Tigers and Devils
Dreamspinner Press, March 2009
Genre & Keywords: Contemporary, M/M Romance, Sports, Coming Out, Film, Australia
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 1 out of 3 flames
I’ve read this M/M romance for the DIK Challenge, it’s a full length novel and I bought it as an ebook (my pdf-file has 605 pages but the paperback about 360).
This is one of my High 5, Low 5 reviews. The High Five are five things that have impressed me or that I really enjoyed, and the Low Five are five things that had me shaking my head in a less admiring way.
Every once in a while you read a book that you don’t want to finish because you’re not ready yet to ‘live’ without the characters you’ve just learned to know and love. Tigers and Devils is such a book for me! The main characters Simon and Declan and almost all of the secondary characters as well, have become so dear to me while I was reading their story, that I just wanted to keep reading about them. Knowing at the same time that when I did do that, their story would come to an end… So I managed to slow down a little, but not much, and in the end I finished their story way too soon. Now all I have left is trying to convince others to read Tigers and Devils so that I can talk about Simon and Declan a little bit more with other people.
Football, friends, and film are the most important parts of Simon Murray's life, likely in that order. Despite being lonely, Simon is cautious about looking for more, and his best friends despair of him ever finding that special someone to share his life. Against his will, they drag him to a party, where Simon barges into a football conversation and ends up defending the honour of star forward Declan Tyler -- unaware that the athlete is present and listening.
Like his entire family, Simon revels in living in Melbourne, Victoria, the home of Australian Rules football and mecca for serious fans. There, players are deemed gods and treated as such – until they do something to cause them to fall out of public favour. Declan is suffering a horrendous year of injuries, and the public is taking him to task for it, so Simon's support is a bright spot in his struggles. In that first awkward meeting, neither man has any idea they will change each other's lives forever.
As Simon and Declan fumble toward building a relationship together, there is yet another obstacle in their way: keeping Declan's homosexuality a secret amidst the intrusion of well-meaning friends and an increasingly suspicious media. They realise that nothing remains hidden forever… and they know the situation will only become more complicated when Declan's private life is revealed. Declan will be forced to make some tough choices that may result in losing either the career he loves or the man he wants. And Simon has never been known to make things easy – for himself or for others.
• Simon as the narrator
I love Sean Kennedy’s choice to voice this love story through Simon. He’s a brilliant narrator. I’m usually not a big fan of first person narratives, although I’m learning to appreciate them more and more after reading L.B. Gregg’s and Josh Lanyon’s stories. But in Tigers and Devils it’s really Simon’s voice that made me fall in love with the book (and with him as a side effect). He’s witty, funny, self mocking and perceptive in telling his and Declan’s love story. He knows he can be stubborn and a drama queen but he can’t help himself. He’s constantly commenting on his own narrative, like when he and Declan first kiss:
I was surprised that he tasted like beer, but at the good point, before it becomes stale and a little rank. I know I’m not exactly selling the romanticism here, but I was pleasantly thrilled by it at the time.But most of all he had me laughing out loud all the time with very short intervals at times, like the next two quotes on the same page, not far apart from each other:
“So what are you going to wear?”(Btw I think I would find this type of joke less amusing in a M/F romance then in this story)
I looked at her, wondering if she thought I had suddenly grown a vagina in the past five minutes. “Clothes.”
She sighed. “Men.”
And a few lines further down the page:
I pictured myself trying to be cool and debonair over coffee with Declan – and then falling comatose into my latte and drowning before him.
He was a footballer; he had quick reflexes. Hopefully his resuscitation skills would be just as good.
Simon is also the foot in his mouth kinda guy. That’s actually how he and Declan met and what Declan liked about him. At the party where they first ran into each other Simon is defending Declan’s honor as a football player in the same sentence in which he calls him an arrogant prick. He didn’t know Declan was listening of course. But later on in their relationship this type of honesty still occurs and causes a few more embarrassing moments. Luckily for Simon, Declan finds this all refreshing and cute.
