Monday, March 12, 2007

Lover Awakened

Lover Awakened
Author: J.R. Ward
Publisher: Signet Eclipse
Release Date: September, 2006

Series: the Black Dagger Brotherhood series
Place in Series: Book 3 of 4 to date
Main Characters: Zsadist, Bella
Sequel Bait: Butch O’Neal, Phury, John
New Characters: Rehvenge, Sarelle, Lash
Back Burnered: Marissa, Mary, Beth, Rhage

I confess to having had an almost obsessive need to get my hands on Lover Awakened as soon as it hit store shelves. Zsadist has emerged as the Black Dagger Brotherhood warrior who most intrigues me, his damaged soul and seemingly irredeemable nature making him my favorite kind of hero. I was not disappointed, and I find Lover Awakened the best title in the series to date.

LA picks up about six weeks after the ending of Lover Eternal. Aristocratic vampire Bella has been kidnapped by a lesser who sees her as the exact image of his dead wife. The sadistic David keeps her trapped in a 3-foot diameter pipe buried deep in the ground, allowing her to come up only so he can watch her shower and mentally and emotionally torture her. She’s slowly going mad, nearly certain that all efforts to find her have been abandoned and she’s destined to spend all eternity in this hell.

Zsadist, the most tortured member of the BDB, is driving himself crazy trying to learn the fate of Bella and rescue her if there is any chance at all that she still lives. He had spurned her interest in him when they first met, convinced that no normal female would ever find him attractive or want him in any loving way. He views himself as ruined, destroyed by the first hundred years of his life he spent as a blood slave, subject to the sadistic needs of a mistress who used him both for nourishment and sexual amusement. But something about Bella touched him deeper than he can explain, and the idea that she's come to harm at the hands of the lessers is driving him even more insane than normal.

Through a series of lucky coincidences, the BDB learn that Bella is alive and where she is being held. Zsadist and the other brothers rush to her rescue, but not before she suffers horrible physical abuse at the hands of her captor. Unwilling to let anyone else care for her although unable to understand why, Zsadist insists that Bella stay with him until she is better.

Bella is grateful that Zsadist has rescued her, but as she gets to know the depth of suffering Zsadist had endured as a blood slave and how deeply his psyche has been damaged, she fears that even her love won’t be enough to heal him. Zsadist cannot accept that such a beautiful female of worth should have anything to do with him, and he does everything in his power to push her away. However, Bella soon develops needs that only Zsadist can meet, and he’s forced to face his own fears in order to help her.

Meanwhile, Zsadist’s twin brother Phury is struggling with his own attraction to Bella. After rescuing Zsadist from his bondage as a blood slave, Phury had taken a vow of celibacy. (An aside here to say I’m still not quite sure why, exactly, Phury is determined to remain celibate. I get that he feels guilty that it was Zsadist rather than himself that was kidnapped as an infant, but I will need some more to really accept such an extreme sacrifice.) As Phury spends more time with Bella, he begins to doubt his ability to keep his vow of celibacy, and when it becomes clear that Bella has chosen Zsadist above all others, Phury’s love for her becomes a torture he can barely stand.

John, whom we met in LE, has settled in with Wellsie and Tohrment. For the first time in his life, he has finally found happiness, a sense of belonging, and the love of a family. He throws himself into his training even though most of the other trainees are bent on making his life a living hell. He meets the sweet Sarelle, and everything finally begins to go his way. When tragedy strikes, he's one of the ones hit hardest of all.

Flat out the best part of this book is Zsadist’s journey. And Ward deserves much kudos because she never takes the easy way out. Most books starring tortured heroes allow for the hero to spurn the heroine to a point, then with not much more than a kiss or a hot night of sex or even an I love you, his damaged heart is healed. Not so with Zsadist. From page one through the last page in the book, you can sense Zsadist’s inner turmoil. Even after he comes to accept that he loves Bella and she him, he is not made whole. He continues to do everything in his power to deny and destroy their budding relationship.
Ward invokes the use of flashbacks to show us Zsadist’s horrific past rather than simply tell us about it, and I think the technique is key. Getting inside of his head as he becomes the blood slave of a mistress so twisted and sadistic – and knowing as we do that he has to suffer a century of her mental, physical and emotional abuse – does a great deal to aid our understanding about why Zsadist has the hang-ups he does. Why he cannot bear to be touched. Why he refuses to drink from another vampire and gets all of his sustenance from humans. Why he truly believes he is not nearly good enough for the pure and good-hearted Bella. He shows true signs of his psychological damage: Zsadist’s reaction the first time Bella asks to feed from him was a heartbreaking scene. This isn’t just a cardboard tortured hero who is “damaged” simply because the writer says so. We as readers learn why and we understand.

Bella is my favorite Ward heroine so far. While she fits the BDB female mold in that she doesn’t do a whole lot more than recover and be protected, this girl knows what she wants – Zsadist – and she doesn’t take no for an answer. Time and again Zsadist tries to redirect Bella’s affections toward Phury, whom he feels is far more worthy of her, yet Bella holds her ground. For whatever reason, Zsadist is the one she wants and she won’t accept any substitutes. I also enjoyed watching Bella stand up to Zsadist. From the first two books, we get the definite impression that Zsadist is someone no-one, not even the other brothers, wants to piss off. Yet Bella isn’t afraid of doing so.

As I remarked in my review of LE, I would say that Ward spends a little bit too much time in the head of the lessers, although the obsession the lesser David has with Bella is important to the plot and has ramifications that effect all of the brother, so is worthy, therefore, of exploration.

In LA, we meet Rehvenge, Bella’s autocratic and domineering brother. Through him we are introduced the concept of sehclusion (yes, there’s that off spelling that I find somewhat bothersome), in which an unmated female can be forced by the will of an older, male relative, to basically become not much more than chattel, unable to leave her home or do pretty much anything without specific permission. In theory such an action is meant to protect females, however anyone born within the past two hundred years would agree that it reeks of anti-feminism. I understand that this sehclusion, which Rehvenge plans to inflict upon Bella for her own protection, is necessary for certain time-sensitive plot developments. However, I was kind of disappointed in it. In the first two BDB titles, I never got the impression that this particular vampire society was so backward. Females were honored and protected, but never treated as property. I admit to my weakness for alpha-males, but I do draw the line at this sort of caveman-think. I hope it's not indicative of things to come.

Lover Awakened ups the ante significantly for Ward, as I can't imagine how she plans to top it. Next on deck is Butch's story, and his set-up hasn't proven nearly intriguing as Zsadist's was, so I'm not as excited about it. Too, I'm hoping that Ward doesn't shelf Zsadist now that his story has been told. He's become my favorite BDB brother, and I'd hate to have seen the last of him.

Rating: All Nighter
Status of Series: The best so far. Afraid the only way it can go is downhill

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