The Black Dragon
by Allyson James, fantasy (2007)
Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21844-0


Now this is more like it. I suppose there is nothing that can be done about the hideous zombie with the creepiest nipple ever on the cover, but the story in The Black Dragon is much more enjoyable than the previous book in the series, Dragon Heat. This is because the author has a ball with this story without overloading it with too many distracting corny soulmate-magic-shag type of love scenes or, worse, embarrassing scenes of a skanky villainess having skankier sex with demonic skanks.

Now, make no mistake, this one is still a cheesy paranormal romance complete with the "I have now found my soulmate so watch as my power surges through the roof after our bee-yoo-ti-fool perfect sex! With my soulmate by my side, I am unstoppable! Evil, feel my soulmate-enhanced magic and DIE!" theme that never fails to make me wince. But there are also plenty of adorable and smart jokes and playful concepts here to make the cheese overload tolerable.

Our witch heroine Saba Watanabe and Malcolm the black dragon previously showed up in the previous book but I believe this book can stand alone pretty well since the story here is a new one altogether with very little to do with the storyline of the previous book. Previously, Malcolm started out as a bad guy in the good guys' eyes only to turn out to be a misunderstood emo guy. When Dragon Heat ended, Malcolm was freed from exile to return to the dragon world, called Dragonspace, and as a result, what little he and Saba had was over.

Or so Saba thinks. This story takes place about eight months after Dragon Heat ended. Our database programmer heroine is trying to get over Malcolm while moving on with life until she meets a white dragon in human form who wants to make her his personal slave. Shaken, Saba ends up summoning Malcolm to help her escape this white dragon. However, Malcolm ends up staying in this world, wanting to remain close to Saba, supposedly to protect her from the white dragon. Malcolm however has his own personal reasons to be with Saba. Meanwhile, the fate of Dragonspace is in our heroine's hands when the white dragon ends up possessing a book that contains information that can really affect the fate of all dragons in Dragonspace. Malcolm and Saba have to go to the rescue, but first, Saba needs to discover her super-duper magic so that she can get medieval on the bad guy's rear end.

Malcolm is a very silly fellow here, as he is very, very stubborn. He's the kind of guy who won't tell the heroine anything to keep her safe or something. My problem with this fellow is that he's supposed to be a 3000-year old dragon but he often behaves like a well-meaning but rather silly young man. But while I usually am not fond of such silly chauvinist heroes, Ms James manages to sell me the appeal of Malcolm. I don't know how Ms James does it, but I find that fellow pretty adorable even when I know he can be such an annoying twit at times. Maybe it's the charming inner geek that shines through from Malcolm's greasy Fabio-in-dark-wig exterior. He's pretty much a Maths prodigy and he exhibits an unexpectedly charming awkwardness when it comes to understanding a relationship between a man and a woman. I find Malcolm somewhat clueless at times but I think this fellow means well so he's alright.

Saba is a pretty decent heroine although I feel that she has a too-stupid moment or two in this story when she does some really reckless and foolish things that nearly get her killed, such as the botched summoning ritual during a BDSM party (don't ask). Still, if Malcolm can be silly, I suppose Saba has the right to be silly too. She and Malcolm make a pretty good pair here, what with some very effective banter system going on here between them as well as credible chemistry and sexual tension.

I don't want to go into spoilers here, so let me just say that I really like how the author structures her story here. The last third of the book is just nicely done if I may say so, with the right balance of strong emotions (without going overboard into bad melodrama) and lots of suspenseful moments as the action kicks into high gear. This last third is so engrossing that I don't even cringe as much as I usually would when Saba finally casts great magic because hot and frequent bouts of sex with her soulmate has triggered her inner Obi-Wan free or something like that.

So while The Black Dragon has its share of cheesy soulmate and magic happy sex clichés, it also has Ms James telling me a really entertaining story here that has me at the edge of my seat as the story progresses. I really don't know about the ghoul on the cover but I do know that the story here has me giving the two thumbs up gesture to Ms James. It's like one exciting rollercoaster ride from start to finish.

Rating: 86


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