Author: Bonnie Dee
Reviewed by: Asabat
Publisher: Carina Press, audio edition by Harlequin Enterprises and Audible, Inc.
Genre: M/M Historical
Narrator: Philip Rose
Audio Length: eight hours and fifty-five minutes
About my ratings: Readers and reviewers alike must recognize that not every book is meant for everyone, and book reviews must be objective—not the subjective vitriol too often found on the internet. I only rate books that I’ve enjoyed; I see no reason for writing a lukewarm or negative review of any novel that’s “not for me.” End of 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.
A chance encounter with the savage, whom James calls “Michael,” leads to games 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 James’ and Michael’s passionate bond.
Jungle Heat is great beach or poolside reading. WARNING: gentlemen, it’s not advisable to read this novel in public while wearing minimal swimming trunks. Why? The main characters and love scenes are HOT. (Woof!)
Michael, one of the aforementioned hotties, is a blue-eyed “wild thang,” who makes Tarzan look like a sissy. Michael has spent years surviving in the jungle through his strength and wits. Warning to the Squeamish: Michael dines on wild fruits, leaves, lizards, termites, slugs and newborn mice.
Michael becomes even hotter after his mentor, Oxford anthropologist James Litchfield, the story’s Scottish hotty, teaches the “wild man” to speak English, rather than communicating with ape-like grunts, hoots and screeches. (Michael’s missionary parents died in the jungle; he becomes a feral child who’s reared by a gorilla tribe.)
When Michael carries a very ill James back to camp, the expedition’s leader, Sir Louis Rutherford, locks Michael in a cage, planning to turn the wild man into “the toast of the jaded elite.” Upon recovering from malaria, James convinces Rutherford to allow him to continue to teach Michael enough to become integrated in society. Rutherford reluctantly agrees, telling James, “I don’t want him pissing on someone’s drawing room floor.” Rutherford ships the “wild man” and the expedition party back to London. The now smitten James battles to protect Michael from the Oxford professors who want to lock him away for scientific study, and from Sir Louis Rutherford, who has plans to put Michael on display like a carnival freak.
As they steam back to Great Britain, James continues to teach Michael the basics he’ll need for living in London. The physical attraction between Michael and James (closeted, of course) boils over aboard ship. I’ll stop here to avoid spoilers, but will add that there’s a wonderfully wicked twist dead ahead, other surprises that I did not see coming, as well as the anticipated custody battle over Michael.
Bonnie Dee’s writing is engrossing, as she depicts the British Empire’s expansionist worldview, and the Brits’ “forever rule the waves” thing. The pace is perfect, her plot points are clever and memorable; the narratives and dialogues are exceptionally vivid.
Narrator Philip Rose shifts seamlessly from the late-nineteenth century voices of British aristocracy, academia, and a Cockney barmaid, to a perfectly understandable Scottish burr. BTW, that latter thing is not often accomplished by narrators.
Jungle Heat is escapist reading at its very best, and highly recommended. Now, pick up a copy, get to the beach or a pool, and stretch-out on a chaise longue for an enjoyable read or listen. And wear something decent! If you wish to call attention to yourself, just repeatedly hum “Rule Britannia” while you’re reading this grand M/M novel.