Saturday, March 10, 2007

Lover Eternal

Lover Eternal

Author: J.R. Ward
Publisher: Signet Eclipse
Release Date: March, 2006

Series: the Black Dagger Brotherhood series
Position in Series: Book 2 of 4 to date
Main Characters: Rhage, Mary Luce
Sequel Bait: Bella, John, Butch, Zsadist
New Characters: Bella, John
Back-Burnered: Phury, Vishous, Beth, Marissa

Lover Eternal picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of the first book in the series, Dark Lover. Wrath has assumed his role as the Vampire King with his mate, Beth, as his queen. The Black Dagger Brotherhood has moved into new headquarters, and the war against the Lessening Society continues as more and more civilian vampires are targeted for extinction. Butch O’Neal has joined the team as the first human ever allowed entrĂ©e into the exclusive vampire society, although he’s limited by his human-ness in how far the brotherhood will allow him to go in fighting the lessers.

Rhage steps up as the hero of Lover Eternal. Nicknamed Hollywood, Rhage possesses breath-taking good looks which turn the heads of females both human and vampire. This gift is a necessity for Rhage, whose sexual appetites are legendary and nearly unquenchable. He spends his nights alternately killing lessers and nailing anything in a skirt. Always quick with a joke and a smile, the life of every party, Rhage seems to have not a care in the world.

However, Rhage’s life of sinful excess is simply a sham to cover up the darkness that lurks inside. Long ago he was cursed after he offended the goddess of the vampires. She placed a beast inside him, a dragon-like monster who appears whenever Rhage loses control of his emotions. No one is safe when the beast comes out, and Rhage lives in constant fear that he will inadvertently kill one of his brothers or innocent bystanders. Only in releasing his pent up energies by fighting and endless sex can he maintain his thread-thin control. His constant need for physical release has left him emotionally bereft, and he longs to find something meaningful, someone to care for and who cares for him.

On the other side of town, Mary Luce (pronounced LOOSE) is fighting her own inner darkness. The leukemia she had thought she had beaten a few years earlier has come out of remission, dimming all her prospects for a happy future. Mary has tried to fill her empty life with altruistic efforts, and it is through her volunteering at a suicide hotline that she meets John, a mute, orphaned boy who seeks her out as a source of comfort. When Mary’s neighbor, Bella, sees in John a pre-transition vampire who has no idea what he is going to become (Bella herself is a female vampire), Mary agrees to act as translator for the speechless boy when Bella brings him to the BDB. It is at the BDB compound where Rhage literally bumps into Mary as he is recovering from his latest encounter with the beast.

Rhage finds something in Mary’s voice that soothes him and the beast within, and he determines to spend as much time with her as possible despite the rules forbidding vampires to interact with humans. Mary is stunned that the gorgeous Rhage wants anything to do with her given that she considers herself average at best. Too, she refuses to expose an outsider to the hell that her life is soon to become as she fights her cancer.

When Rhage’s insistence on being with Mary puts her in the lessers' sights, his romantic interest quickly turns to a protective one. He moves her into the BDB headquaters, determined to protect her at all cost even though bringing a human into the BDB world costs him dearly. As the attraction between the two of them grows, Rhage’s fear grows as well, not only that Mary will be found by the lessers but that his beast could be released if he loses control of his passions, hurting or even killing her. He struggles to maintain his physical distance even as Mary continues to push him away emotionally, unwilling to take the comfort he offers in her time of need.

While I did not find this title as strong as Dark Lover, I thoroughly enjoyed this second foray into the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. The characters remain as intriguing as ever. Beth and Wrath – heroine and hero of the first book – make enough of an appearance as continuity would expect without becoming cloying examples of the last happily ever after. We learn more about the other members of the BDB as well as meeting new characters Bella and John who look to be key players in upcoming books.
The pacing continues to be excellent and the dialogue realistic and fresh. The strengths I found in Dark Lover continue in Lover Eternal. The interaction between the warriors continues to offer an almost voyeuristic sensation, their dialogue so realistic. The world of the vampires gains more depth as we get more history on how they came to be and we watch Wrath make changes to bring the species back to a healthy status.

However, the main weakness I had with DL increases exponentially in LE. While the male characters leap off the page, I found that Ward’s heroine fell a bit short. Once Mary meets Rhage, she becomes something of a prop, serving more as an element to bring out certain aspects of Rhage rather than as a viable person in her own right. Like Beth before her, Mary spends a lot of time hanging out in Rhage’s bedroom, being protected and not a whole lot else. I would argue that the plot structure of both books is very similar except that Mary remains human while Beth became a vampire.

I also found Mary’s cancer to be less of a conflict than the potential it provides. Other than her reluctance to let Rhage share her suffering, which is odd considering Rhage has caused her to leave everything in her former life behind and is clearly a much stronger being than any human, Mary’s cancer is largely ignored as an issue. Physically, it affected her very little; she was quite capable of many rounds of gymnastic sex with Rhage. Not until the end did her cancer play a critical role in the story, and how it was handled bordered precariously close to a deus ex machina solution for my taste.

Ward is a master at juggling multiple character points of view, and there is never any confusion about whose perspective you are in at any given moment. However, I felt that in LE, too much time was spent in the point of view of the lessers. I tended to skim those parts, and I found if you don’t read carefully, the machinations of who is in charge and who is back-stabbing whom becomes confusing. I’m not really sure that we need to know such intricacies of the evil beings and their political maneuverings because they are pretty two-dimensional, serving mostly as a force for the BDB to fight against. That being said, one particular lesser emerges by the end of the book in such a way that it is clear he is key in the next book.

Unlike the first book, Ward is openly guilty of sequel baiting in Lover Eternal. But she is immediately forgiven because she has written characters so intriguing and offered us a set up for the next story so utterly irresistible, one can’t begin to resent the need to buy another of her books. As a running subplot in LE, aristocratic vampiress Bella finds herself entranced by the damaged and terrifying Zsadist, drawn to him even as he disdains her very touch. When Bella is kidnapped by lessers, Zsadist determines to find her, leaving us with a cliffhanger and an overwhelming anticipation for the next book.

Nothing in the first book is critical to understanding where the story picks up in the second, so LE could be read before DL without difficulty. However, I wouldn’t recommend it because the interaction between the brothers is such a delicious part of the story, and it builds upon itself from book to book. The glossary appears again at the front of the book, with a few new entries, so any new readers can easily catch up with the vampire mythology.

Rating: Couldn't Put It Down
Status of the Series: A very strong follow up to an excellent beginning. Set up for the third book in the series is well accomplished, and Lover Awakened looks to be possibly the best book yet.

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