Friday, March 9, 2007

Dark Lover

Dark Lover

Author: J.R. Ward
Publisher: Signet Eclipse
Released: September, 2005

Series: the Black Dagger Brotherhood series
Position in Series: Book 1 of 4 to date
Main Characters: Wrath, Beth Randall
Sequel Bait: Rhage, Phury, Vishous, Zsadist, Torhment, Butch, Marissa
Bad Guys: The Lessers
Minor Characters: Havers, Wellsie

Wrath is a member and the de facto leader of a warrior class of vampires known as the Black Dagger Brotherhood. The BDB is charged with protecting the vampire race against soul-less ex-humans known as the Lessening Society, a group hell-bent on eradicating the entire species from the planet. The last pure-blood vampire left, Wrath is blindingly loyal to his fellow BDB brothers but remains separate much of the time, preferring to keep to himself and denying his destiny to become the Vampire King.

All of this changes, however, when Darius, a fellow BDB warrior, asks Wrath for a special favor. Darius has fathered a half-breed girl who is nearing her time of transition – the time when a vampire reaches full maturity and undergoes extreme physical changes in a very short amount of time. Darius fears that without a pure-blooded male vampire to help his daughter, Beth, through her transition, the girl will die. Wrath is horrified at the though of performing such an act and declines Darius’s request. However, when Darius is killed soon afterwards, Wrath feels he has no choice but to seek out Beth and give her whatever help he can. Problem is, Beth has never met her father, has no idea that vampires even exist, and certainly would never believe herself to be one.

Wrath does find Beth, and despite his reluctance to get involved, finds himself attracted to her in ways he’s never before experienced. For her part, Beth feels an immediate attraction for the dark and scary Wrath, although swallowing the fact that she’s about to become a vampire herself proves a little more challenging. The two of them navigate the rough terrain of Beth’s acceptance of who she is and her change into a fully mature vampire, constant attacks by the lessers, and Wrath’s coming to terms with his dark past and his need to embrace his role if the vampire race has any hope of survival.

In addition to meeting Wrath and Beth, we are also introduced to the other members of the BDB. There’s Rhage, the vampire with the face of an angel and the sexual appetites of the Sixth Fleet after eighteen months at sea. Tohrment fills the role of the settled vampire, his wife, Wellsie, pregnant with their first young. Vishous is mysterious, with tattoos covering his face and a glove-covered hand that seems to contain unspeakable power. Phury is the metrosexual of the bunch, a sharp dresser with a head of amazing hair, a false leg, and a vow of celibacy. His twin brother, Zsadist, is perhaps the most intriguing of the whole bunch. A former blood slave who spent the first 100 years of his life serving a mistress in needs too dark to discuss, Zsadist is a shell filled with nothing but rage and hatred.
Too, there is homicide detective Butch O’Neal, who enters the story as a potential love interest for Beth. However, as Beth becomes part of the BDB world, Butch’s role becomes much more complicated when he tries to protect her from forces he can’t begin to understand.

The story takes place in fictional Caldwell, NY, amidst the clubs and back alleys and sprawling countryside just beyond the city’s borders. This setting allows for a menacing darkness, one never certain what might lurk down a dark alley or around the next corner either in the form of a lesser, a vampire or even an unsavory human.

The first thing that strikes the reader about Ward’s world is that these vampires are not your traditional European-born, pasty-skinned seducers who creep about in the night. You won’t find a single puffy-shirt in any of the closets of the BDB, although you would find a lot of Armani, Gucci and Ferragamo in Phury’s wardrobe. Ward’s vampire males are modern day warriors more in common with street gangs than Count Dracula. They drive monster SUVs, listen to rap music at ear-splitting decibles, play pool, follow the Boston Red Sox on plasma screen TVs, drink beer and spend the time they aren’t hunting lessers giving each other a hard time. They’re computer savvy, sport tattoos in a variety of places, and leather is their uniform of choice. In short, these brothers are cooler than cool.

Gone, also, is the traditional vampire desire for human blood. Ward’s vampire race gain their sustenance and power via the blood of a vampire of the opposite sex. While human blood offers a tiny boost, it is viewed as inferior to vampire blood, leaving the human inhabitants of Caldwell free from fear. Ward turns the vampires’ need for blood of the opposite sex into a direct correlation to sex: sharing blood is considered an extremely intimate act and quite often leads to other physical expressions of desire. A vampire male would as soon let his mate share her blood or take the blood of another male as he would sit by and watch her have sex with him. Bloodlust is on par with pure lust, and rather than being disgusting as one might expect, scenes depicting blood drinking are highly erotic.

