My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Black Dragon is the second in a series of books, and focuses on a black dragon named Malcolm and a human witch named Saba. Malcolm’s power has been fading and he thinks it might be tied to an attack by a white dragon on his former minion and sex partner, Saba.
I have to admit, I liked this story. There’s a number of good things in this novel. The world-building is interesting. The setting is clear, both when the characters are in San Francisco and in Dragonwhatever (couldn’t remember the name because I kept seeing “Dragonland” in my head…my own quirk from watching PBS one too many times with the kids when they were younger). The dragons are interesting, even though it feels influenced just a little by D&D when it comes to the gold, silver, and, especially, white dragons. Black dragons are the exception and I thought it was clever of Ms. James to make them the archivists. The fight scenes are well done. I didn’t think there was anything egregiously silly in the plot itself (though the dragon’s database came close) and all the events connect well with each other. There’s even a couple of nice plot twists.
Malcolm works best when I stop picturing him as a human. His physical appearance (think extra-tall quarterback) and choice of clothes kept clashing with the dialogue. I couldn’t put the dragon speaking with his human form. Once I started picturing an actual dragon talking the scenes worked much better. Except for a few cases of pseudo-science (mostly involving probability), and some times when it wasn’t clear if she wanted him to talk “normal” or like a more highly-evolved being, he was a pretty consistent and very interesting character. I especially loved it when he gave a detailed list of Saba’s schedule based on things he found around her apartment. I thought it was a fantastic way of illustrating his intelligence and loved him for it, in spite of the stalkerish overtones at first.
Saba was all right. I liked seeing her grow in her powers, and I thought making her a database-chick worked well for the compatibility issues between her and Malcolm, but it was really hard to shake the feeling that she wasn’t any different from all the other annoying heroines who would rather argue than use common sense. I think having them argue just because she didn’t like him “taking over” (even though that kind of protection was exactly what she needed right then) felt too much like an attempt to make the heroine look “strong”. It backfired and made it difficult for me to like her.
However, overall, the couple work well together and the ending was good. A little deus ex machina, but not too bad, especially given that I was aware of the rules and the pieces of the ending long before they came together.
As for steam, this book has plenty and the bedroom door is wide open, though the descriptions lean more toward old-school romance than erotica. This is not a “clean romance”.