stuff, but because he really did not feel like one in this book to me). And it is not like Declan is perfect and all forgiving, he admits to not being able to forgive the past deeds that fast himself.
Sunita: Simon’s voice is really distinctive, and he does complain a lot. In Tigerland I occasionally got tired of him, and there were some points in the middle of this story when I was mentally thinking, “enough already, you’re old enough to deal with this crap better by now.” But in the latter parts of the book he does much less of this; he really does grow and come to terms with the things he doesn’t like but can’t change.
Sirius: Dealing with Micah was just so hard, because the kid was not being too kind initially and even when he responded a little better, I could see that some abrasiveness from him was to be expected. And of course Simon and Dec had disagreements about Micah mostly because Simon wanted to protect Declan and another friend from things that came from Micah’s mouth which were more cruel than he probably realized himself. I really liked that the guys argued but came out stronger and that Simon’s kindness won the time of the day eventually.
Sunita: The Micah storyline worked well for me. I wanted Declan to have a meaningful post-football career, and he seems to be enjoying this one. It also brings a different generation into the story, and the way that Micah and Simon learned to relate to each other was nicely done. And the kinds of conflicts that Simon and Dec had over Micah felt very realistic; they had different approaches, as couples often do when it comes to children and teenagers. But they worked them out.
“He kissed me. “I’m sorry.”
“You’ve already said that. And I am sorry for saying you never take my side.”
“Yeah, that pretty much shat me off.”
“And I was very upset.”
“You know, you could have said that without running away.”
“I know. But I needed fresh air.”
“And then I found myself driving to Micah’s house.”
New development! “So, you were pissed off at me, and rather than talk to me, you decided to look for Micah and talk to him instead?”
“I needed to replace one stress with another one.”
“That sounds logical.”
“I hate fighting with you. It becomes… overwhelming. And I can’t breathe. So I have to do something and let time pass before I can deal with it.”
“How come you only have to do that with me? You’re so good at dealing with everybody else’s shit.”
“You really need me to explain it?”
“Because you’re the thing I love the most in the world, you idiot. There’s a whole set of other emotions there.”
“That’s actually kind of romantic.”
“I’m glad you think so.”
I snuggled in closer to him.
“We’re never going to stop being stupid about each other, are we?”
“Good. Just checking.”
Sirius: What amused me a lot is how at some point both of them realize that they are turning into each other . Declan sometimes says more sarcastic and blunt stuff as Simon did/still does and Simon mellowed out a bit because presumably he took over some of Declan’s personality traits.
This was such a comfort read for me. Not a guilty pleasure, because I think it was a lovely well written book, but definitely a comfort one and potential many times reread.
And yes, I was going all mushy in the ending, I loved what happened. Grade B+
Sunita: Oh, that ending! I am not a sentimental person, to put it mildly, but I loved how Kennedy had Simon and Declan reaffirm and solidify their relationship while still reminding us that Australia is way behind when it comes to same-sex marriage. It was both clever and satisfying. This is absolutely a comfort read, both because I know I’m in good hands and because I’ve grown really attached to the whole crew (Fran and Roger are back but in supporting roles, and even Nessa makes a brief and intriguing appearance).
I wouldn’t advise a new reader of the series to begin here, but like you, Sirius, Tigers and Devils is one of my favorite romances ever. So if you haven’t read the previous installments, start with the first and be sure to keep reading until you get to this one! Grade: B+