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.
When I first started reading male/male romance, I constantly saw references to Sean Kennedy's Tigers and Devils. Many bloggers that I respect and admire mentioned how much they enjoyed this story so I put it on my to-read shelf. Then I promptly forgot about it until just a few weeks ago when I saw reviews of its sequel, Tigerland. These reviews, and the ones for the prequel, were very telling and I decided to buy Tigers and Devils on the spot. And I am so glad I did for this book has almost everything I love about male/male romance and romance in general: relatable characters, sweet love story, humor, and plenty of drama to keep me interested.
The main character and narrator of this book is Simon Murray, the director of a small film festival in Australia. As the summary explains, Simon is lonely, but hesitant about taking the plunge into a serious relationship. This stems from his own self-esteem issues paired with general complacency with his life. I thought Simon was a fabulous narrator. He is funny in a snarky, self-deprecating way and extremely relatable. I absolutely loved his quirky outlooks on life and love and really enjoyed watching him fall in love.
Declan Tyler, the other protagonist, is a famous Australian Rules Football (AFL) player who is hesitant to reveal his sexuality to this uber-masculine world. I thought Dec was a great counterpart for Simon. He is strong and sweet, but has a definite vulnerability when it comes to keeping his privacy. There are definitely emotional issues in Dec's personality associated with his hiding of his sexuality as well as some damaging past relationships.
Together Simon and Declan are magic. They are not perfect people, but they just work so well together. I love reading opposites attract stories so this was right up my alley. They both are required to work hard at keeping their relationship strong which was a joy to watch. At the end of the day, their devotion to each other is very admirable and sweet.
Another thing I loved about Tigers and Devils is the side characters that pepper the landscape. They are all given deep personalities that provide great balance to the love story. The couples of Abe/Lisa and Fran/Roger give nice parallels to Simon/Declan while also giving them something to aspire to. Simon's assistant Nyssa was an absolute hoot and her back-and-forth conversations with him were some real highlights.
The general plot is nothing out of the ordinary: guy meets guy at party, they fall in love, drama happens, etc. But, what I think makes this book special (beyond the great characters) is the setting. It takes place in the world of Australian Rules Football which is very unique. I will admit that I knew absolutely nothing about AFL before reading this and am still not sure how much knowledge I really gained, but this did not impede my enjoyment one bit. Overall, it actually provided some real-world drama for our heroes and really put their relationship in perspective.
All in all, I absolutely fell in love with this book and its characters. I felt like I really got to know Simon, Declan, Nyssa, Lisa, Abe, Fran, and Roger through the course of the story which is always a plus for me. The romance was sweet and dramatic without ever feeling over-the-top. If you have ever thought about trying a male/male romance, I definitely recommend this one as a starter because of its humor and tender moments. Also, while there is definite sexual chemistry and adult language, the sensuality is pretty low-key which might help any newbies to this genre.
Tigers & Devils
1. Tigers and Devils