Monday, March 12, 2007

Lover Revealed

Lover Revealed
Author: J.R. Ward
Publisher: Signet Eclipse
Release Date: March, 2007

Series: the Black Dagger Brotherhood series
Position in Series: Book 4 of 4 to date
Main Characters: Butch, Marissa
Sequel Bait: Vishous, Rehvenge, John
New Characters: Blaylock, Qhuinn, Xhex
Brief Appearance: Beth, Wrath, Havers
Back Burnered: Phury, Rhage, Mary

J.R. Ward continues to delve into the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, vampire warriors charged with saving their species from extinction. Book 4 - Lover Revealed - picks up a short while after the ending of the previous title, Lover Awakened.

In Dark Lover, Butch O’Neal gained a place of particular importance as the first human ever granted admission into the Black Dagger Brotherhood inner circle. An ex-homicide detective who abandoned his human life completely, Butch is privy to their secrets, shares the same enemies, and counts the brothers even as his own family. However, their reluctance to let him fight side by side with them frustrates him endlessly. Too, his unrequited love for female vampire Marissa is a constant source of pain, leaving him to take solace in bottomless glasses of scotch. The eternal outsider looking in, he’s self-destructing at an alarming rate.

Marissa has spent her entire life feeling rejected. Her first husband, the Vampire King Wrath, cast her aside for his mate, Beth, without having ever truly made her his wife in the physical sense. The vampire aristocracy of which Marissa is a member wants nothing to do with her. And Butch, the human male who seemed so interested in her only months before, turned down her request to come calling on her. Marissa sees her life as meaningless, she fits in nowhere and has no hope for things to change in the future.

One night, Butch finally gets his wish. He finds himself face to face with a band of lessers in process of attacking a vampire civilian. Before reinforcements can arrive, Butch is taken by the lessers and tortured to within an inch of his life. As additional insult, the lesser leader the Omega infects Butch with an unspeakable evil. While Marissa manages to give him reason to live and pulls him through his near-death experience, Butch is left uncertain as to what he has now become: an enemy of his friends in the BDB or an instrument they can use in their fight against the lessers.

As Butch struggles with the changes in his life and navigating his growing romance with Marissa, Vishous is fighting his own demons. Devastated over what has been done to Butch, Vishous tries to understand why the visions that had always haunted him have gone dry. Too, as Butch grows closer to Marissa, Vishous feels that he is losing his best friend. He can’t understand why everyone around him has managed to find a connection that seems to elude him entirely.

The fourth entry in the BDB continues to pull you into the world of these vampire warriors. However, LR focuses less on the BDB as a unit and more on the relationships between a couple of key characters. While they all appear in some brief form or another, the group dynamic from the previous books is missing in LR. Perhaps this is the inevitable result of other characters having found mates and having less time to spend with the guys, but I find it kind of sad. Rhage takes a pretty hefty backseat, as did Mary and Zsadist. Phury was barely mentioned at all. I found that a surprise given how low Phury had sunk by the end of Lover Awakened.
John continues to deal with the murder of Wellsie and the disappearance of Tohrment, trying to channel his grief and rage into his growing skills as a warrior. He watches as his friend (newcomer Blaylock) survives his transition and wonders desperately when he will finally become a true warrior. Lash continues to torment John, and despite warnings from instructor Zsadist to avoid retaliation, John finds it harder and harder to hold back his growing fury. As a concession to the loss of the BDB male-only society as the warriors find mates, John’s new friendships with Blaylock and Qhuinn seem a set-up for a new order of warriors to fill the gap.

In Dark Lover, Marissa is presented as not much more than a cardboard waif, a beautiful yet helpless victim of Wrath’s indifference. Through the next two titles – Lover Eternal and Lover Awakened – she didn’t grow much beyond that image of a virginal princess not sturdy enough to survive a strong gust of wind. I was anxious going into LR that Marissa would remain that way, and I wasn’t sure I could like her. In fact, I blame this wariness about Marissa as a heroine for my lack of excitement about Lover Revealed. I was going to need a lot of convincing to believe that a man as great as Butch would ever love someone as weak-kneed as Marissa.

To her credit, Marissa did grow a backbone. When confronted with choosing between the man that she loved and her brother’s insistence that she was far too good for the mere human Butch, Marissa stood her ground. Her rebelliousness cost her the only home and security she had ever known, but she did not lay down and give up. Rather, she identified her strengths and used them to help other vampires that she recognized were in far worse shape than she herself. Although, I never got the impression that Butch’s obsession with Marissa was based on anything more substantial than her exceptional beauty, purity and ability to deliver a killer kiss. At least she stepped up to equal previous heroines Beth, Mary and Bella as far as compelling females go. I’ve determined that Ward’s strength will always be in her heroes – which are, indeed, to die for – and her weakness in heroines.

A pattern is emerging from all of the romantic relationships presented in the BDB series: it seems that the attraction a male feels for his future mate is based almost entirely on an intangible, soul-mate like instinct he feels upon first meeting her. It’s not that any particular heroine does something worthy of earning the love of one of the warriors. It’s more that he feels an immediate and inexplicable attraction to a particular female as soon as he lays eyes on her and only later begins to learn of her redeeming qualities. The selection of a mate and the subsequent urge to bond seems based on something akin to pheromones rather than personality or deeds. This reinforces the vampire species as more animalistic than human aspect of Ward’s particular type of vampire. However, as a human female, it leaves me a bit frustrated. Because Ward’s heroes are so over the top desirable, I feel they deserve equally fabulous females that must prove their worth before inspiring the men to give themselves so completely, body, heart and soul.

My main issue with Lover Revealed is how the relationship between, oddly enough, Vishous and Butch is handled. By the end of the book, I felt somewhat betrayed because, frankly, the wrong couple got the happily ever after.

