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REVIEW: Dark Lover by JR Ward

Dark Lover by JR Ward Caught in a Mad Bromance – Dark Lover

In Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters (bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this) the witches of Lancre bless the child Tomjon with three gifts: to make friends easily, to always remember the words, and to be who he thinks he is. I read Wyrd Sisters at a young age, and the witches’ gifts always stuck with me, ever since I’ve rather admired people and things that are what they think they are.

Dark Lover is what it thinks it is.

For those of you who don’t already know, Dark Lover is the first instalment in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. The eponymous Black Dagger Brotherhood is basically a meze platter of hot dudes, each lovingly detailed with handy character traits for easy reference.

So there’s Wrath, the Blind King, the six-foot-six broad-shouldered massive-wanged leader of the Brotherhood. Then there is his second in command Tohrment, the level-headed one who is the only warrior amongst the Brothers to have found true happiness with his shellan. Following on from those we get Rhage, whose Hollywood-perfect good looks give way to a terrible beast when his curse is upon him. Vishous, the goateed, tattooed genius whose gloved left hand holds a terrible destructive power. Zsadist, the former blood-slave whose face is marred by scars and whose cold black eyes hold the promise of death. And Phury, who … has really good hair.

I could be wrong, but Dark Lover felt to me like it had a very clear sense of its target audience. It seems to have been aimed at people who like a particular set of things, and to have set out to serve those people by including as many of those things as humanly possible. This left me feeling a bit ambivalent about the book, because about half of the things which the book was throwing at me were things I really liked, and about half of them were things that made me want to facepalm so hard I gave myself a nosebleed.

Roughly speaking, I could sum up my reaction to the book as: Vampires, cool. Vampire society with extraordinarily rigid and painfully stereotypical gender roles, not cool.

I liked the setting, I liked the Black Dagger Brotherhood and the Lessening Society. I liked vampires-as-species rather than vampires-as-undead (I’ve seen this in a couple of paranormals actually, I suspect it’s a way of a avoiding the “fucking a corpse” problem you’re otherwise dealing with in vampire romance). I quite liked the mystical greebly stuff with the Brothers all having a Curse and this being a part of who they are. I was okay with the Scribe Virgin, although I wasn’t sure I could take the name seriously – it just felt too much like two nouns randomly jammed together, like she hangs out with the Taxidermist Misanthrope or the Barrister Masochist. Of course I suppose when the rest of your society are called things like Wrath, Rhage, Phury, Ahngry and Rheallyquhiteupsehtrightnow “Scribe Virgin” is actually fairly sensible.

I was less than wild about the way vampire “males” and “females” had their lives so utterly defined by their genders. Basically the Males Are The Warriors And Do The Protecting while the Females Are Protected And Provide Emotional Support. I do get that this kind of setup has an appeal for some people, and I’m really not judging, but I found it profoundly offputting. The whole thing just felt essentialist and unbalanced. For example, vampire males are allowed to have more than one shellan (vampire wife), but vampire females normally only have one hellren (vampire husband) despite the fact that female vampires fairly explicitly go into a mating frenzy every few years during which they need more lovin’ than any one male can reasonably provide.

I don’t think it helped that both Wrath and his first shellan Marissa are shown to be profoundly damaged by the gendered expectations of their society, but their society is not blamed for the damage. Wrath fails to protect his family from the lessers and feels he has failed as a male because Males Are For Doing Protecting. Marissa spends two centuries with Wrath treating her like shit, and feels she has failed as a female, because Females Must Support Their Males. Both characters are shown to be mistaken in their self-recrimination but not for reasons I’m comfortable with. Wrath is wrong to feel that his failure to protect his family makes him a Bad Male because his actions since have shown him to be a Good Male who is good at Fighting and Protecting. Marissa is wrong to feel that Wrath’s rejection of her makes her a Bad Female because her endless, selfless devotion to him actually made her a Good Female, and her status as a Good Female is ultimately reinforced at the end of the book when she finds somebody who appreciates what a Good Female she truly is (and also, arguably, when she allows Wrath to leave her to be with the heroine, because again making sacrifices for her Male seems to be what Good Females do in this setting). At no point is it suggested that Wrath or Marissa would have been better off if their society hadn’t made these unreasonable demands of them in the first place, they just mistakenly believe that they have failed in their duties, when really they have succeeded.

So, umm, anyway. Plot.

Dark Lover is the story of Wrath, who is King of the Vampires (although like movie!Aragorn and, I think every king I have ever seen as a viewpoint character in mainstream fiction, he believes himself unfit to lead) and Beth who is … umm … a human female. Okay, I’m being a little bit unfair here, Beth isn’t completely devoid of personality, and towards the end of the book she develops the pleasing habit of telling the hero where to stick his alpha bullshit, but the text is far, far less interested in her than it is in the Brotherhood. Wrath is asked by his Brother (that’s capital-B brother, so metaphorical warrior-brother not literal brother) Darius to protect his (Darius’) daughter. Wrath initially refuses, but then Darius is blown up by a car bomb (he clearly couldn’t have stayed in the Brotherhood for long anyway – I mean I know Darius is the name of a dead Persian emperor but compared to the rest of the Brotherhood he might as well have been called Dave).

So anyway, Darius’ daughter turns out to be Beth. Beth is super-awesome-mega-hot. The kind of hot that makes literally everybody she meets who isn’t a villain fall in an appropriate degree of love with her (this is at least an upgrade on the more common kind of super-awesome-mega-hot which just makes everybody want to rape you). Wrath breaks into Beth’s apartment, and she freaks out, so he erases her memory. The next evening he breaks into her apartment again, and they have sex despite only having said about seventeen words to each other. This happens in chapter eight. Chapter eight of fifty-five. It also begins what I like to think of as the Saga of Wrath’s Erection. At the start of chapter ten, we are given this description of Wrath’s naked body:

“His upper arms were the size of her thighs. His abdomen was ribbed as if he were smuggling paint rollers under his skin. His legs were thick and corded. And his sex was as big and magnificent as the rest of him.” (p. 92)

Now I don’t normally nitpick writing, particularly not at the sentence level, and I don’t actually think that there’s anything wrong with that description at all – it conveys Beth’s breathless wonder at the sight of Wrath’s naked (and, we later discover, hairless) body perfectly well. And I fully appreciate that, in context “as big and magnificent as the rest of him” reads most naturally as “big and magnificent in the same way that the rest of him was big and magnificent.” Unfortunately the line was just ambiguous enough that I spent the rest of the book stuck with the mental image of Wrath’s penis being literally the same size as the rest of his body.

