REVIEW: Covet by J.R. Ward
Dear Ms. Ward,
I don’t even know where to begin. While it’s true I’m a fan of your Black Dagger Brotherhood series, I stopped making any claims about its purported quality many books back. Romance? Unlike most readers who thought the first books were romance, only for later ones to shift into the urban fantasy category, I never believed the series belonged in the romance genre in the first place. So I took it with a very large, very heavy bucket of salt when I heard that your new series, starting with Covet, would be more romantic. Sorry, but it’s true.
Jim Heron is an ex-military assassin, jaded and cynical about life. He drifts from one place to the next, putting down no roots and trying to stay out of trouble. He’s currently employed as a construction worker but when the mansion he’s currently helping to build is completed, he intends to move on. Then on the eve of his fortieth birthday, he hooks up with a woman at the club, Iron Mask.
What he thought would only be a pleasant memory unfortunately leads to more, just not in the usual way. The next morning, the woman shows up at the construction site on the arm of his boss, Vincent DiPietro, who will one day live in the mansion Jim’s helping build. As expected, this is awkward but Jim takes graceless reactions to a new level: he gets into an accident on-site and electrocutes himself.
This sends Jim into the afterlife, sort of, where he meets four angels who tell him the score. This is the final end game between heaven and hell. Jim, because of the balanced amount of light and dark in his soul, is a sort of neutral player whose role is to save (or damn) seven souls. Best out of seven wins. If he saves more souls, the world and the people who live in it can continue on as we know it. But he fails and loses more souls instead, the world as we know it will cease to exist at all.
At any rate, Jim is sent back to earth with his new mission and his first assignment is none other than Vincent. And if the novel’s title is descriptive of anyone, it’s Vin. Growing up from virtually nothing, as an adult, Vin likes surrounding himself with the very best money can offer — furniture, cars, real estate, and women. One woman, in particular — his girlfriend, Devina, and yes, I am not joking; that is indeed her name. Vin plans to make things official and ask her to be his wife but even though he’s bought an expensive diamond engagement ring, he finds himself unable to pop the question. Something is holding him back. And he soon discovers what when he reluctantly goes to the Iron Mask with Jim and meets the head prostitute who works there, Marie-Terese.
A few years ago, Marie-Terese escaped a bad situation. She’s free of a controlling, abusive husband who lives on the wrong side of the law and now has complete custody of her son. There’s only one catch. She has to live under an assumed name to avoid the notice of her ex-husband’s former associates, and she has massive debt due to lawyer and private investigator fees. She’s managed to whittle down the debt but to do so, she’s had to work as a prostitute, a profession which is killing her slowly inside day after day. She swore she’d never get involved with men and especially not with anyone who reminds her of her ex, but then she meets Vin.
Jim thinks the way to save Vin’s soul is to matchmake him with his long-suffering girlfriend, Devina. But Vin finds himself falling in love with Marie-Terese and vice versa. To complicate matters even more, Devina is not at all who she seems, someone is killing people who get involved with Marie-Terese, and Vin’s long dormant psychic abilities have reawakened. And what those abilities are telling him is that Marie-Terese’s life is in danger.
If you find yourself thinking my summary of the book sounds convoluted, you’d be correct. But in my defense, I also happen to think it’s reflective of the novel itself. This book meanders. I can’t think of any other way to put it. We hop from one storyline to the next, and unlike the Black Dagger Brotherhood novels, I wasn’t invested in any of them. Or even one of them. Jim, Vin, or Marie-Terese? I couldn’t have cared less about anyone.
To be honest, however, I was most disappointed by Marie-Terese. I liked the brief glimpse we’d had of her in Lover Avenged but in that book, my impression of her was that of a no-nonsense, tough woman who has to do what she does to survive. In Covet, I find her tedious and annoying in her constant emo whining. I think I’m simply done with prostitute characters who feel sorry for themselves and self-flagellate every five minutes. In Marie-Terese’s case, it was made even more trying by the fact that for all she complained about her situation, she was in no way trapped by it. She had a standing offer from a good man who’d help her, no strings attached. It’s too difficult for me to feel sympathy for a character who chooses to martyr herself on the altar of the sex trade. Oh, and as an aside? Her real name? I must have different standards but with the way she went on about it, that wasn’t at all what I expected her “beautiful” real name to be.
For those readers who want to know, I wouldn’t consider this novel a romance. I think it’s even less of a romance than the Black Dagger Brotherhood books and I didn’t even think that was possible. But unlike the BDB series, this novel lacks the multi-layered background storytelling that keeps me reading despite a lack of interest in the main storyline. It’s trying to, I think, with the framework of Jim’s work to save seven souls and the “romance” storyline between Vin and Marie-Terese and the implication of Devina’s true loyalties, but it all reads as cursory and shallow. When I finished the novel, I’d be lying if my immediate reaction wasn’t, “…what did I just read?” Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t the dreaded WTF reaction. It was merely a slight sense of bewilderment. I asked part-time reviewer, Nonny, what she thought and she had much the same reaction. I wish I could articulate what exactly it was about the book that left me so unenthused but it’s fairly accurate.
I also have to get this off my chest. What was up with the Black Dagger Brotherhood cameos? Even though I had advanced warning this would be happening, I still found myself thinking it was self-indulgent. Trez, I could understand, because he owns the Iron Mask and Marie-Terese works there, but Phury? Butch? I know it was intended as an authorial wink of sorts, but they kept tossing me out of the book. It’s hard to suspend disbelief if I keep coming across passages in which the author might as well be yelling, “Hey, I write this other series too and this conspicuous character here is in it!”
As you can probably surmise by all this, I wasn’t too impressed. I’m still having difficulty reconciling the vampire cosmology and the Christian cosmology co-existing but that’s not too surprising. I’ve been having that problem since the introduction of Lassiter in Lover Enshrined. But despite all that, I already know I’m still going to end up picking up your next book, whether it’s a Black Dagger Brotherhood installment or the next novel in this angel series. There’s no denying that your novels are compulsively readable, and you’re still a habit I can’t break. C
This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers starting tomorrow.