Novel Review: Tigerman

Pulp conventions and comic-book tropes coexist with a quasi-realistic setting and political questions both timeless and contemporary, as a good man on a doomed island becomes a hero in order to impress his surrogate son— and encounters something more dangerous than he anticipated.

Title: Tigerman
Author: Nick Harkaway

First published in July 2014.
ISBN: 0385352417
ISBN-13: 978-0385352413

Available from,,, and as a kindle.


The island of Mancreu sits in limbo. The British—the last colonial power to possess it—will be leaving soon. Countries and corporations have used it for extralegal purpose, and its own toxicity will soon render it uninhabitable. The toxic Clouds, indeed, have already affected animals, plants—and human beings. A decision has been made to purge the place, to kill it with fire.

Lester Ferris, a British soldier who has served in Afghanistan, acts as the local sheriff during the island’s final days. Lacking a family of his own, he takes interest in a bright, media-educated boy as a kind of surrogate son. He attempts a curiously playful and dangerous act of avengement and justice on behalf of the boy, only to discover himself involved in a far more dangerous situation.

High Point:

Tigerman may be something akin to a superhero in a comparatively realistic thriller, but his creation and actions comment astutely on heroism, contemporary politics, and environmental issues in an intelligent manner.

Low Point:

The romance plot helps give the characters depth, but it has been given too little attention, especially given the weight a certain relationship acquires in the conclusion.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6 The book deliberately uses familiar tropes, but Harkaway often uses them in original ways.

Imagery: 5/6 The novel features some fascinating, barely-plausible fight sequences in a fascinating and disturbingly plausible setting. Harkaway also does an admire job of evoking the world as various characters see it.

Story: 5/6 The story develops slowly, and the significant twists only occur in the final chapters. Harkaway’s style and the comparative novelty of the situation will entertain most readers as the pieces fall together.

Characterization: 5/6 Lester Ferris and the Boy have been developed plausibly.

Emotional Response: 5/6 We’re in an interesting space between realism and fantasy. Gradually, the superhero, Tigerman, takes on a bizarre reality. Will it be enough to save Lester and his associates when he faces international cabals? And what happens when Bad Jack, “Mancreau’s resident fairy king” (7), a legendary supercriminal, also turns out to be real, and holding darker secrets than Tigerman?

Editing: 5/6 The Boy’s English, distilled from American movies, the internet, and comic books, could be real speech. It also represents the culture that informs many people today; his language differs from literary English, used by the sort of person “so appalled by the staggering complexities of meaning which could be found in the word ‘piss’that he felt it was necessary to read Paradise Lost and The Mayor of Casterbridge in order to be certain he wasn’t getting the wrong end of the stick” (88). The Boy speaks through memes and tropes. It’s a fascinating commentary, often amusing, occasionally annoying.

Overall score: 5/6 It takes considerable power to combine so many genres convincingly, and Harkaway, to his credit, makes Tigerman work. Those wanting more of a typical thriller/adventure may find portions of this novel a tad taxing.

In total, Tigerman receives 34/42