It doesn’t help that Wrath’s erection is described in decidedly … umm … animated terms. It’s constantly straining for freedom, or being sprung from his flies, or pulsing with a heartbeat of its own. Even when quiescent, it casts a remarkable shadow over the narrative. Early on Beth feels it like a thick rope against her belly, and towards the end of their relationship Marissa is first excited and terrified by Wrath’s erection, and then crushed to realise that:

“That erection wasn’t because of her. Wasn’t for her.” (p. 187)

By the end of the book, Wrath’s erection was coming perilously close to being my favourite character. It could almost have been a member of the Brotherhood in its own right. Although I suppose it would have had to call itself “Ehrection” or something. Although thinking about it, it could have got away with “Phallus”.

Anyway, the rest of the plot concerns the efforts of “Mr X” the Fore-lesser of the Lessening Society to wipe out the Black Dagger Brotherhood by … umm … murdering prostitutes. In theory the plan is to use the delicious hooker-blood to lure out “civilian” vampires so that he can torture them for information about the Brotherhood but holy shitmonkeys does that sound like a terrible plan. I mean surely that’s like trying to get hold of military secrets by just randomly abducting people off the streets, your chances of grabbing somebody who actually knows anything are basically zero. I mean, I suppose vampire society is smaller and more close-knit, but the Brotherhood really don’t seem to hang out with anybody outside the Brotherhood. A major substrand of Mr X’s plan is to build up his ranks by recruiting more lessers. He manages to recruit exactly one, a boy named Billy Riddle who just happens to have tried to rape Beth at the start of the book.

I’m torn on this. On the one hand, I was quite pleased that the book made it very clear that Billy Riddle had tried to rape the heroine because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he was a horrible little shitbag who liked to rape people, rather than because she was Just That Beautiful. On the other hand I’m not wild about rape-as-plot-device, and I was particularly bothered about how much manly manly man-bonding Wrath did with maverick-cop-on-the-edge Butch O’Neil over their shared desire to inflict physical harm on the guy. Perhaps I’m just being overly touchy, but if somebody tries to rape your heroine, I don’t think the primary narrative function of that event should be to provide the basis for a good bromance. Having said all that, I thought Beth’s reaction in the immediate aftermath of the attack was fairly well handled (although I should stress that I am in no position whatsoever to be making judgements about that sort of thing). She’s shaken but not incapacitated, she feels she should go to the police, but doesn’t want to, and feels ashamed of not wanting to. It all felt interestingly shitty and low-key.

Anyway, Mr X inducts Billy into the Lessening Society. They try to kill Wrath. They fail. Beth is pretty cool in the final confrontation, actually getting to kind of sort of be a part of the fighting a little bit (although her role is mostly “essential last-second distraction” it’s still a step up from “victim”). Overall I found the whole ending a little bit anticlimactic – Mr X has been talking a really big game ever since chapter seven, and so I’d really hoped his plan would have a bit more to it than “and then me and this one guy who has no training whatsoever will kill the extraordinarily powerful vampire king who, by the way, I have only just found out really exists so I have absolutely no way of knowing what his capabilities are (by the way I am extremely meticulous in my work)”. I got kind of the feeling it was setting up for a bigger confrontation later on, but Mr X wound up looking kind of nonthreatening. I think that a big part of the problem was that the Brothers are clearly, individually, far more powerful than the lessers, but that the lessers don’t seems to like working in groups. Even Mr X, who is trying to reorganise the Lessening Society into something more military, seems at pains to avoid sharing his plans with his fellows, which means that in the final confrontation Wrath is only outnumbered two to one, odds which have never presented any members of the Brotherhood with anything resembling a challenge.

All in all I didn’t dislike Dark Lover. A lot of the time I could see why it was doing what it was doing, and why people whose preferences are different to mine might be into what it was doing. And I do have a sort of vague, intellectual interest in seeing what the other brothers’ books look like, but I never quite got that popcorny must-keep-going feeling that I understand a lot of other people have had.

Everything I learned about life and love from reading Dark Lover: Vampire hunters smell of baby powder. Vampire kings have no pubic hair. If your species is in trouble, breed a master race of hot warrior dudes. The only thing stronger than true love is an epic bromance.

 

51 Comments

  1. sula
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 12:23:17

    How funny that you are posting this today. I was JUST talking about this book to a friend of mine whom I am slowly bringing in to the Romance fold. Having hooked her with Kresley Cole’s “Immortal After Dark” series, I was describing “Dark Lover” and the BDB world to her as a possible follow-up read. The over-the-topness of it all is for me kind of a feature, not a bug. Although I find it a little weird that I can read the series with all of the gender role stuff that I dislike but still be very interested in following the characters and where they’re going. I always just skipped the bits about the lessers. Mr. X is followed in later books by Mr. Y and Mr. Z (or something like that) and I can’t be bothered to care about them. I wish Ward had stuck to keeping the books more straight romance with a focus on the couple instead of gigantic tomes attempting to cover entire societies and political machinations. Last night I finally started the latest installment (Lover at Last) after my turn on the library list came up and was sucked right back in. Despite my higher order brain’s protestations. Ah well. :)

  2. Muneera N.
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 12:34:43

    I always enjoy reading your reviews. I enjoy seeing a book I’ve read again through your perspective. I also had issues with the way the society and gender roles were set up, but I still read on to the next few books in the series. The last line made me laugh (partially because the YT “bromance” song started playing in my head). Thank you for another great review!

