The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club – Doug Henderson

“Ben stood in the basement and called upstairs, ‘Mom, have you seen my dice bag up there?'”

Phew, that’s a title and a half! And really, the second part could have just been ‘D&D group’, although that might have put a few people off the book, I suppose. However, having ‘discovered’ D&D myself for the first time during lockdown, I am now a big fan, and that was probably the main draw for me!

The game in question is hosted by DM (dungeon master) Celeste every Thursday night in the back room of the comic book store where several of the characters work. Valerie, the youngest of the group; Mooneyham, a banking exec who has yet to come out to his macho boys-own colleagues; and Ben, still living in his parents’ basement, jobless and loveless. And then Albert is invited to play, and Ben is sure he’s too attractive for D&D – and too attractive for Ben.

The bulk of the story is about these youngsters (well, they are to me!) navigating the treacherous waters of love: unrequited, closeted, or of unknown casual/serious state. I’d usually run a mile from anything in the ‘romance’ genre, but this is all so well done – so down to earth and just real.

Against that we have the fantasy story being told through the D&D game. That, too, is really well done: we’re immersed into the fantasy world, but still acknowledging that it is a game and the players are both the characters and their own selves. Makes for some really funny moments, too, and you don’t have to know any technicalities about D&D to enjoy the ‘qwest’ 😉

Those laughs counteract the real-world woes – much like game playing does, I suppose. There’s a lot of heartbreak, and a lot of human truths, about belonging and finding your place in life. Alas, it doesn’t quite feel entirely satisfying: one character has a ‘full’ story, the rest feel a little forgotten. Several elements seem to have huge importance through the narrative – I mean, vampires? What?? – that are then never explained.

If you’re willing to take those as “yup, life is messy and weird and unexplained”, then there’s ‘enough’ to like here. I can even forgive the several instances of highly flowery, very poetic descriptions, even though they largely struck me as a novice author trying that bit to hard.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the read – and it was an easy book to just gallop through – as it hit the right spots of sweet and nice and real.

NetGalley eARC: 252 pages
First published: 15th April 2021
Series: none
Read from 7th-10th April 2021

My rating: 7/10

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