Published: September 2018 by Orenda Books
Category: Contemporary Gay Fiction, Romance, Book Review
Long ago Andrew made a childhood wish. One he has always kept in a silver box with a too-big lid that falls off. When it finally comes true, he wishes it hadn’t…
Long ago Ben dreamed of going to Africa to volunteer at a lion reserve. When he finally goes there, it isn’t for the reasons he imagined…
Ben is fulfilling a long held dream, and a promise he made years ago, although he never could have envisaged the circumstances that finally brought the dream to reality. Nevertheless here he is, a volunteer at the Liberty Lion Rehabilitation Project in Zimbabwe and it seems he isn’t the only one escaping from love and life.
Fate, destiny, call it what you will, brought Andrew and Ben together with a series of meetings—some by design, some by chance. The connection they felt was immediate. Andrew is an author of children’s books and lovely snippets of his latest work head each chapter. He believes if you wish for something that could be possible it will come true. His most precious wish eventually did come true, but at a great and tragic cost and leaving him with a dilemma that, either way, will not be resolved happily.
Ben and Esther, another volunteer at the reserve, are included in the rescue of two lion cubs which are brought back to the compound. Ben is tasked with trying to bond with the female cub, who he named Lucy, while Esther tries to bond with the male cub.
The hair on her back looks the coarsest, with dark little tufts dotted here and there like the bushes on the surrounding landscape. It appears softer at the sides, and particularly behind her ears, where it is most glossy and golden. Perhaps one day Ben will get to feel it under his fingers.
The story alternates between Ben and Andrew, England and Zimbabwe at a steady pace, their recollections showing the coincidences that brought them together and their growing relationship, the shared love of lions, Ben’s home life and the complicated relationship with his alcoholic father. Ben’s mother died when he was a young boy and his older brother joined the army, so there was only Ben and his father at home.
In the main the characters are flawed, complex and incredibly well defined, the depth of their emotions exceptionally moving, each keeping events and feelings to themselves, unsure of how they would be received.
The writing is powerfully evocative, the story extremely well crafted, poignant, touching and compelling, and I loved the fascinating insights into a lion sanctuary and the work they do. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was such an emotional read and explores complicated issues such as love, family, ignorance, fear, acceptance and more, with sensitivity and compassion. It’s quite a while since I’ve needed to have tissues to hand.
The vivid descriptions of Zimbabwe give an immediate sense of place and imagery from the start—the heat, dust, sounds, the spectacular scenery and even the representation of the lions.
Morning is Ben’s favourite time in Zimbabwe.
No one else rises this early to watch the colours come to life; no one else witnesses the sky turning from ash into flame, or the trees from shadow into textured browns, like a tray of different flavoured toffees.