  3. Isobel Carr
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 12:35:43

    I hated the way Wrath treated Marissa with every fiber of my being. Setting up your “hero” as a total wanking asshole hobbles the book right out the door. Couple that with the heavy handed “Wrath hates all humans, he hates them soooooo bad” opening and then have him hump one with zero angst a few chapters later, and I’m out. DNF (immune to the crack).

  4. jennifer
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 13:07:56

    This series is bananas. There’s no getting around that. I know they’re not good for me, they are silly, cheesy, have strange product placement (DIAL soap forever!), and have horrible roles for women…and yet… and yet…can’t…stop…myself….(The only way I try to explain it is that they are the equivalent of “good-bad movies” (so bad they’re good). The BDB is a bunch of “good-bad books” ).

  5. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 13:10:54

    Yes. What you said. I do think this was one of the best in the series. I stopped reading at The Ghost Incident. Facepalmed and never went back. But she’s moving to urban fantasy, and I’m not too keen on that, so that gave me the excuse.
    It was the gender definitions that started to grate, and the way the women are mostly accessories. Plus the deus-ex-machina Scribe Virgin. But now I want the Ehrection character!

  6. cbackson
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 13:15:46

    EHRECTION.

    A+++ WOULD LOL AGAIN.

  7. Megan
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 13:19:30

    Anytime this series comes up, with this kind of criticism, I am all nodding my head in agreement, and yet I am STILL hooked on the crhack (chrack?). I’m currently in my office, it’s half-day Fridays, so it’s even quieter than usual, which meant I had to smother my snorts of laughter reading this. Barrister Masochist! THANK YOU.

  8. Lammie
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 13:22:47

    These books are cheesy but good. The 2nd through 5th books are my favourites. The 6th book is definitely the low point of the series, but I have read all of them and look forward to more. The male characters are definitely better written than the female characters, but I really have enjoyed the series as a whole. Also, some of the roles of women are challenged as the series goes on, and Marissa in particular becomes much more modern and enlightened. However, this is a book about male vampires fighting their enemies, and it is not until much later in the series that there are females who are part of that fight (Xhex and Payne). One thing I really enjoy about the series is that the world they live in is very well developed, and I am as interested in some of the secondary characters as I am in the main characters. Just think of it as a popcorn movie: you may not buy everything that happens, but you sure have fun watching it unfold.

  9. Willa
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 13:31:27

    @Lynne Connolly:

    I stopped reading at The Ghost Incident. Facepalmed and never went back.

    Me . . and many others too I suspect!

  10. Jae Lee
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 13:32:00

    Thank you for illustrating the things I hate about this series. The horrible gender politics gave me rhage face and and the character names made me phurious (couldn’t help myself, sorry). A lot of PNR has pretty awful gender imbalances, so it’s usually something I can let go of the for the length of at least one book, but it was that all these centuries old dudes had managed to pick up frat-bro slang so perfectly that was the breaking point for me. I hated every second I spent reading these but managed to plow through the first 8 since I had checked out both 4-volume collections from the library and I have trouble not finishing books. I remain perfectly amazed that I didn’t start frothing at the mouth.

  11. Lada
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 13:37:46

    LOL…I disliked Wrath and his Ehrection. I never understood why anyone would want to follow someone so whiny and filled with self-pity. I still read a few books in the series but the unbalanced gender roles drove me away quickly. I couldn’t take the bloody noses any more. :-)

    Love revisiting books I haven’t read or even thought about in years through your wit and thoughtful analysis. Great Friday entertainment!!

  12. Karenmc
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 13:42:10

    Another worthwhile review read, even though I’ve never been interested in this genre (genhre?). Fridays at work have become much easier to get through since the AJH awesomeness started.

  13. Janine
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 14:12:47

    I really enjoyed this book when it came out (and the fourth one, Marissa’s story, even more, although most readers weren’t as happy with it as I was), but eventually the appeal of this series wore thin for me, and I lost interest in them and weeded the books out of my collection.

    In addition to the gender issues you mention, which were the straw that broke my back, I also have concerns about cultural appropriation. A friend of mine once said, very aptly, that the book should be called “Pale Lover Who Wants to Be Dark, but Without the Issues.”

    The cartoonish aspect of the characters also wore me out. They didn’t feel multi-dimensional and real, one of the reasons why Butch and John Matthew, prior to their transformations, were the male characters I enjoyed most (I was disappointed when Butch turned into a vampire).

    When I look back on my years of reading the books, and try to understand their initial appeal, I think it had to do with them feeling like something new and different in mainstream romance. There weren’t many books of that length, with interweaving subplots, published at the time (and there still aren’t a ton of them). And paranormal was just beginning to take off back then, too.

    Regardless, a few years ago (around the time Xhex was kidnapped) I lost interest in them, and I haven’t been even a little tempted to revisit them.

  14. Estara Swanberg
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 14:25:56

    The shadow of the phallus hung over your whole review once you brought that image to my mind. ^^ Thank you for a lovely LOL end to the week.

    I think I read the first three and then suddenly my brain said, what the heck is this? Never reread them.

  15. JayhJay
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 14:39:36

    I do enjoy this series (though I have only read through about book 8) but loved your review.

    My favorite part:

    By the end of the book, Wrath’s erection was coming perilously close to being my favourite character. It could almost have been a member of the Brotherhood in its own right. Although I suppose it would have had to call itself “Ehrection” or something. Although thinking about it, it could have got away with “Phallus”.

    Totally captures the series in a nutshell (ok, that wasn’t supposed to be a pun!) Great job!

  16. Dee
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 15:03:48

    I just wanted to weigh-in to declare that a review without some AJH awesome sauce is like a day without sunshine. Thank you for consistently making me spray green tea through my nose and all-over my computer screen. I look forward to your reviews more than any highly-touted novella. From this day forward, everytime I hear the word *ehrection* I shall giggle like a schoolgirl. Thank you.

  17. Jen
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 15:26:43

    Ah, “Ehrection”. Nearly had me cry-laughing! Your reviews are the best part of my Friday afternoons. :)

    I read one of the other books in the series. Or, I *started* one, but DNF. I just can’t get into paranormal romances in general, and something about these books just both bored and repulsed me. Definitely not for me.

