Forest of Thorns and Claws
A well-researched novel about conservation and tiger shifters in Sumatra, J.T. Hall’s Forest of Thorns and Claws highlights the destruction and cruelty caused by greed, poaching, stupidity and deforestation in a supposedly protected rainforest.
The main character, Donovan McGinnis, is a vet with English parents who are also conservationists. As a child, he travelled around the world with them and has followed in their footsteps, now working at an animal research and rescue centre in a national park in Sumatra. Whilst accompanying workers from the centre as they remove the endless poachers’ snares and animal traps, Donovan is bitten and licked by a trapped tigress. They struggle to get the injured animal back to the centre while being watched by a young male tiger hidden in the undergrowth.
Back at the centre, they work to patch up the tigress’ injuries and put her in a caged enclosure to recover. But Donovan begins to feel very ill and dreams of chasing animals in the rainforest and feels hungry for meat and blood.
The tiger who discreetly follows them back to the centre is Kersen, a male tiger shifter and brother of Gemi, the wounded tigress. He is desperate to find and rescue his sister, not because he fears these men will hurt her – they are known as good men and conservationists – but because he is worried that his sister will bite someone and infect them, jeopardising all the tiger shifters who inhabit the national park in that part of Sumatra.
This is not Kersen’s or the Harimau jadian shifter clan’s only problem. A large corporation is trying to obtain permission from the local government to buy a huge swathe of the rainforest intending to clear and replant the jungle with palm oil trees. The destruction of their homeland brings the danger of discovery more likely for the shifters’ hidden village and way of life, as well as possible extinction to the already endangered natural Sumatran tigers.
Kersen finds out that Donovan has already been infected and is starting to display the signs of shifting into a tiger for the first time. He has to get Donovan away from the other humans at the centre and then work out how to free his sister. It becomes clear from their first meeting that there is an intense attraction between Donovan and Kersen and although the ‘mates for life’ trope is a little overdone these days, the author handles it well. The problems I had were more to do with the difference in age, experience, and culture between Kersen and Donovan.
The plot and storylines regarding conservation, the tiger shifters’ plight and the hidden village were really enjoyable to read. Both plot and narrative are very convincing and evocative and, as a reader, I was transported to a rainforest in Sumatra. But the romance didn’t totally work for me and unfortunately, although the author had researched the tigers and conservation side very well she had not researched how fairly young British men speak.
The language is very stilted and even during sex, Donovan tends to use the word ‘cripes’- which is incredibly outdated. It was suggested to me it’s the sort of word that only Stephen Fry or someone in the 1930s would use! As a reader and review from the UK, I find this again and again; that non-UK authors simply don’t bother to check their dialogue with a native speaker. This problem also applies to Kersen, a twenty-year-old Sumatran boy from a hidden jungle village whose language veered from sophisticated banter to something a little above pigeon English.
The final straw for me was the section below –
“So what do you want to do as a career, Kersen? I’m sitting here thinking and like a ponce I realized I barely know anything about you.”
Firstly, the word ‘ponce’ is hardly used any more and when it is, usually a person is referring to another as acting affected in some way that is slightly idiotic. So this doesn’t fit in with the sentence. Secondly, it is also a derogatory term for a gay or effeminate man and it also means someone who lives off immoral earnings, which makes it doubly wrong to have one gay man refer to himself as a ‘ponce’ when talking to his lover in a gay romance.
This is a good story, the writing is fine and I applaud the desire to raise issues regarding conservation of ancient rainforests. I also enjoyed the premise of using a story about tiger shifters to do so. Perhaps readers who aren’t from the UK – or aren’t as picky as I am – will be able to enjoy this novel without cringing at some of the language used.