Reviewed by Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Guild Review Team
A fortuitous meeting on a Mexican beach; a young professor wannabe and an older, worldwise jack-of-all-trades. Cameron Davis has an arcane project resulting from years of research, a find of such huge potential that he doesn’t want to share it. M. Poe, known simply as Poe, is drawn to this beautiful younger man and thinks he can help him – and possibly profit from it, too.
As our two heroes make their way into the rocky wastes of the high Utah desert, they are joined by two other couples, one linked to Poe by an old friendship, the other tied by blood and tradition to the very treasure Cameron is hunting. None of them fully understand the power of what they’re dealing with, and it will take all of their wits to survive.
It’s a good plot, and B.A. Tortuga knows how to write both romance and fast-paced adventure. I really liked all of her characters. Poe should be suspect, but in fact the author draws him in such a way that you know he’s a man of integrity. Cameron is all sweet, scholarly innocence, caught up in the romance of his adventure without understanding where research gives way to danger. Max, Poe’s favorite ex and longtime friend, brings his blythe little boyfriend, Morgan, whose uncanny knowledge of obscure things never ceases to amaze him. Both of them worry that Poe has gotten into something dangerous – and they’re not wrong. Finally, Thom and Simon, the slender Chinese man and the big loud Scottish redhead – lovers and lifelong friends, each of them tied in a different way to the Eye of the Dragon.
As the story unfolds, we get snippets of the background story that drives the novel: an eccentric Scottish lordling with ambitions in America, and a mysterious beauty named Wang Jin, “the king’s jewel.” But what was Wang Jin actually, and what sort of power does she still hold more than a century after she and her entourage disappeared in the Utah desert?
And this is the problem: the book felt like it was fifty percent sex – between the three pairs of lovers, at every drop of a hat. It makes sense at the start, when Poe is seducing the willing Cameron. Thereafter, however, the sex scenes become increasingly distracting and actually intrusive. Just as the author has tantalized us with some eerie detail about the caravan that carried Wang Jin through the mountains, all the forward action stops so that some of the boys can get busy with each other.
The end result, for me, was that I couldn’t really settle into the spooky, paranormal part of the story, which should have been given far greater importance in the writing and not used as a backdrop to an erotic romance. The power of the paranormal story is diluted, and the impact of the great characters – each of whom is important to all of the others – is diminished as well. I think of a novel like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and imagine what that would have been like if everyone in the book stopped every other chapter to have extended scenes of physical intimacy that were unrelated to the plot. Not helpful.
The Eye of the Dragon is a wonderful, creepy story idea, but its impact was all left to the last twenty pages. It didn’t get the long, careful buildup of tension that it deserved. I understand that part of the m/m market demands a lot of sex; but sometimes that demand does a disservice to talented writers like B.A. Tortuga.