  18. Darlynne
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 15:29:15

    @Janine: I completely agree with you, Janine (including about the fourth book) and the “new and different” aspect of a bromance was probably the biggest hook for me. I stopped buying the books at Lover Reborn and am now digging my way through Lover At Last, hoping, at last, to be done.

    AJH, I can’t decide between “Rheallyquhiteupsehtrightnow” or “Taxidermist Misanthrope”; you’ve made my Friday, again, and I am grateful. Ever since your first review here, I looked forward to your take on the BDB and you delivered, as always. Well done.

  19. samalamadingdong
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 15:37:06

    it took me a entire year to get over this first installment and move on to the rest of the series. i was so irked at by how good it was purported to be and i just didn’t get the hype. there were so many are-you-for-real moments. i’m pretty sure i skimmed the last 20 chapters or so.

    and then somehow i got pulled into the second book a year later and finished the series within a few months. just devoured them!

    but for me, i guess, besides just crossing them off my tbr list, these books have provided a safe and cost effective way to experience senseless addiction.

  20. Janine
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 15:53:23

    @Darlynne: Thanks!

  21. SC
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 15:55:00

    Love your reviews! I picked this up a couple years after it came out to see what the hype for the series was all about. I lasted about 50 pages before I literally threw the book across the room and never finished it. I gave it to my roommate, who read it and pretty much thought it was dreck.

  22. leslie
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 15:56:50

    I wonder, is JR Ward a student of EST? The aspect of the gender roles reminds me alot of that philosophy…….even more so his protege…… J. Sterling’s Men Sex and Power seminars. Man is king and woman submissively maintains his kingdom.
    These kind of PNR’s are not my thing, the ridiculous names alone would steer me away. Is the series meant to be “camp”?

    As usual…….another fhunny and ahstute review! (couldn’t resist)

  23. toni
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 16:15:42

    You know, it never even matters what book you’re reviewing… I just enjoy the hell out of your reviews. You always crack me up. Thank you.

  24. PeggyL
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 16:49:53

    Being the first in a series, DARK LOVER’s main purpose is to introduce, set the tone, tease, etc. Thus, knowing its position, I was speculating heavily during my first reading. This was no easy feat amidst the unconventional and distracting names, not to mention my being unfamiliar with the rap culture and the BDB-dress code. Still I read on, because I liked the world built by Ward. I even decided then to read at least all the books about the original six Brothers.

    For me the series peaked at #3 and then went downhill from there. Reasons (many others have voiced) are: (1) can’t stand the writing, (2) inconsistent plot/continuity problem, (3) too many story arcs as to a loss of focus on the main characters, (4) conditional HEA (the “ghost” device).

    Yet, DARK LOVER still holds a place, if only for the purpose of introducing the next two stories.

    Thank you for the review.

    P.S. I don’t know if your monstrous List includes another popular PNR series – IAD – by Kresley Cole? I remember reading both somewhat around and at the same time back then.

  25. Willaful
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 16:50:54

    “I was particularly bothered about how much manly manly man-bonding Wrath did with maverick-cop-on-the-edge Butch O’Neil over their shared desire to inflict physical harm on the guy. Perhaps I’m just being overly touchy, but if somebody tries to rape your heroine, I don’t think the primary narrative function of that event should be to provide the basis for a good bromance.”

    I confess, I tend to find men who go vigilante about rapists (or about anything, really.) almost as horrifying as rapists.

  26. theo
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 17:52:19

    @Lynne Connolly:

    I stopped reading at The Ghost Incident. Facepalmed and never went back.

    YES! That right there. They were great brain candy to that point. I was able to overlook a lot of the things that were being introduced that were contrary to her self imposed immutable world building but that was the incident that drove me over the edge.

    And AJH, you make my Fridays. I’m with Toni. I don’t care what you’re reviewing. I just love reading the reviews. You put a whole new spin on things…

    By the end of the book, Wrath’s erection was coming perilously close to being my favourite character. It could almost have been a member of the Brotherhood in its own right. Although I suppose it would have had to call itself “Ehrection” or something. Although thinking about it, it could have got away with “Phallus”.

    Bwahahahahahahaha!!!

  27. lakaribane
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 18:17:59

    As unflattering as this may sound at first, I always for get Friday is your day. But, you’ll be happy to hear, I am always pleasantly surprised.

    As for the BDB, I ‘m not sure why I keep reading them. I,too, was put off by The Ghost Incident, as it is being called, and mostly skim the books now. No anticipation, no enthusiasm, nothing.

    And to be honest, I was always a bit puzzled by the Giant Hairless White Man and the whole shitkicker (boots)/black leather, urban slang thing. The visual was just…disturbing. And nobody noticed! And the women like that in a man/vampire!!!

  28. AJH
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 18:41:48

    Sorry for the late replies – I was at a party. And now they’re probably going to come in a huge clump so, uh, sorry again.

    @sula:

    You’re absolutely right, the OTTness (is that even a word?) is definitely a feature not a bug, and if it hadn’t been for the difficult gender stuff I would have been well on side with it.

    I didn’t mind the stuff with the lessers, at least when I was reading, largely because I assumed, erroneously, that they were actually going to do something. In hindsight, though, I’m slightly irritated by how much of a pointless distraction they turned out to be. It does seem like you could basically skip all their sections and not really lose anything.
    I know I was quite critical in the article but I can see why people like reading these books. There’s a certain cracktastic compulsiveness to them.

    @Muneera N.:

    Thank you – it’s nice to be reading books lots of other people have read because it means you’ve got more to talk about. I can totally see why you carried on with the series and although I’m vaguely curious to see where it goes, I’m not quite sure I could be bothered to continue.

    @Isobel Carr:

    That pissed me off as well – I’d like to say he treated her better later on, but he doesn’t really. I really felt like his ill-treatment of Marissa was supposed to validate his relationship with Beth, which is just wrong on so many levels. I seem to recall there’s a sort of half-arsed, off-page, pseudo-apology towards the end which is supposed to make everything okay, but you never get to see him remotely give a damn. It’s just so persistently gah throughout I think by the end I just sort of got inured to it.

