Dungeons and Dating, #3
Heat Factor: Three detailed encounters in the last chunk of the book—they have a lot of pining to get through first
Character Chemistry: “I think this person is so great, but there’s no way they like me”
Plot: Mason and Hunter start carpooling to work together, and that push is just what they need to open up to each other
Overall: There’s a lot to like
Here’s the dynamic in this book:
Mason: OMG, Hunter is so hot, but I propositioned him once and he said no, so we must remain in the friend zone.
Hunter: OMG, Mason is so pretty, but they only tried to kiss me because they were drunk and then never tried again, so obviously I’m not actually desirable.
Mason: I really like Hunter, but I shouldn’t do anything to make him uncomfortable.
Hunter: I really like Mason, but they are too good and pure for me.
And so on.
I don’t love books where the characters are up in their heads all the time, so I must admit that this book didn’t do a lot for me personally. However, even though it didn’t hit my sweet spot, I can tell that it is well-executed and incorporates some things that others like in a romance novel.
First and foremost, the found family element is strong with this one. The Dungeons and Dating series centers on a queer-owned board game store in San Fransisco. The folks who work at the store love and support each other through the ups and downs of life, with beer-filled gaming nights when things are good and lots of hugs and movies when things are not so good. So for those who are interested in seeing found families in romance novels, this is an excellent example.
Mason and Hunter are carrying significant baggage around drug use and abuse. This element is also well-done, in that their relationships with those who use drugs are a believable source of conflict. To wit: Hunter’s dad is an addict who has bounced in and out of rehab for Hunter’s entire life. Mason’s twin sister died of an overdose when she was 18. So it makes absolute sense for Mason to beg Hunter to give his dad another chance because at least he’s alive, and for Hunter to take this conversation as not respecting the boundaries he established for his own mental health. The later conflict about drug dealing (Mason hates dealers, Hunter dealt in high school to pay the electric bills) was less convincing, perhaps because the fact that Mason hates drug dealers was established late and seemed added so that Mason and Hunter would have another thing to fight about after they worked out their feelings about how to relate to family members who use. This seems like a good point to highlight that there is significant on-page discussion of drug overdose in this book; however, I wouldn’t say the drug content ever veers into enough detail to be trauma porn. Anyways, the point of all this is that the brooding about incompatibility is rooted in some heavy stuff. Therefore, even though most of the conflict is internal, there’s still plenty of tension (and some outside sources of stress).
The final thing that’s well-executed here is the slow development of the relationship between Mason and Hunter, from co-workers to friends to close friends to lovers. McIntyre shows several scenes of the two interacting in low-stakes environments, doing things like watching TV, hanging out at work, and driving home together. The result is that the book is pretty balanced and that the relationship is already there to be salvaged when the conflict comes.
A sidenote: this is a grumpy-sunshine book featuring queer characters that I thought taps into the whole energy equating sunshine with femininity (I talked about that a bit when we discussed the grumpy sunshine trope). Mason is a ball of joy, and while they are non-binary, Hunter refers to them repeatedly as “pretty” and “innocent” and “pure”—all traits commonly associated with female characters in romance novels. Hunter, on the other hand, is strong, large, and taciturn. I am not pointing this out because it’s a bad thing in this book particularly. On the contrary, the grumpy-sunshine dynamic is really well done, and Mason is allowed to be sad and unsure of themself. Rather, it is one more data point in a larger trend about how female-presenting characters (or people) are socialized to be upbeat.
I would recommend this book for those who are interested in geeky queer romances that don’t shy away from heavy topics.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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