The sorrow and despair Vishous feels as he watches his best friend develop a romantic relationship with Marissa is palpable. My heart broke along with Vishous’s, and I would argue that the unexplored romance between Vishous and Butch was far better rendered than the actual one that existed between Marissa and Butch. I felt as if in Ward’s heart, she truly believed that Vishous and Butch belonged together, but her head argued that readers would never buy a homosexual relationship, either within the constructs of the manly-man world of the BDB or even in the bigger picture romance genre as a whole. It’s as if a mandate had been established that all members of the BDB will find love in the form of a female, regardless of how their natures or desires truly lie. Therefore, Vishous’s love for Butch will be left both unexplored and unrequited, explained away as something deeper than friendship but purely asexual. Ward has even gone so far as to offer a mystical connection between the two – a way that one is necessary to the other to become a complete fighting unit – in order to keep them closer than most of the other members of the brotherhood who are not related yet still avoid labeling such a relationship as romantic.

I find this incredibly sad because it is so infrequent that I come across two male characters who can so completely sell me on a romantic relationship between them. I don’t read romance specifically designated as homosexual, but I have no problems at all when same sex relationships develop organically because of the natures of the characters in the story. For example, I find Suzanne Brockmann’s Jules Cassidy a most intriguing character, his sexual orientation secondary to everything else interesting about him. Vishous and Butch are very masculine, tough, kick-ass warriors. Allowing them a relationship with each other would not change that image for me. Their friendship has been shown in such a way that an attraction between them is not only natural, but completely keeping in character. Forcing Butch into a relationship with Marissa that doesn’t move me simply because a homosexual relationship with Vishous is taboo by romance novel standards is tragic because it goes against what I’ve come to believe so far about these two men and what they mean to each other.

I have no idea what Ward’s intentions for these characters really were, or if I’m reading more into the relationship between Butch and Vishous than she ever meant to convey. I’m not sure if it’s a compliment to her writing or a criticism that my take on the feelings Vishous has for Butch are far more than fraternal, but that’s where I land. I can’t quite be happy for Butch and Marissa because I will always feel that he’s with the wrong person.

That being said, the teaser excerpt for Vishous’s story, Lover Unbound, that appears in the back of LR has me quite excited to see what happens to him, and I fully admit that I might change my mind after reading LU.

Ward continues to offer one of the best series out there. I literally mark my calendar in anticipation for the next book, and I’m glad to read that she has no intention of stopping any time soon.

I will add one bit of advice for Ward, if she cares to hear it. Please - please - enough with the label name dropping. I found it pertinent to world building in the first book, slightly annoying in the second and third, and downright irritating in LR. I get the picture - that some of the characters dress well - and I have no idea what the various name brands mean, so they are meaningless to me. All they do is bring me out of the story when I'm reading. Too, I would imagine that such specifics will date these books fairly quickly, which would be a great shame.

Rating: Held My Attention
Series Status: Still strong, hoping for better heroines and a new plot structure

5 comments:

wendy said...

Great review.

Anonymous said...

Excellent review. I felt too that V and Butch were meant to be together as I was reading it along. It felt somehow wrong that he got with Marissa.

A scene in the book when Butch was finally admitted in was what made me sure that V and him were suppose to get together.

Anonymous said...

LR SPOILER FOLLOW


That is a GREAT review -- the best I've seen. The comments about B and V were completely accurate. List every single element of a hero's relationship with a heroine -- except sex -- and it is there in V's attitude towards B. Possessivness, jealousy, attraction, deep emotional connection, fear for their survival and safety, enjoyment of their company, admiration of their personal qualities, you name it. To top it off, they DID in FACT have a sexual relationship -- Not only did they wake up naked together after a night of (private) "self-love", but in another episode, V brought B to climax, and in yet another, they held each other by the hips while drinking blood form each other.

Beating a dead horse aside, this will not be the one millionth and one review site I check form now on -- it will be the first.

Anonymous said...

Finally, a review of this book that not only I completely agree with, but explains what has been tugging at my heart.

I truly believe that Butch ended up with the wrong person.
I don’t read romance specifically designated as homosexual, but I have no problems at all when same sex relationships develop organically because of the natures of the characters in the story.

Me neither, not that I have a problem with it, but I generally like my romance (sex) books to be m/f. But I'm fine with the natural progression of V/Butch's relationship.

But GOD was I ever floored and totally hooked on Vishous/Butch. I loved their interaction in the first 3 books, and in Butch's book I felt an innate closeness to their relationship that was a lot deeper then 'really good friends'. While they are very close, they also have an underlying attraction to each other. Butch's constant comments at how beautiful V is. And V's wish to be the one Butch was stroking on the bed. Certainly proves that they think of each other a little different than just friends.

And the image of Butch's initiation was very VERY sexual in nature. V drinking his blood from his neck, while grasping each other by the hips. Wow, I'm sorry but I found that a lot sexier than any of the sex scenes between Butch and Marissa.

I really wished that she had explored their relationship, like I said I normally like my romance books m/f. But hell if she went ahead with the relationship between V and the cop, I would buy that book in a heartbeat. I’ll just keep hoping.

Anonymous said...

I too am pining Butch and Vishous. In general I don't read books that are homosexual in nature but I think that a romance would have been a natural progression.

I have read Vishous' book and to quite honest it only solidified my opinion that neither character got served properly. They will continue to be 2 halves of the same whole, soul mates for one another.

Though Ward will not go there and has tried to explain it away as Vishous being confused anyone who has read the series knows that there is no confusing the love they have had for one another.

I remember Phury describing them as an old mated pair in "Lover Awakened." They have everything that a hero/heroine are supposed to have and more. I've never seen anything like it.

For me Vishous and Butch will be the greatest romance that never was.