    @jennifer:

    I think the thing about so-bad-it’s-good is that it’s very subjective and it very easily turns into just-bad for some people. I’ve recently been watching Hemlock Grove on Netflix which goes through these weird peaks and troughs of being hilariously awful and boringly awful, and I sort of found Dark Lover a bit like that. Though, to be fair, it’s nowhere near as excruciatingly rubbish as Hemlock Grove. I think to really get into the cracktastic spirit of the book you have to get past the troughs but I was only partially successful at this. But, in general, I’m a big fan of so-bad-it’s-good. Particularly if it involves vampires.

    @Lynne Connolly:

    Okay, The Ghost Incident has been mentioned in these comments a bunch of times – are you guys just messing with me? :)

    I have to ask … what is … The Ghost Incident?

    Perhaps if we all petition JRW she’ll put Ehrection in her next book…

    @cbackson:

    Wrath’s erection for president!

    @Megan:

    Crahck? Crackh?

    I honestly can see why you’d be hooked on these things – I’m normally a complete sucker for this kind of slightly knowing, over-the-top, exhuberant (that was a genuine typo but I’m totally leaving it) nonsense, but, as I said in the review, I just couldn’t get past the gender stuff. I think it was because it came across as so unexamined, which meant I couldn’t really laugh at it or dismiss it.

    Really glad you’re enjoying the reviews.

    @Lammie:

    Xhex? Oh dear God.

    I’m glad to hear it gets better as it goes on but, err, to be honest, I’m not sure it could get much worse, particularly where poor Marissa is concerned. I mean, basically being able to leave the house makes her more enlightened and modern so the only way is up from here.

    In all seriousness, I can see the value in books that are just primarily interested in hot dudes kicking arse and looking hot, and I did enjoy those bits of the books, it’s just – as a personal thing – the other features got in the way of the fun for me.

  29. Angela Booth
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 18:49:17

    Can’t read vampire books. However, loved your review, and that you mentioned: “it’s a way of a avoiding the “fucking a corpse” problem you’re otherwise dealing with in vampire romance.” To me, vampire books are just too creepy for this reason.

  30. AJH
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 19:05:49

    @Jae Lee:

    If you’re rhage face and phurious, does that mean you have Hollywood good looks and brilliant hair? :)

    The only paranormal thingy I’ve read that has quite this level of gendered society..err…ness is Marked by CJ and Kristen Cast (it had a very similar set up in some ways – goddess-worshipping vampire religion, with manly manly male protectors) but that bothered me a whole lot more because it was aimed at teenagers.

    I would ask why you read all 8 volumes, given that you hated them but, actually, having read the first, I think if I’d had them in front of me, I’d have read them all too.

    I might have had to scrub my brain with Ajax afterwards.

    @Lada:

    I’m pretty sure whiny and filled with self-pity is the most sought after trait in a fictional monarch. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book in which the premise was “character x is destined to lead his people and he handles it in a mature and sensible fashion.” I suspected it’s grounded in some sort of sub-CS Lewis “if you had thought yourself ready, it would have been proof you are not” thing.

    And thanks for the kind words – glad you’re enjoying the reviews :)

    @Karenmc:

    Genhre – hee hee.

    We’re going to be doing this forehver, aren’t we?

    And so glad you’re still enjoying the reviews.

    @Janine

    I’m really glad Marissa gets her own book eventually, but unless it ends with her stabbing Wrath in the face I’m going to be disappointed.

    The cultural appropriation thing completely passed me by. Having read some of the comments below, am I right in thinking there’s some kind of African-American rap culture thing going on with the brotherhood? I noticed one of them wore a baseball cap but that’s as far as I got. I think this might partially be a UK thing. I’m completely unfamiliar with whatever it was she was trying to with … that?

    I was completely fine with the cartoony-ness – it was so blatantly that kind of book that I wasn’t really expecting anything else.

    @Estara Swanberg:

    Shadow of the Phallus sounds like a terrible fantasy novel or a particularly disturbing Xbox game.

    I think the books do have a kind of strange magic to them – my brain kept losing track as well and then it’d wake up with a lolwhut.

    I’m secretly kind of tempted to pick up Phury’s book – I want to know how emotional mileage JRW can get out of his excellent hair.

    @JayhJay:

    It says something about this series that people will casually mention that they “only” got as far as book *eight*. :)

    Really glad you enjoyed the review.

    Also nutshell. Fnar. *cough*

    @Dee:

    Awww, thank you :) For what it’s worth, I’ve always giggled like a schoolgirl when I’ve heard the word erection. I’m mature like that.

    @Jen:

    Thank you – I really enjoying writing these things, so it’s really nice to know that people enjoy reading them.

    Bored and repulsed is really not a good combination. At least you managed DNF it. The worst thing is when you find a book so mind-numbingly boring that you can’t be bothered to stop reading it.

    @Darlynne:

    Rheallyquhiteupsehtrightnow is probably my Brotherhood name. That or Pheeved. It’s a British thing ;)

    I’m really glad the review lived up. I was vaguely aware that people were looking forward to BDB and I had this irrational, adolescent fear that everyone was going to be “you let me down, you let DA down, but most of all you let yourself down.” :)

  31. marjorie
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 19:12:55

    You slay me. Ehrection. EHRECTION. I love all your reviews, even when I will never ever read the books you’re tackling. (I don’t do dragons.)

    I thought this was such a smart comment: “At no point is it suggested that Wrath or Marissa would have been better off if their society hadn’t made these unreasonable demands of them in the first place, they just mistakenly believe that they have failed in their duties, when really they have succeeded.”

