Lover Awakened, by J.R. Ward

>> Monday, September 11, 2006

book coverAll you blog readers are probably tired by now of reading review after review of Lover Awakened (excerpt), by J.R. Ward, but what can I do, here's another one. I've done my best not to read any other reviews or discussions about it (Arielle, you're going to pay for emailing me those. You can't imagine how much self-control it took to stop myself from reading them!), so I hope I'm at least not repeating what's been said a hundred times already. As soon as I post this, I'm going to go cruise for reviews. Fortunately Sybil's been kind enough to keep a list!

Oh, before I start, a warning for those two or three people who haven't yet started this series: in itself, the main storyline of LA is a spoiler for the most important secondary storyline from Lover Eternal, so you should stop reading right now. Go read reviews of Dark Lover (here's mine), if you want to know if these books are for you.

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. Of these, Zsadist is the most terrifying member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.

A former blood slave, the vampire Zsadist still bears the scars from a past filled with suffering and humiliation. Renowned for his unquenchable fury and sinister deeds, he is a savage feared by humans and vampires alike. Anger is his only companion, and terror is his only passion—until he rescues a beautiful aristocrat from the evil Lessening Society.

Bella is instantly entranced by the seething power Zsadist possesses. But even as their desire for one another begins to overtake them both, Zsadist’s thirst for vengeance against Bella’s tormentors drives him to the brink of madness. Now, Bella must help her lover overcome the wounds of his tortured past, and find a future with her…
Well, I'm pleased to say this is one series that is still going as strong as ever. As the other books, it's got such an energy that it completely obscures all those little things that can irritate a lot, like the cheesiness, the overdone slang (that's better in LA, but there's still a couple of "you feel me?" too many) and the way you can sometimes see the author's hand very clearly. I say this so you understand why, while I'm rating this one an A-, there's going to be much more criticism than there is in most A- reviews.

We saw the beginning of the plot of LA in LE. We saw those initial meetings between beautiful aristocrat vampire Bella and scary warrior Zsadist. We saw the way Bella's fascination with him became stronger than whatever fear he inspired, and we saw him fight against the sexual pull and almost lose. And we also saw how Bella was kidnapped by a very different lesser, one who was fighting tooth and nail to keep some human individuality and not become just one more pale, baby-powder-smelling assassin. And when I say he wanted to keep some human individuality, I don't mean that he wanted to remain kind and nice, because his humanity before he turned lesser didn't run to kind and nice.

So as the book starts, Bella is still captive in the lessers' "Persuasion centre", having spent weeks either in a hole in the ground or even worse, having to tolerate being with David (aka Mr. O), who's convinced himself she's his wife and he loves her. A good touch is that David's obsession with her does give Bella some power to hurt him, and she often does, as a way to get back at him for keeping her prisoner. Of course, being a romance heroine she feels guilty about it, but I liked that she was human enough to have that impulse to hurt the person who's hurting her.

Anyway, after six weeks of no news from Bella, everyone outside thinks she'd dead. Her family has even held a funeral for her. But Zsadist is still looking for her. He doesn't know why, because of course, it's not as if he feels anything for her, and he rationally knows that she's probably dead, but he keeps going out every single night to look for lessers, and the first thing that comes out of his mouth when he interrogates them is always "Where is she?", no matter how much he thinks he's not going to ask anymore.

And then Bella is rescued, and the best part of the book starts, as she recovers from the ordeal at the Brothers' house.

No matter how much everyone protests, Bella holes herself in in Zsadist's room and insists on being with him. And yeah, Z is among those who protest, at least after the first night. The one who protests the louder, actually. But Bella persists, and the relationship between these two starts to develop, and that was a beautiful thing.

Z is probably the most tortured character I've read, and that includes some of Sherrilyn Kenyon's. He was kidnapped when he was only months old, and before he was rescued by his twin, Phury, he spent the next hundred years being tortured, both physically and mentally, including sexually, and the flashbacks we see are very telling. The end result is that Zsadist is truly fucked up.

