Been a while, hasn’t it?
Apologies for the long break, but it has been quite the summer here on the old Winst0lf Portal! Having read and enjoyed volumes one and two of Skullgate Media’s Tales From the Year Between, I was actually selected to be a contributing author for volume three, In the Wake of the Kraken, a collection of stories, shanties, maps and other treats set across a multiverse of pirates. I’ll be reviewing it soon (apart from my own entry, that would be weird) so watch this space for that!
I also joined up with a lovely group of writers to contribute to Heads and Tales, a retelling of classic fairy tales and mythology. All of the entries are really cool, I recommend giving it a read also. Oh, and all copies sold raise money for the Trevor Society, so that’s neat!
Anyway, that’s my waffling/promotion out of the way, let’s get on with the review! Today we’re looking at Untouched, written by fellow Skullgateer Jayme Bean. Released on 17th May of this year, Untouched is a fictional tale of survival and adventure set in the depths of the Amazon rainforest.
Let’s get our machetes out and get into it, shall we?
Untouched follows the story of two university students, Marisol and David, who accompany their professor, Julia Morrow, on an expedition into an uncharted section of the rain forest in the Peruvian Amazon. The story begins in relative safety, introducing our protagonists as they have one last night on the town before boarding the boat that will take them down the Amazon river. We learn that Marisol is easygoing and optimistic, whilst David is shy, awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin, and this causes some early friction between them.
Once they get into the rain forest, however, things start to ramp up. The local guides soon abandon the team, explaining that the area is cursed, forcing our heroes to go on alone. I really enjoyed the different ways that the characters reacted to this, Morrow and David seeing it as an unreasonable inconvenience whilst Marisol takes the suggestion of a curse very seriously, having been raised by a superstitious family. Whilst, in this day and age, it’s easy to blow off this kind of thing, Untouched reminds us that, even if you don’t believe in superstition or even organised religion, other people do, and it costs nothing to be respectful of their beliefs.
Anyway, things go from bad to worse when they reach camp one, only to find that Morrow’s onsite researcher, Ben, has disappeared, and the site is in disarray, overgrown as if abandoned for years. After a fitful night’s sleep, things get even worse, the jungle seeming to completely overgrow the site, splitting Marisol and David from Professor Morrow, forcing them to work closer together in order to find her and get back to safety.
I’m reluctant to explain any more of the plot in detail, as it’s a fantastic thing to explore for yourself. One thing I will add, though, is that the plot gets even better once we find Ben, the missing researcher. Ben caps off the cast perfectly, being confident, experienced and intelligent. He may almost sound a little overpowered at first, but we soon learn that his worry about the students, especially David, grounds him and makes him a very relatable human being.
One thing I did find very interesting was the relationship that blossoms between David and Ben later on in the book. I will admit, I haven’t read many stories about bi characters, and it was heartwarming to see these two guys form such a strong bond, going through a lot of the fears and concerns that (one imagines) bisexual people face when discovering themselves. It’s a credit to Jayme that she created David and Ben’s relationship in such a sensitive and meaningful way that even I, an uneducated outsider, was able to come away from Untouched with a newfound understanding of the trials and tribulations that bi people have to go through, often on a daily basis.
Themes-wise, I would say that Untouched looks at both the importance of friendship and how important and fascinating the rain forests are. Most stories featuring a young guy and girl duo will inevitably end with them hooking up, this is a story as old as time across books, movies, video games, the whole lot. Here we have a more modern take, where Marisol and David kindle a fantastic friendship, and the romantic heavy lifting is done between David and Ben instead. It would be nice to see more books write these kinds of stories, especially those released by big publishers, as it seems the indie publishing scene are the only ones making much effort here.
As for the second point, I couldn’t agree more! As somebody who holds an annual membership to my local zoo (the almighty Chester Zoo), I am definitely all about conservation. So many amazing species of animal and plant are close to extinction now, thanks to human greed, and that needs to change. Jayme does a great job of selling the rain forests in this book, educating the reader about all manner of things from native creatures to how plants can be used as medicine.
Hopefully my rambling here has gone some way to explain how much I enjoyed Untouched. It tackles some interesting and timely themes, has likable characters and puts a decidedly modern and inclusive twist on some of the more stale old tropes one so often sees in fiction writing.
Give it a read folks, I can guarantee enjoyment!
And thanks for hanging about whilst I’ve been off gallivanting!