    Ward has a real problem with female characters. Beth was as fully rounded as they got, and I got the vibe that there was a lot of editorial intervention to make that happen. But I kept reading. The homoeroticism and the sheer physicality of the brothers just kept me reserving the damn things at the library even as I cringed at the mhade-up whords and the increasingly troubling gender dynamics. (Later in the series there’s some bad, bad rape stuff and a female character treated even more terribly than Marissa, because hey, that’s how the culture rhumbles.) There’s no logic in how the Scribe Virgin operates and when elements of the sexist, staid, rulesy world can be changed and when they can’t. The characters do not have distinctive voices — ach, you giant white boys, STOP WITH YOUR PLAYED-OUT STREET LANGUAGE, it’s meshuggeneh. The last two books were nearly incoherent. Ward constantly reuses turns of phrase and even dialogue (A variant of “What can I say, I’m going for sainthood” appears twice in the first four books.) And yet…I read them. I even read the throwaway book in which Ward pretends to interview all the brothers — I almost had to read it between my fingers, it was so mortifying. It felt like reading a teenage girl’s wishful diary. She has Vishous give her a dagger he made as a testament to his respect for her. It’s all just oy. There’s no humor. There’s no character development. AND YET I READ THEM! COULD NOT STOP! Ward’s obsessiveness and heat about them just comes through, and I loved the physicality, I dug Vishous yearning for Butch. It was hot. I’m not proud.

    Well yes, actually I am, or I wouldn’t be embarrassed.

  32. NBLibGirl
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 19:30:07

    Ditto for me: I so look forward to your reviews – even when I haven’t read the book. They are a great way to start the weekend. (Here’s how bad I’ve got it: I check every Friday morning before work to see if you’ve been posted yet . . . unlike others here, I can’t read you at work, so I have to wait until I get home to log in and enjoy this week’s review!)

    I’ve been on pins and needles all this week because you mentioned Dark Lover was up next in last week’s post. I started reading the BDB series with the second book, which was pretty decent (when Lover Eternal was published PNR was exploding and I’d just finished Kelly Armstrong’s Bitten, Patricia Brigg’s Moon Called, and Charlaine Harris’ Dead Until Dark – all of which I liked very much – and wondered what else the genre offered). I went back to pick up the first book in the BDB series and was significantly less impressed. I’ve often wondered if I would have read any of the rest of the series if I’d started with the first book – especially given the competition I just mentioned above. For what it is worth, Lover Revealed (Book 4 – Butch and Marissa’s story) has held up the best for me. If nothing else, it is noteworthy for being one of the few examples of a romance novel in which the initial sexual experiences between the h/h are less than ideal e.g. sort of like real life.

  33. Janine
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 19:31:53

    @AJH: Honestly, due to my unfamiliarity with urban slang (or almost any kind of slang for that matter — I don’t have kids and don’t watch much television) the cultural appropriation passed me by until it was pointed out to me, but once my attention was called to it, I realized that only my ignorance could have caused me to miss it.

    But yeah, phrases like “You feel me?” and others that Ward frequently uses are associated with a segment of African American culture — though my black friends and family members don’t speak that way, so how authentic it is I really couldn’t tell you!

  34. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 19:39:33

    Okay, the Ghost Incident. Spoilers ahead, but no names.

    Later on in the series, a hero meets his heroine, yada yada, they do their thing and get their happy ending. Then, get this, someone shoots her and she dies.
    Oh noes!
    But all is not lost. Heroine becomes a ghost! She comes back to the hero! But she is only corporeal when he touches her!
    And she started out as one of the most proactive heroines in the series. Reduced to a sex slave ghost. Yet she can carry on with her job. Just adapt a little.
    That was when I gave up.

  35. NBLibGirl
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 19:40:31

    I’m secretly kind of tempted to pick up Phury’s book – I want to know how emotional mileage JRW can get out of his excellent hair.

    Oh no, don’t do that. Phury’s book is by far the weakest IMO . . . even discounting The Ghost Incident (see V’s book) . . . The hair just doesn’t hold up ;-)

  36. NBLibGirl
    Jun 07, 2013 @ 21:45:34

    And she started out as one of the most proactive heroines in the series.

    Yeah, Ward pretty much screwed both Jane and V . . . and not in a good way.

  37. MikiS
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 00:03:11

    The names of the characters and the urban slang were enough to convince me to not even try these books.

    But I still *had* to read the review because I *love* the AJH reviews! (I just hope you never dislike a book I actually read and loved, it’ll break my heart to laugh as hard about a well-loved book as I do to your reviews).

    I *heart* AJH reviews!

  38. AJH
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 05:22:22

    @samalamadingdong:

    “These books have provided a safe and cost effective way to experience senseless addiction.”

    Ahaha! I hadn’t thought of it like that. Although part of me does wonder why you’d *want* to experience a senseless addiction, cost effective or otherwise.
    I do know what you mean, though, just this morning I was lying in bed idly thinking I might read another one before I remembered I don’t actually like them. Argh.

    @SC:

    Thank you for the kind words. I can totally see why this one would be a wall-banger, I came close on occasions myself. I’m interested to hear how hyped these were when they first came out because almost everything I’ve heard about them has been along the lines of ‘compulsively terrible’ rather than ‘actively good.’

    @leslie:

    I haven’t heard of EST, but I’ve Googled, and truthfully I have no idea. In general wary of arbitrarily ascribing influences or motivations to authors unless they’re fairly explicit about it. I honestly think the banal truth is that she (like many people) finds those kind of very traditional gender roles comforting – and that’s obviously really difficult because, for some people, that reflects profoundly problematic ideas but, for others, it’s just kind of the world they live in.

    This kind of high-camp, high-silly stuff is actually very much my thing – just with less gender essentialism, plox, kthanxbai :)

    Thank you for your khind whords.

    @toni:

    Aww, thank you, I’m having a lot of fun, which you can probably tell.

    @PeggyL:

    IAD is on the list – near the bottom I think. That’s not reflection on the series, it’s just I had to spread out my paranormals.

    I have heard the series peaks over the next two books but I’m not sure I can quite be bothered to stick with it. Even if it’s more of the stuff I like and less of the stuff I don’t, it’ll still be quite a lot of the stuff I don’t.

    I couldn’t decide how I felt about the world building, actually. It didn’t feel as real to me as Singh or Brook or Abe. I didn’t think was necessarily a bad thing but the world felt as though it existed purely to provide an excuse for a bunch of hot dudes to get in fights and get their kits off.