• Great sub characters
I like a story in which the protags are not some lonesome cowboys but have a good supportive group of friends and/or family. And both Simon and Declan have wonderful friends. Especially Simon’s best friends Roger and Fran (Roger’s wife) are very well developed, three-dimensional characters. It was a joy to read about Simon and Roger’s little squabbles and bigger fights. And Fran is just a woman after my own heart, she is great: sweet, funny, loyal and honest. Roger and Fran have their counterparts in Declan’s friends Abe and Lisa. Not as three-dimensional as Roger and Fran, because we only get Simon’s POV and not Declan’s, but as important to Declan.
• Declan’s attitude as outed gay footballer
Declan is a famous football player and as such has to deal with a lot of publicity. Media are hunting him down and eventually it’s a journalist who outs him as being gay. He stayed in the closet for a long time because of his profession and he also wants to keep his relation with Simon a secret. They manage to do that for a long time, until Declan lets his guards down when his father is hospitalized and looks for consolation from Simon, in a semi-public space. But after he’s outed, he gracefully accepts this fact, makes a public statement and doesn’t hide his sexuality any longer. Where Simon stays careful with public display of affection, Declan is way more carefree. He’s acting like a freed and proud man and never wants to hide in the closet again. I found him refreshing because of this attitude. It would have been so easy for Sean Kennedy to build some story tension with a different attitude from Declan, but the author didn’t chose for this simple way. He derived some tension from another issue between the guys. I loved Declan for his cool, controlled passion. And in between he came across as a funny guy as well. For example, when Simon tells him after a public kiss that he should be more careful, Declan responds with:
“Oh.” Declan clicked his fingers sarcastically. “I didn’t know, because I wasn’t given the queer handbook when I came out. Is there a number I can call to get one sent to me?”
“It’s like cats and hunting. It’s intuitive.”
“So you’re saying I’m a lousy cat?”
• The football rave
This book wouldn’t be the same without the love for football. It plays an important role in Simon’s life even before Declan starts to become part of it. Simon and Roger are huge fans of two different football teams, which causes some friendly rivalry between them. At one point it becomes an important symbol for their relationship when Roger shows up at a game without his infamous team scarf. Simon understands why and tells him to be proud of his team and buys him a new scarf, which is a big deal because even to have to touch the rival team's scarf is unthinkable. But for his friend he’s willing to bring this sacrifice.
The title of the book refers to the passion for football as well. Simon is a fan of the Tigers and Declan plays for the Devils.
• Beyond the HEA
I was pleasantly surprised that this story didn’t end at the point that most love stories end but took us a little bit further into the relationship. And there was some tension added in that part that made my heart wrench for those two fabulous guys. The book is structured like a football match in 4 quarters (I don’t know anything about Australian football, so I had no idea that there would be a fourth part, but I could tell by the amount of pages left that the story wasn’t at its end by far). The extra ‘playtime’ provided a good insight in their relationship which came across as very realistic, with ups and downs.
• The love scenes
I can’t find more than one thing that I can call a Low, because there actually weren’t many in this book that are worth mentioning. If I have to name one - but it didn’t even make me shake my head or raise my eyebrows - it is that the love scenes were a bit tame and not very present. I wouldn’t have minded if the sex had been a wee bit hotter.
Those were my five highs and one low. I guess it’s obvious that I totally loved Tigers and Devils! It was a fabulous read, a heartwarming love story and an ode to friendship and football. I completely fell in love with Simon and developed a little crush on Declan too. This story gives an excellent impression of a gay relationship that has to deal with publicity, media and fame. And shows how it can be to come out of the closet, deal with a new way of public life and handle the communication with your partner in the midst of all this. Tigers and Devils made my Favorites of 2010 list for sure.
BTW There's a free story at Sean Kennedy's website that features Simon and Declan in the Tigers and Devils setting. Thanks Chris for mentioning that!