Review: Polar Reaction

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TITLE: Polar Reaction
AUTHOR: Claire Thompson
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 63k)
GENRE: Contemporary gay menage erotic romance
COST: $5.50

When a sudden storm strands three research scientists in their Antarctic compound, suppressed desire and feelings bubble to the surface between them. Tuck has wanted Brendan for a year, Jamie has been attracted to both Tuck and Brendan, and Brendan doesn’t want to admit he just might want another man. The storm is giving them time to explore. But what happens when it stops? What if it never does?

I have had mixed reactions to this particular author in the past, sometimes really enjoying the story, sometimes not. There aren’t many gay ménages out there, which made this stand out, as adding in the more original setting, I decided to give it a go. Unfortunately, this is one of those books that fall into this author’s “didn’t really work for me” category.

There are three men – Tuck, the bisexual who has been in love with Brendan for a year; Jamie, the gay man who works with Tuck and has been attracted to both men for the six weeks of the current project; and Brendan, the straight guy who had one surprisingly intimate evening with Tuck and has no idea what to do with these new feelings he’s been having. They’re the last three to leave the research compound, but a surprise blizzard strands them. Tuck and Jamie are the first to break the sexual tension barrier, and then, with various aids, the rest of them get torn down.

My problems start from page one. Literally. The book opens up with a scene of Tuck watching Brendan jerk off in the shower without Brendan’s knowledge, and remembering what happened with them the year before. It’s the first familiar trope that gets trotted out to throw these men together into a sexual scenario. We also get the mandatory drinking to lower inhibitions scenes, the drunken blackjack truth or dare, the injured man so we must tend to his sexy wounds scene, and a let me comfort you because you’re scared scene. Reading it was like watching gay porn play out on the page, with every contrived reason under the sun to get these men to have sex. It’s very hard to take seriously.

It’s especially hard to take seriously when there’s dialogue like this, when Jamie describes his first time: He introduced me to all the delights of male-male sex. Male-male sex? Really? What gay man talks like this? That’s female reader terminology, not how gay men talk to each other. Most of the time, the dialogue is just as stiff and unbelievable as this. It’s painful to read, and too easy to skim. Add it in with the porn tropes, and it makes the book read like female masturbatory fantasy, not a realistic romance.

I will admit that the situation does improve a little bit after the three men are rescued. It becomes less about how to get these men to have sex with each other and more about emotions and dealing with the reality of what happened. I engaged more freely with this second half – even though the stilted dialogue and a weepy Brendan still made me cringe – but while it helped to compensate for the eye roll-worthy stranded section, it wasn’t enough to make it a worthwhile read.

Are there any aspects about this book that are good? Honestly, the setting in Antarctica was the best part. The descriptions there are vivid and crisp, leaping off the page. When the three men are allowed to be scientists and do their job, it’s actually interesting. I would have loved to see the emotional aspects of this explored more freely – like Jamie’s terror at being stranded – instead of trying to medicate it all with sex. I can see some of it happening – they are still horny men, after all – but all of those tropes? Too much. Too, too, too much. It makes this a mark in the miss column.