The way I discovered this book and Julie Bozza was eerily like the protagonists discovered the butterflies. I certainly didn't go looking. After hearing about the writer through convoluted means, I trusted my instincts rather than logic and followed a cloud of 5 star ratings that barely showed up against the plethora of five star ratings that stretch from horizon to horizon of the reading world. And I'm so glad I did.
Perhaps it was the shimmer that made her story show up, the unusual cover in a trope that depends on sex to sell.
There was sex, but it was very much the fade to black variety even if they do get to second base or even third base at times.
If I have a criticism of the book it is that at a couple of points during the sex scenes there was a gap that made me skip back a page because I thought I'd flipped over one too many. Is actual penetration that hard to include? Perhaps some nitty gritty real sex might have stolen some of the light hearted feel away but then again perhaps it could have grounded the story a bit more and made it more real. A sentence or two in the different scenes would have done me.
As an Aussie, I can vouch for the setting's authenticity. The attraction of the Australian outback is not easy to see. In the heat of the day, it's hot. Bloody hot. Shirts cling to your back from the sweat. Flies try to crawl into your nose, eyes and mouth seeking moisture. Ants are literally everywhere. Probably a good reason to sleep up on top of the Land Cruiser. Sometimes it's so hot even the birds are silent. That's when the insects start making a racket. Most city dwellers see the Australian outback as a harsh place and rarely venture out there which is a pity, because it is beautiful, and in certain lights, it's magic.
The trouble is you have to be there to experience it. Julie gives us a picture of the overwhelming magnificence of the southern skies at night. But I love the time just before dawn when there is an expectant hush in the air. I've only ever experienced the same thing when a baby budgie was hatching and its parents and siblings all grew quiet (a rare state in that breed) while tiny tapping sounds could be heard as the baby bird broke through the shell. It's the same in the bush. Everything goes quiet. The wind drops, the birds are silent and then the sun pokes its head above the horizon. Later, the heat of the day sucks all the energy out of the landscape, but the early morning light caresses the bush, making it unforgettable.
There is no lush grass, no soft colors, the ground is hard and unforgiving until you find a waterhole.
The wattle is our national symbol, but it can take on many forms.
As m/m writers go, Julie has come the closest so far to capturing this unique setting.
As someone whose father and sister were entomologists and actually worked for the organisations briefly mentioned, it gave me an eerie feeling of being right there.
Hunting butterflies isn't hunting Tasmanan tigers or even kangaroos. There's no guns, no villains, no drama just a gentle unfolding of the story. In fact, the analogy of their life spans, their metamorphosis into something beautiful mirrors Dave's change perfectly.
Tough macho Aussie males brought up far away from gay culture would seek the protection and company of a girl who was a mate. Uncomplicated. Unthreatening. They wouldn't even be aware they were doing it. They would assume that what they had was a normal boy/girl relationship. I found that part of the story totally believable. The girls themselves are often different. On the remote properties there aren't a lot of other girls around so being accustomed to hang out with their brothers, they tend to grow up as tomboys, being able to shoot and ride as well as the men. So Dave would be like a brother to her. Someone she is fiercely loyal to. In turn, he would feel totally comfortable with her and assume their relationship was more.
I also thought the way the author handled aboriginal culture was appropriate in the circumstances and wasn't condescending in any way. Not every Australian takes the time or has the interest in accepting that relationship to the land, but for those who do, there's this special way of looking at things. Outsiders may not "get it" or they may see it as appropriating their culture, but in fact not "getting it" and ignoring that aspect is more disrespectful.
It is probably best if you read the story when you are in the right mood for it. It certainly made a welcome change for me.