REVIEW: Jungle Heat by Bonnie Dee
Dear Ms. Dee:
I’m really excited about the fact that Carina has three m/m romances in their opening month line-up and I was extra-excited that you’d written a m/m Tarzan revisioning. All I can say now is that I really hope Carina’s other two m/m romances can redeem this book.
James Litchfield is part of an 1888 expedition to the Congo in Africa. As an anthropologist, he’s thrilled to find a man who has been brought up by gorillas. He hides his discovery from the rest of the expedition, though, sneaking away to spend time with the man he dubs Michael, teaching him words, and falling in love with him, and having sex with him. His secrecy is rendered moot, however, when he succumbs to malaria while out with Michael, who carries him back into camp and is captured. The rest of the story tells of their journey back to England, Michael’s exploitation at the hands of the man who funded the expedition, James’ struggles both to help Michael survive and to stay away from him sexually and emotionally because he thinks he should, and finally the custody hearing about Michael’s future.
As an academic educated in the post-colonial tradition, I was first intensely uncomfortable with the facile way the story presented — or, more accurately, made passive reference to but mostly ignored — the massive problems with British “scientific” exploration in places like the Congo in the nineteenth century. I tried hard to convince myself that a text told from the perspective of one of the 1888-set characters wouldn’t be able to recognize the terrible damage done to African people and places alike by British feelings of cultural superiority and superior fire power. But as I got further into the book, I realized that everything was facilely written. Nothing went deep, nothing was truly discussed or examined, nothing MEANT anything.
Also, an 1888-set text shouldn’t have James musing about his “homosexuality,” considering the word was first published in English in 1895 in a translation of von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, which itself was only published in German in 1886. As scientific as James may be, I really don’t think he’d think about his sexuality *as* a “sexuality” — that is, as a sexual *identity* — or be calling himself “a homosexual” in 1888. This bugged the crap out of me.
But the facile writing and the bad research were themselves symptoms of the overall issue that the book seemed to be a puppet play motivated solely by plot elements. Go back and read that plot summary — it’s all about what happened, not what the characters felt. James must find Michael, so let’s direct puppet James over into clearing to be attacked by a leopard so Michael could save him. Puppet James would logically feel X in a particular situation, so let’s tell the reader that he’s feeling X. There’s almost no showing in this book — it’s all telling. And that much telling just gets tedious. Very quickly.
It was also just sloppy. At one point, Michael, who can read body language better than anyone else, tells James that one of his colleagues is sad:
James through back over Blake’s behavior during the meal and realized his usual river of speech had been somewhat dammed and his great appetite had diminished. “You’re rigth. He does seem upset about something. I wonder what it is.”
He would be certain to ask Blake. It suddenly occured to him he gave very little thought to the particulars of Blake’s life when the man had proven a trusty and valuable friend. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”
And that was it. He didn’t talk to him, or at least, we didn’t hear about it. And it’s like that again and again. You need to show that Michael is perceptive, so you have him talk about Blake. It’s logical that James wonder what’s wrong with him, so he does. But because nothing has any emotional weight at all, you never bring it up again. That’s the most egregious and obvious example, but it’s a problem throughout the book that none of the characters’ actions mean anything beyond the 10 pages or so in which they happen.
And there’s no internal conflict. At all. Oh, every now and then James gets an attack of conscience about his “homosexuality” or about his interference in Michael’s life, but these men fall in love very quickly, they have sex, they enjoy each other. There are no internal barriers to overcome on either side and the external barriers…while not forced, are all just puppet emotions: James/Michael SHOULD feel this, so let’s tell the reader he feels this, but, again, it doesn’t MEAN anything because these men are just puppets.
So, no internal conflict, all telling and no showing, bad research, no MEANING…purpose…theme, no emotional weight or repercussions, and no artistry whatsoever or anything other than by-the-numbers logical plot points that are obviously the results of a “What if…Tarzan were a m/m story instead?!” thought on the author’s part: add all this together and this book was really awful. The idea was great, but rather than figure out what the situation would MEAN to the men, you just directed them through the motions of the plot. I couldn’t figure out how far I needed to read into it to be able, in all good conscience, to give it a DNF review, so I actually read the whole thing. ::shudder:: As such, I therefore feel perfectly justified giving it a D. Not an F: it wasn’t actively ridiculous or contrary to all good taste or immoral, which are my criteria for an F. It was just boring as shit and frustrating, because it could have been so good.
And I think I’m probably not going to try to read any of your books again. We don’t mesh.