In 1908, on a mission to find a new breed of ape in central Africa, an unfathomable thing is discovered - a wild, white man, living among gorillas. Local villagers know of him. They call him matokeo ya utafutaji kwa, the untamed one. Arianna Day, the 21-year-old niece and ward of renown photographer, Sullivan Vinson, joins the team tracking the man, but, unbeknownst to anyone, she catches the untamed one's eye. Believing she is meant for him, he takes her captive. Eventually, Arianna is rescued, the untamed one is captured, and they are sent separate ways: the wild man to be retaught language and social skills, Ari back home to England to try to fit back into her old life. An advantageous marriage proposal awaits, but thoughts of the untamed one haunts her. Amidst the backdrop of London in the summer of 1908, as the Olympic Games are hosted and the Franko-British Exhibition is held, the newly civilized wild man returns home with his original name restored, Sebastian 'Zan' Shaffer. Again and again, he and Ari are drawn together again only to be ripped apart by social convention and Marshall Derringer, the man determined to have her as his wife. But Zan is not the only one with an untamed heart...
A man raised by apes and an intrepid young woman dissatisfied with the usual life find immediate attraction and understanding. But… a determined suitor, a spiteful friend, and the trappings of civilization work to pull them apart. Flavored with the old-style historical romance in the retelling of a classic.
The legend of Tarzan has been a story I enjoyed since I was a kid watching the old black and white movies and someday I’ll read the original written classic, but in the meantime… I saw this retelling and was eager to give it a try.
Zan got off to a good start beginning with the background and set up of Ari’s situation and how she ended up on the adventure that led her to Zan. The author caught the feel of the times for young women like her. Marry for comfort and situation, conform to the societal expectation. Ari has been brought up knowing this expectation, but also experiencing something different. Her Uncle Sully took Ari on his adventures and taught her to think and act for herself. However, he also doesn’t want her ostracized so he defers to his sister to help now that Ari is of age and feels Ari should spend time in society. But one last adventure changes everything.
As to the man of legend himself, I enjoyed the portrayal of an uncivilized Zan and their early encounter along with Mr. Emerson, the anthropologist’s work with Zan and his days of adjusting to London and the civilized world. I actually was disappointed that the story didn’t spend more time in Africa and Zan’s life there. It heads back to England rather quickly. Zan was six when he was left to fend for himself. Zan tried hard and wasn’t afraid to learn. It was courageous the way he trusted Emerson and the others and took his place in society all because he wanted to be worthy of Ari.
And that leads me to what kept this book from being more than moderately engaging for me. I was not impressed with Zan’s lady love. He strives to be worthy and she…Ari was a doormat disguised as an adventurous woman. She got all fiery and furious about going off on adventure, but that was where her fire seemed to begin and end. Ari lied about the important stuff happening to her for really lame reasons, and yeesh, she blabbed to people she didn’t like or trust with hers and Zan’s secrets and then gets all ‘how could they betray me?’ when it gets used against her and Zan. The engagement was driving me nuts. It’s not a love triangle. She never loves the guy only Zan, but she thinks she should accept the guy because loving and wanting Zan is futile. She couldn’t seem to make up her mind, dithered, got in a snit, determines to say no, dithered, got in a snit, uh, see where I’m going with this? Meanwhile poor Zan is steady to his course. And even the big crisis and drama that happened near the end was avoidable if she’d just opened her mouth and told the truth, but she thought she knew better and if she couldn’t find a solution, well then of course no one could, right? The stubborn-stupid act leading to the unnecessary damsel in distress just grated for me. I could have just read Zan’s story and been perfectly happy to be honest.
And that’s the thing, there were several stories actually going on with many points of view. Ari’s friends all had their story, her fiancé and his family, her uncles, aunt. Her frenemy’s bullied little sister…. None of this was bad, but it added little to the plot that couldn’t be had with Ari or Zan’s narration and was distracting.
Also, one caution. It didn’t bother me because it fit the situation, but the first scene with Zan as the wild man who steals Ari away back in the jungle to his tree platform, he considers her his and he takes her. She fights him at first, but then she wants it. It’s dubious consent at best and he doesn’t understand that it’s wrong (raised by gorillas and all), but from our modern civilized perspective, it can make one cringe a tad.
I was tickled when I saw how the author tied it all back to how we came to have the classic story and legend by Edgar Rice Burroughs with that quick scene at the end.
So, it was alright. Zan was just what I wanted to see in a Tarzan hero, but his ‘Jane’ was an irritation that I tolerated. The storyline was an interesting take. I’d recommend it for those who might enjoy a Tarzan legend retelling.
I received this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
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