Lover Eternal, by J.R. Ward

>> Wednesday, April 26, 2006

If I have to be positive, I'll say being late to the Dark Lover party and missing on all the original discussions and talk did have a benefit: I was able to go read the second in J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Lover Eternal (excerpt), pretty much immediately (and yes, I know it's been a while since I posted about Dark Lover, but I'm slooooow!).

In the shadows of the night in Caldwell, New York, there's a deadly war raging between vampires and their slayers. And there exists a secret band of brothers like no other - six vampire warriors, defenders of their race. Possessed by a deadly beast, Rhage is the most dangerous of the Black Dagger Brotherhood...

Within the brotherhood, Rhage is the vampire with the strongest appetites. He's the best fighter, the quickest to act on his impulses, and the most voracious lover—for inside him burns a ferocious curse cast by the Scribe Virgin. Possessed by this dark side, Rhage fears the times when his inner dragon is unleashed, making him a danger to everyone around him.

Mary Luce, a survivor of many hardships, is unwittingly thrown into the vampire world and reliant on Rhage's protection. With a life-threatening curse of her own, Mary is not looking for love. Her faith in miracles was lost years ago. But when Rhage's intense animal attraction turns into something more emotional, he knows that he must make Mary his alone. And while their enemies close in, Mary fights desperately to gain life eternal with the one she loves…
Well, I really, really liked this, just as much as I liked Dark Lover. It's got the same kind of wonderful energy and absorbing quality, and now that I've finished it, I'm wishing I'd waited about 6 months longer to read the first one, so I could have read the first three all in a row! Though of course, it's very likely in September I'll wish I'd waited until the first 4 were out! ;-) A B+.

Lover Eternal tells the story of Rhage, the most spectacularly beautiful of the brothers and also a man who under a curse from the Scribe Virgin. Rhage pissed her off one time too many, and as punishment, he's been sentenced to share his body with a beast. And this is a very real beast: when Rhage gets a bit too overwrought (especially when he hasn't been able to let off steam by either having lots and lots of sex or fighting), he turns into this great, big, bloodthirsty beast that chews anyone around it to pieces.

Sounds like a good weapon, especially for someone in the middle of a fight to the death for the survival of his kind, right? The problem is that when I say the beast chews anyone around it to pieces, I do mean anyone -friend or enemy. So Rhage lives in terror of not being able to control the beast and hurting the people he cares about. Ergo, Rhage makes sure he get lots and lots of sex, purely to take the edge off.

And no, I'm not being facetious when I say that. He does do it purely to take the edge off. It's reached a point in which the guy is completely sick of the anonymousness and tawdriness and loneliness of it. It's actually quite an accomplishment on the part of the author that I'm able to write this with a straight face. But with Rhage? I felt for him, I really did. He truly would like nothing better than to have someone he loved that he could go home to at night and be with, instead of having to do what he does. But he has never met a woman who with whom he'd want more than casual sex, and he knows that he shouldn't even wish he had, because having to deal with his beast would keep him from having a relationship.

But of course, he does meet a special woman he just can't stay away from, even though he knows perfectly well he should. Rhage and Mary Luce's initial meeting is quite intriguing. See, Mary befriended this mute young man, and they're hanging out in her backyard when her neighbour Bella joins them. Bella happens to be a vampire (Mary obviously knows nothing about this), and when she notices the young man, John, has a design on him which is written in the old language of the vampires, she insists on taking him and Mary to the Brotherhood.

It is there that Rhage first, well, not "sees", because he's half-blind at the time... that Rhage first perceives Mary, I should say, and his obsession with her is immediate. Her voice just speaks to something in him and he can't stay away. His brothers tell him he shouldn't and he knows he shouldn't, but he immediately beings to pursue her.

Mary can't understand why this movie-star spectacular guy would be interested in her, but he's extremely persistent (sometimes coming perilously close to the line separating persistent from stalker... who am I kidding, he actually does cross it a couple of times!), and when Mary ends up finding out what he is, he takes her with him to the Brotherhood's headquarters and by then not having a relationship becomes impossible.

Rhage and Mary are actually only half the story in this book. Equal importance is given to the rest of the Brotherhood and their interactions, and to a couple of subplots which just start to develop here, like that of John (or rather, Tehrror) and that of Mary's neighbour Bella and Zsadist. I actually liked this. I mean, as much as I enjoyed Rhage and Mary's romance, I think that storyline might not have been strong enough to carry the entire book. As it is, since it shares space with a lot of other stuff, the book didn't lose any momentum.