I think the only reason I'm able to actually believe in a happy ending for him is that this being a vampire book kind of gives me leave to believe that his psyche will recover much faster than a human's would. From the guy we see at the beginning of the book (remember him? The guy who couldn't bear to be touched? The guy who was completely convinced that he was contaminated, so much that he absolutely hated his dick and couldn't even think of it as anything other than "it", or "that bastard"? Whose only response to anything was fear and anger?), to the pretty much normal guy (for a vampire) we see there at the end, in a couple of months and just through the power of Bella's Magic Vagina? In this particular universe, I bought it, but I don't think I would have in a regular contemporary.

Anyway, the love scenes are incredible. It's been a while since I've read scenes that are so erotic and emotionally charged. Little bit by little bit, through Bella's insistence, Z discovers that his body, which had previously only given him only pain and humiliation, can also give him pleasure, and seeing his discovery and his awakening is lovely. There's one scene in particular that I adored, which is the one in which Z gets his first kiss (yep, in many aspects, Z is actually pretty much a virgin). That scene was incredibly sweet and touching.

I also loved the way Z is so out of his depth with Bella. Even when he wants to do things right, he has no idea of how to go about it. He's all "What do I do?", but he keeps trying. I loved seeing the scary, powerful warrior so nervous and uncertain, especially when Bella's needing period came.

I liked Bella and her determination that she wants Z, no matter how much he tries to push her away for her own good. It's an interesting dynamic, because, at least at the beginning, Bella's the more dominant one in bed, the one who knows what she's doing and what she wants. Still, as much as I liked this aspect of her, there's still the fact that like the rest of the women in this series, Bella doesn't really do anything, and that's getting a bit old. I hope Ward will find a way to change this in the next books in the series. I'm not asking for a heroine who will go out hunting lessers (though a female warrior would be cool!), but at least someone who actually does something other than wait for her man at home, please!

The ending of Bella and Z's story was a bit of a change in tone, but after all these two had gone through, I wasn't really bothered by how sweet and schmaltzy it was. I was much too happy for them for that. And well, I liked Z's determination that he was going to fix himself before he went after Bella. Sweetie!

While the focus is on Z and Bella, the novel isn't just about them, but about the world they live in and the people in it. Z and Bella's story isn't shortchanged at all, but we get quite a bit about Phury (oh, I practically cried for him, poor thing! I can't wait for his book), Butch and Marissa, Bella's brother, Rehvenge, Vishous, Tohr and Wellsie and John. The interactions among the Brothers are as fascinating as ever, and so are the other subplots. The only one I thought was a bit lacking was Rehvenge's story. I don't think I'm too sure of what his issue is about (am I leaving this vague enough?)

Of course, Wrath and Beth and Rhage and Mary are very much there, too, but I think Ward was very smart in not really giving them that much space. There's nothing more boring than couples from previous books showing up solely to show off how happy they are, after all. Much more interesting to get those subplots about all those other people whose lives are all very much unsettled.

While a couple of strings are left loose at the end of the book (for instance, what's going to be the meaning of that new development about Butch, which happens late in the book? I guess we'll find out in the next book. Same thing for the real truth about John's parentage. I mean, it's pretty obvious (says I, and I'm probably going to end up being mistaken), but we don't really get confirmation), it's not something as huge as what was left loose in Lover Eternal... the whole conclusion of Bella's kidnapping! Hmm, actually, I liked that we get a better closure here, but I don't know if it was the best choice for Ward. After all, the manipulation in LE really worked for me, even as I complained that I was feeling manipulated. I was just desperate to read this one! Now, next book I'll be buying immediately, don't get me wrong, but the wait will be easier.

BTW, the names are still silly. And even sillier and even more juvenile are all those terms like "sehcluded" and "ghardian" and that kind of thing. As much as I call them silly, I've kind of got used to the guys' names, but whenever one of those new words appeared, I winced. Oh, and the way they spoke in the 19th century flashbacks! My god, that was horrible! The flashbacks themselves were very well done, but the language? Sucked.

Lover Revealed coming in 6 months. I'm not too crazy about Butch and Marissa (man, she's been sooooo boring so far!), but what the hell, I'm going to be ordering it the minute it comes out, anyway!


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