Dark Lover, by J.R. Ward

>> Friday, March 24, 2006

Was there any book last year that got as loud a buzz as JR Ward's Dark Lover (excerpt) did? I don't know about the wider world outside of the bloggosphere, but see those links to the left of the screen, the "Romance-centric blogs"? I bet that if you choose one at random, chances are you'll be able to find at least a mention of Dark Lover, and often lovingly detailed reviews. So here I am, late as usual, but I couldn't wait to see what all that enthusiasm was about.

In the shadows of the night in Caldwell, New York, there's a deadly turf war going on between vampires and their slayers. There also exists a secret band of brothers like no other - six vampire warriors, defenders of their race. Among them, none relishes killing their enemies more than Wrath, the leader of the Black Dagger Brotherhood...

The only purebred vampire left on the planet, Wrath has a score to settle with the slayers who murdered his parents centuries ago. But when one of his most trusted fighters is killed- orphaning a half-breed daughter unaware of her heritage or her fate - Wrath must usher the beautiful female into the world of the undead…

Racked by a restlessness in her body that wasn't there before, Beth Randall is helpless against the dangerously sexy man who comes to her at night with shadows in his eyes. His tales of brotherhood and blood frighten her. But his touch ignites a dawning hunger that threatens to consume them both…
I had half-heartedly planned to make this post a minute-by-minute deal, like I did with Kiss of the Highlander, or A Thousand Roses. I even wrote an initial entry, around page 25, which went something like: "Uh-oh. The names are silly as hell, and I just don't find that dangerous posing sexy. The waist-long hair, the dark glasses, the violence, the weapons... not particularly sexy in my book. And I especially didn't find that "Human women are only acceptable in one position: on their back, and human males, face-down and dead" crack appealing. Racist creep."

Obviously, I wasn't really getting into it. But then, whoosh! Sucked in. I surfaced about 300 pages later, and only because I needed to eat (heh, almost wrote "I needed to feed". This book is getting to me). I just made myself a sandwich and dived in again. And when I closed the book, it was with a smile on my face. Oh, I still thought the names were silly and juvenile, but I didn't care. I'd had too good a time! A B+.

I'm feeling a bit lazy right now and I don't have the book with me, so I won't even try to write a coherent synopsis. I'd have to get into the whole mythology, and that would certainly take time and some fact-checking against the book, to make sure I'd got the names right. So I'll just direct you to Sybil's review at AAR, which does a great job with that, and in case you want one more, I'll do the "choose one at random" thing I mentioned above. Let's see... how about Bam? Yep, she's read it, and her review is hilarious. Go read it.

Ok, back? I think what struck me the most about Dark Lover was the energy and vitality with which it's written. The story just crackles on the page, with an enthusiasm that's contagious. The plot itself isn't much, just that our hero Wrath is asked by a fellow Brother, who then dies, to help his half-human daughter Beth with her transition. Beth has no idea she'll probably be turning into a vampire soon, but she's still powerfully attracted to Wrath. They begin a relationship, and Beth finds out the secret behind her parentage. And all the while, vampiredom is being stalked by their enemies, the Lessers, led by a new, very cunning leader.

I guess the storyline itself needs to be straightforward, because there is a lot of world to introduce here. Ward needs to explain about the whole complex mythology behind her vampires, who have some very crucial differences to the usual vampire (the ones which can "turn" humans by biting them, for instance). She also needs to introduce a big cast of characters, including all the other members of the Brotherhood of the Black Dagger.

I thought she did extremely well there. While all this is complex, I never had the slightest problem understanding what was going on and what this world was like, and Ward did this without including any obvious info-dumps. Having Beth be ignorant of the vampire world helps introduce some of the info, but whenever Beth was learning about vampires, I never got the feeling that Ward was crossing off points she wanted to convey to the reader. Those scenes just felt natural, with Beth asking the questions anyone would ask and the answers being phrased in the way a normal people would phrase them.

The introduction of the other members of the Brotherhood was well done, too. At first I had some trouble placing these guys... who was the one with the beast, Rhage or Zsadist? Who was Zsadist's twin, Vishous or Phury? But that pretty much took care of itself with time, and I was soon perfectly aware of who everyone was and what their personalities were like.

Well, what about the romance? I liked it, but in a guilty pleasure kind of way, because a lot of it was really, really over-the-top. Still, I did like to see the extremely alpha and tough Wrath become all soft and gooey because of his love for Beth. And Beth was really ok... I feared I might be getting a spine-free doormat, but even though she's at a disadvantage throughout most of the book, due to her ignorance of her parentage and what this will mean for her, she somehow manages to stop Wrath from steamrolling over her.

I'm not really sure whether I liked the whole atmosphere of the book. It's campy as hell, and the author sometimes feels like she's trying too hard to be edgy and extreme, but it does add a lot of freshness and originality to the book, and, well, I enjoyed myself reading it, so I'm going to vote for "liked".

Some extra notes... go read AngieW's interview with JR Ward. It's all good, but I was especially interested in Ward's thinking on the (to me, still silly) names:

Here's the story behind the names: they are traditional warrior names in the Old Language (thus the slightly off spellings). Over time, and in the English language, the names became associated with adverse or aggressive emotions. This paradigm was one I spelled out in my proposal to sell the series. It's the names that came to me with the rest of the brothers's characteristics like their hair and eye colors, their bodies, their minds, their emotional make-ups, their histories.

On her next books:

My publisher has purchased six books so far and here's the order: Wrath, Rhage, Zsadist, Vishous, Butch (yes, Butch gets his own book!) and Phury. There are four more thereafter in my head and then some subspecies in the world I would love to explore.

As for when they come out, the first three are every six months so that's March '06 for LOVER ETERNAL (Rhage) and September '06 for LOVER AWAKENED. It's my understanding that the next three will follow this schedule as well.
It is a relief not to see Tohrment's name up there, as one of my first thoughts about that was "Oh, no, if she means to write a book about him, it mean Wellsie will die!". This doesn't really make Wellsie safe (or Tohrment, for that matter... how about Wellsie as heroine of one of the other books? Talk about conflict for whichever brother is the hero!), but it's at least a chance.

I'm surprised to see Zsadist as the hero of the third book. I would have guessed he would have been kept for last! And I'm actually glad I waited so long to read DL, because that means I can start on Lover Eternal immediately (which I will probably do this weekend).

Sybil also has an interview with the author (in which the Wellsie question is posed, but not answered!), and from here you can check out what happened the day she had Ward as a guest blogger.

To summarize (because I really should end this post here!): if you like vampire romance but have become jaded after reading too many tired, half-hearted, cliché-ridden books, give this one a try!


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