Nick Harkaway has a strange way of making us feel at home as readers even when we are in a decidedly strange place, of immersing us in something new and somehow making it feel familiar at the same time. With Tigerman, he again spellbinds with witty prose and inviting characters while taking us into a world that needs an unexpected hero.

After a hard tour of duty in Afghanistan, Sergeant Lester Ferris is sent off on a supposedly leisurely assignment in a fictional British territory called Mancreu. He’s meant to simply keep an eye on things, despite the island’s growing criminal reputation. In the quirky, chaotic and often unexpected grind of daily life there, he meets a young boy obsessed with comic books and quickly grows fond of him. They forge a somewhat unlikely friendship as the boy influences Lester’s worldview. Then, an outbreak of violence shakes Mancreu, and when faced with a new path, Lester must contemplate being a hero again, not just for the island, but for the boy he’s come to love.

British writer Harkaway (The Gone-Away World) is known for sweeping us off to alien worlds that are somehow strikingly and humanly familiar. With Tigerman, he pulls that off again. Mancreu is a fascinating place, smeared over with a particular kind of fantasy, one where the reinvention of self seems to hang in the air. The characters who populate it are equally compelling.

If you look closely, though, you’ll see that Harkaway’s gift lies not just in his knack for imagining environments teeming with a kind of transportive magic, but in the prose itself. Lester’s dreams of a new life, and the boy’s musings about and fixations on the heroes he worships, are just as filled with depth and charisma as the novel’s completely inventive plot.

Harkaway shows his brilliance on a micro and macro level, and the result is a funny, touching and meditative page-turner that will leave you thinking about what it really means to be a hero for days after you’ve finished it.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Nick Harkaway for Tigerman.

This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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