Ward has chosen to follow traditional vampire lore by making sunlight lethal to her particular species. They also possess extraordinary strength, the ability to dematerialize (as long as they are not in a steel-lined room), and nearly immortal constitutions affording them very long lives. The structure of vampire society is multi-layered, with the BDB warrior class, the civilian population, and even an aristocracy, making it easy to believe that an entire other world exists once the sun goes down.

The story’s heroine, Beth Randall, begins as a smart, self-reliant woman who seems to have a lot of good common sense without being unbelievably kick-ass. When she’s attacked by some street thugs, she fights back, but it’s a struggle. When she learns about her half-vampire heritage, her reaction rings true, a mixture of disbelief, fear, and dawning understanding about why so many parts of herself had never seemed normal. She’s attracted to Wrath from the beginning even as she fears him. However, she never resorts to playing the game of coy maiden, taking what she wants from him without apology or self-flagellation.

However, Beth does spend a good amount of time in Wrath’s bed, waiting for him to return from his job as fighter-extraordinaire. Too, one can’t help but wonder how easy it was for Beth to give up everything in her human life to join the vampire world. We are asked to believe that no-one would notice her sudden disappearance off the face of the planet. Nor does she show much regret in the life she must leave behind, especially as the picture we are given of the future she faces is not full of much other than sex with Wrath and hanging around the Black Dagger Brotherhood headquarters.

It becomes easy to overlook the flaws in Beth because the dynamics between the members of the BDB are so amazing. Alpha-males without apology, these guys are dangerous to the nth degree and utterly fascinating. Their interactions with each other are spot on, supportive and unflinchingly loyal, with the perfect amount of friendly adversity to ring true. You feel like an insider at the hottest frat party in town. The dialogue is authentic, and reading this book it is easy to see that Ward loves these guys and enjoys spending time with them.

As a hero, Wrath easily fits the mold of brooding, tortured soul/reluctant leader. Painful experiences in his past have made him unwilling to embrace his role as the leader of the vampires. His neglect has led to the near destruction of the vampire race, and its only with Beth’s help that he’s able to face his demons. Their romance is white-hot and intense, with very little foreplay and nearly zero guilt. Wrath’s reaction to Beth and his subsequent obsession with her perfectly exemplifies the nature of the vampire race, which they themselves consider as more animalistic than human. Instincts are the driving force behind the possessiveness vampire mates feel for each other, and Wrath’s struggle with his mental unwillingness to bond with Beth even as his body and soul betray him provides the majority of the conflict between the two.

The pacing of the story keeps the action moving at a nice clip. Despite the high number of characters introduced, you never become confused about who is who, nor do you feel that any one character gets short shrift. While Ward provides enough action with the BDB fighting the lessers, the story remains character-driven. By the end of the book, you feel vested in more than just the hero and heroine, however no single character has emerged as blatant sequel bait. Each character introduced plays an important role in the story and is interesting in his or her own right.

While the villains of the story – the lessers of the Lessening Society and their leader, The Omega – were certainly creepy and menacing, I was left a little fuzzy about their motivation for wanting to eradicate the vampire race. There is explanation about the creation of vampires leading to some resentment among the vampire gods that is supposed to explain the animosity, but I found it a bit of a flimsy motivation to explain the lengths to which the lessers go to kill vamps.

This review would not be complete without addressing Ward’s creative spelling and unusual character names. It took me a while to get used to the names of the BDB warriors, and I puzzled over why Ward added so many un-necessary letters for what seemed like nothing more than effect. However, by the end of the book I couldn’t imagine any other names for Rhage, Vishous, Phury, Zsadist, Wrath and Tohrment. I found the glossary at the beginning of the book useful. I liked having that bit of foreknowledge before I began reading and much prefer getting such information in a straightforward manner rather than in some contrived exposition in the middle of the story.

Overall, I found Dark Lover an excellent introduction into the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.

Rating: Couldn’t Put It Down
Status of Series: Outstanding introduction, can’t wait for the next installment


Latoya said...

This was an excellent review and I totally agree with all points. I just couldn't have summed it up better myself.

Anonymous said...

All late as foxtrot but I agree I really loved this book and agree with your summary.