Ok, so what was good and what wasn't?

First of all, I loved Rhage's immediate complete and utter devotion to Mary, and I thought that what separated them was both original (I mean, a real, ravening beast?) and powerful (yeah, I've read plenty of heroes who refuse to be with the heroine for fear they might hurt her -i.e. some kind of metaphorical beast living in them-, but the reader always knows they're just being silly. In this case, Ward had me fearing that Mary really was at risk from the beast!).

Related to this, there's something I should mention, even though it's very much a spoiler (so BEWARE!!!!!), because it will be a deal-breaker for many people. Rhage sleeps with another woman during the book, even after he gets involved with Mary and is in love with her. And I should also mention that I'm usually one of the people for whom this is a deal-breaker, but while I didn't *like* it here and I REALLY wish it had been solved in another way, I could excuse it and understand that it actually made sense that it would happen. I mean, if there's ever a good excuse for sleeping with another woman, I guess needing to do so because otherwise a flesh-and-blood scary beast will come out from inside you and savage everything around you, well, that would be it (especially if you absolutely hate having sex with the other woman, anyway). So all I'll say is that if this is the only thing keeping you from reading Lover Eternal, you should read it anyway, because odds are it won't be such a huge problem.

Ok, then, that taken care of, I'll mention that I really liked what Ward did with regards to Rhage coming to accept the beast. Anything else would have been a huge anticlimax. I also loved the scene in which Mary finally comes face to face with it. The reactions of the other vampires were priceless!

And right here before I start with the negatives, I'll mention something I was a bit ambivalent about. I mentioned I enjoyed all the other stuff going around Rhage and Mary, and what I loved best was the Zsadist and Bella scenes. Zsadist is seriously fucked up, and I really can't wait to see what happens with him and Bella, since what we see here is very promising.

That said, it was a bit annoying that so much there was left unresolved, especially because Ward doesn't even conclude that particular "battle" in the war between the lessers and the vampires. Yes, the action in that area is completely independent from the book's protagonists, and when the book ends, there isn't even some kind of partial closure there. There's sequel-baiting and then there's sequel-baiting, and this particular example of it was a bit much. And it annoys me even more that the manipulation worked and the minute I put LE down I started to think about who I could bribe to get an early copy of Lover Awakened.

Crossing the line into the negatives, we get to Mary's passive role. I don't know if I can explain exactly what my problem was with this. Let's see, I wouldn't say it's a flaw in the characterization, or that Mary's weak. Mary isn't weak at all. Actually I saw her as very corageous for the way she dealt with her illness and the way she adapted to some very frightening circumstances, once she found out what exactly Rhage and his brothers were. Nor do I fault her for being willing to remain at home while Rhage went out on his missions. What was she supposed to do? Insist on going out with the brothers to fight those lessers? That would have been extremely stupid.

What did bother me, though, was that in both Dark Lover and Lover Eternal Ward elected to write a dynamic in which it made sense that the women would be waiting at home, doing nothing. As I read, I found myself wishing for a chance for them to actually do something... maybe not something physical, but to somehow become involved in what's going on. Maybe doing research on possible properties for the lessers' HQ? I don't know, something other than sitting around on their butts, worrying about their men!

I was also a bit annoyed by the language. I quite like the atmosphere Ward creates for her world, but I still get the feeling she's trying much too hard with the dialogue and the slang and that a lighter touch there would be better. All those "you feel me?" and "my brother" and so on and so forth had me rolling my eyes.

And then there was the one element I truly hated: the way Mary's disease was resolved. The whole thing about the Scribe Virgin taking pity on Mary because she couldn't have children that were biologically hers... Argh. Give me a break. After everything the woman has gone through in her life, with her mother's death, the cancer, having to completely give up a life she enjoyed because of her illness, and that stupid Scribe Virgin seizes on that as the most tragic thing that could happen to a woman? Oh, come on! I hate the Scribe Virgin. She seems unduly cruel and merciless to me (which, I guess, would make her kind of like the Greek gods, so this isn't necessarily such a bad thing).

Ok, I'll stop now, even though this is one of those books about which I can just write and write and write. I really hope Ward can keep the energy level just as high for the next few entries in the series, because I fear that without that, the cheesiness would just overpower anything else. So far, we're on the right path!


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