    @Willaful:

    I can see where you’re coming from. It just seems like a very male-centric response, taking something that’s happened to another person and making it all about you, your fists and your masculinity.

    @theo:

    Thank you – really enjoying the journey :)

    @lakaribane:

    I don’t think Friday is internationally recognised as AJH Day, so that’s absolutely fine, but I’m glad you’re enjoying the reviews.

    The Giant Hairless White Man freaked me out too. I think I can sort of see what kind of fantasy it’s going for – strippers and bodybuilders are basically hairless (though not … y’know … in the dong area). I think part of it is that what people are attracted to in real life and what codes as attractive in fiction are different things.

    Obviously I don’t want to make generalisations but if you think about actors who are actual sex symbols, and compare them to the traditional romance hero “look”, there isn’t a lot of overlap.

    Like Brad Pitt would look spindly and beta in a romance novel.

    @Angela Booth:

    I can totally see that – it’s a regular feature in the vampires v. werewolves debates I have with my partner. I think the reason a lot of people aren’t bothered by it is that, without getting into too many squicky details, most of the problems with necrophilia come down to hygiene and consent, neither of which are really an issue with a vampire.

    But when you step back and look at it, it feels really weird to be saying “no, no, it’s the sexy kind of dead.”

  39. AJH
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 05:43:58

    @marjorie:

    I misread that as “you slay me with your Ehrection”, which momentarily confused me.

    “I even read the throwaway book in which Ward pretends to interview all the brothers — I almost had to read it between my fingers, it was so mortifying.”
    Omg, seriously? Where do you get that? I’m not sure, but I think I almost respect it – it shows a real commitment to, well, being who you are. I think maybe part of the seemingly inexplicable appeal of this series is what seems to be the author’s genuine enthusiasm for it. I think that can you through a lot because pleasure is strangely infectious. And, for me, because I’m frankly quite a neurotic and self-conscious person, it’s really cathartic to read something that’s completely unselfconscious and completely non-ironic.

    And, wait, what? Vishous is hot for Butch? I thought they just liked the same baseball team, but maybe that’s all it takes. Actually I did hear that one of the later books is m/m but her world is so rampagingly heteronormative I’m honestly not sure how that would work. I mean, what cutsey made up vampire name would they have for each other?

    I’m sad to hear the gender stuff gets worse, I honestly found it pretty hard to deal with already.

    @NBLibGirl:

    Awww, thank you. For what it’s worth, they’re always published at the same time every week – it’s GMT -6, that’s 12 noon in whatever part of America DA is based in, sorry I’m hopeless at time zones, especially when you have multiple ones in the same huge country.

    You know, although I appreciate the nod to realism, I’m kind of sad even in her own book, Marissa’s initial sexual experiences are less good than standard for the series. This poor girl just can’t catch a break. I bet Butch has got body hair, that’s where all the problems start.

    I think first volumes in long-running series always have to do a lot of heavy lifting and they’re still busy establishing tone and stuff – so they’re often successful than later volumes. A bit like TV pilots.

    I am not going to read book 2, I am not going to read book 2, I am not going to read book 2, I am not going to read book 2…

    PS – the hair doesn’t hold up? I’m sad now.

    @Janine:

    That makes sense – like you, I’m just not familiar with those markers / associations.

    @Lynne Connolly:

    I honestly don’t mind spoilers myself but I appreciate they’re a big deal for other people.

    And … oh … my … God.

    Seriously?

    The thing is, I can almost see how something like that might be quite romantic to some people but, set against the background of the rest of the series, it’s … um … troubling.

    Also when you say ‘carry on with her job’ do you mean her actual job? Or her role as Woman, who must tend Her Man? Because if this is the hero/heroine I’m thinking of, isn’t her job quite hands-on one? Does she just go back to work and have him keep a hand on her arse at all times?

    @MikiS:

    The slang just completely passed me by. Some other commenters have described as “frat boy” and that was basically the vibe I got. Of course, frat boys tend to appropriate that stuff anyway.

    I honestly trying to avoid disliking things – I didn’t actually completely dislike this, I can see the compulsive popcorn thing that people enjoy, it just had enough troubling elements that I couldn’t completely settle into it.
    And thank you :)

  40. Estara Swanberg
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 06:12:08

    @Angela Booth: Angela, the Kate Daniels series has a totally creepy vampire version, and they’re not even self-aware anymore. However, animal shapechangers are hot ^^, so ymmv. I appreciate about that series that it is urban fantasy with a romantic subplot and excellent internally consistent worldbuilding (for the sf&f reader in me) and the female protagonist is totally capable (and gets to show that repeatedly) of going up against the volatile and strong eventual love interest.
    She’s a character who isn’t big on charm, though, starts out as almost a noir detective, so sticking with the series is the pay-off.

    Having said that, I don’t mind the vampires as Meljean Brook or Patricia Briggs use them in their series.

  41. Azure
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 07:38:48

    @Janine: Yeah, the slang is something I’ve had trouble with, too. Especially “I’m outtie.” Every time I read that line (which appears very early in this book), I think, “Clueless” and not “macho vampire warrior.”

    The day I finished “Lover at Last,” I was convinced I was done with the series. I was so disappointed with the book, which I’d had very high hopes for because I’d been looking forward to that particular HEA for a while, that I thought I was done. Then Ward announced who the next book was going to be about, and damn me if I wasn’t interested in finding out what happens next.

  42. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 09:39:22

    @AJH – oh yes, seriously. I really don’t know what happens next, because that was the last book I read in this series. Like you, I wondered how she could do her job, but I didn’t care enough to read any more.

  43. Darlynne
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 10:11:31

    @Azure: Then Ward announced who the next book was going to be about, and damn me if I wasn’t interested in finding out what happens next.

    WHO? *g-d addiction continues, yes, I’m the only one who can stop the madness, must respect my own boundaries.*

  44. CD
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 10:35:07

    “but if somebody tries to rape your heroine, I don’t think the primary narrative function of that event should be to provide the basis for a good bromance”

    Swheetie Swheetie Swheetie – you just don’t get it. The whole series is really all about the hot man-love… Women? What women? It’s basically gay porn without the porn. And Ward denied us the porn – we wanted the porn!! [sniff sniff] Butch and V, like, FOREVAHHHHH!!!111111

    Justahtadupset

  45. leslie
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 11:04:20

    @Estara Swanberg: You are right on about the Kate Daniels series. Best kick-ass heroine ever! I love that the vampires are creepy shriveled monsters and not gorgeous blood sucking alphaholes. The fact that the romance is a subplot is so refreshing…… Ilona Andrews rules!

  46. Vanades
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 14:37:31

    @Willaful:

    Me too. Very often it comes across as extremely creepy possessive like ‘Someone dared to hurt my woman (aka my property). How dare they!’ It’s all about the man-pain while the woman and what she went through and her need for support become unimportant.

  47. Malin
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 20:41:35

    Having been insanely busy these last couple of days, I didn’t get to read your review until now. I now await each new one with bated breath, and this one was absolutely worth the wait. While I’ve never been tempted to read any J.R. Ward books, if she wrote one about Rheallyquhiteupsehtrightnow, I might be forced to check it out. I also loved the Ehrection/Phallus bit. I laughed so hard I seem to have worried my cat. Can’t wait to see what your next review is.

  48. Nonny
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 01:18:24

    I’m fairly certain that if left to JR Ward’s devices, it would be spelled Phallhus. ;)

  49. azteclady
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 16:55:53

    @marjorie: Oh my good lord, this, every single word–could not stop reading them! Then I read Lover Unbound and hoped that was the kill switch.

    Unfortunately for me, I had the brilliant idea of passing my copies on to my sister (along with a large box of other books), and she has since hounded me to get her the rest of the series. And how, pray tell, can I help reading them while I hold them for her? *head desk*

  50. Beth
    Jun 17, 2013 @ 17:17:25

    “Ehrection”

    snort (that was the water I was trying to drink) I am having to leave my office early now so everyone won’t ask why I was howling and crying at my computer.

    I still love this book, but…..sorry, I’m laughing to hard to continue…

    You must read LOTHAIRE….please,

  51. Lace
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 18:25:44

    Finished reading all 11 books of BDB and I dont know what’s in there but I was addicted. I really dont want the story line and some but I’m still coming back for more until I finished all 11 books. Hahaha… I really loved Buth & Marissa’s story, Payne & Manny and of course, I soooo LOVE Blay & Qhuinn’s story and I don’t want their book to end.

    One thing I noticed in BDB was people/experience/scenes were always connected and interlaced or the same. I don’t know if it’s bad or good but sometimes, there’s a predictibility already and that’s kinda bad. For example, Bella has past with her previous mate/lover and she experienced scandal. That same situation happened with Ehlena who is Revenghe’s partner who is Bella’s brother.
    Another thing, Tohrment was partnered to Autumn who is Xhex’s mother who is John’s partner who is previously Darius who is bestfriend with Tohr. On another, Butch was partnered with Marissa who was Wrath’s previous shellan and Butch came up as Wrath’s blood/family relation.
    Vishous partnered with Jane who was Manny’s previous apple of the eye and guess what? Manny was partnered with Payne who is Vishous’ sister/twin. Manny is also half-brother of Butch who is Vishous’ bestfriend.

    And the kidnapping? My! Bella was kidnapped. Xhex was kidnapped. Autumn was kidnapped. And now Marisol was kidnapped. Butch’s sister was kidnapped. Any other female to be kidnapped next? Even Lash was kidnapped by his Omega father, hahaha. Will that always be the story line?

    And there’s a lot of too many side characters. It’s like the book is 1/4 about the main hero and heorine and the remaining 3/4 is about side characters. JR Ward can’t really explore the main hero and heroine’s romance because of that.

    Anyhow, I also wanted to say that I was SOOOOOO disappointed/frustrated with Tohr’s story. Why can’t Wellsie come back to think that Autumn was also in In between? I was now questioning the ‘mating’ principle of BDB. Their one and only? Seems like, have one now and when she died, they can still jump to the next female as their next shellan. No comparison but with Christine Feehan’s Dark Series, ‘mate’ here is really believable. Because if the Carpathian mate will die, they will cease to exist or become vampires. Which is very true and in line with ‘one and only ever mate’.

    But with BDB, nah. It’s really questionable and at the back of your mind, you will think that however they declare that they love their shellan, they can still love someone else. And really after around 2.5-3 years only, Tohr loved Autumn? I dont buy it. And why can’t Wellsie come back? Jane and Mary did. Also, Lassiter tried sacrificing himself to give Tohr and Autumn a happy ending. Why didn’t he do that for Wellsie on the start?

    It’s like JR Ward hate Wellsie enough to erase her and she did everything in her power to replace her. It’s sad, so sad.

    Layla and Xcor? Nah, not excited. But I wanted a Trez-Selena story.

    Can I request more of Blay and Qhuinn? Their story was like ‘that’s it?’. They just became together for the last 10 pages of the book and there’s SOOOO many many side stories. Can we just focus with Blay and Qhuinn? Pretty please!!!!! I so loved their stories, I can feel their love with each other compare to ‘cough…cough’ Tohr and Autumn.

    Speaking of not believable romance, I really can’t see that Phury loved Cormia especially when I read Zsadist and Bella’s story (I read first Phury’s book before Zsadist). It’s like Phury still loved Bella and he just doesn’t have any choice but choose Cormia. It’s sad because I liked Cormia. It’s like “Cormia, I will choose you because I can’t have Bella since she’s obsessed with my twin. Happy now?”

    And Vishous and Jane? Until now, I’m thinking that Vishous just ‘fell in love’ with Jane because he doesn’t have a choice either since his ‘boy’ Butch is so in love with Marissa and is straight. It’s like another “Jane, I will choose you because I can’t have Butch since he doesn’t swing my way. Happy now?” But I dont want a V-Butch love affair, enough with Marissa.

    I agree with someone saying that this is gay porn without the actual porn, hehe…

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