REVIEW: Lover Enshrined by J.R. Ward
Dear Ms. Ward,
It might be an understatement to say your previous novel, Lover Unbound, elicited some very passionate reactions from readers. I can’t say I disagree with those criticisms. Even though I ended up liking the book because it developed John Matthew’s storyline, the main romance drove me insane for so many reasons, some of which were covered in Jane’s review. You could say Lover Unbound confirmed a suspicion I’ve always had about regarding the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, and I was waiting to see if Lover Enshrined would support it. It did.
I have two confessions to make. When I first picked up Dark Lover, I didn’t particularly like it. I was interested enough to pick up the next one in the series, but I never quite understood the reception the first book received. I still don’t. But more importantly, my second confession is this: If I read for the romance, I would never have kept reading this series. The only romance that ever worked for me was that of Zsadist and Bella, and even then their actual book disappointed me because I thought Bella’s character arc was short-changed in favor of Zsadist’s. But I think we’ve covered the series’s shallow treatment of its heroines in favor of the male characters enough here at Dear Author, so I won’t go into that.
So in the end, I think Lover Enshrined is the perfect example for what I’m talking about — should you read this series for the romance? Or should you read it for the continuing storylines? My opinion? If you’re still reading this series for the romance, I honestly don’t know what’s keeping you coming back for more. You guys are being cheated.
Frankly, I thought the romance between Phury and Cormia was boring. Not only did their scenes comprise such a small fraction of the book that touting this as Phury and Cormia’s book is laughable, I found their romance insipid and stupid. Cormia continues the BDB’s heroine tradition of having an underdeveloped character arc and Phury… Oh, where to begin?
In the previous book, I thought Phury took a slight detour into CrazyLand. Slicing and dicing people in alleyways behind garbage dumpsters? To me, that’s set up for Serial Killer, not Romance Hero. Then in this book, we learn he’s probably always been crazy. We just didn’t notice. I appreciate the fact the book tried to tackle the hard topic of addiction but I have to be honest. Instead of feeling sympathy for Phury’s drug dependence, I was revolted and wondered when he would snap and kill everyone or himself. And maybe that was the intention but in terms of a romance hero, I don’t find those traits very appealing and I think it would take a highly skilled writer to make those elements work.
On the other hand, I thought the secondary storylines were nicely developed. For the first time, I actually felt like the series has moved forward in that respect. Because of my fantasy background, I tend to prefer continuing, developing storylines that go somewhere so I enjoyed this. If you read this series more for those aspects, I think you will find some things to like here. For example, if you like John Matthew, the development of his story and those of his friends’, Qhuinn and Blaylock, continue in depth.
That said, if you dislike the Lessening Society, they get a lot of page time. It’s almost as if the book were trying to make up for their absence in the last one. What I did like about their inclusion here is that while they’re still evil, they weren’t quite as two-dimensional cardboard as I found them in previous installments. Maybe this is because for the first time, I saw they had a goal, motivations, and an actual storyline. Those things go a long way to keeping an antagonist from becoming that character who twirls his mustache and flings his cape over his shoulder. It also helps that this time around, the Lessening Society’s main players don’t bite it immediately. In previous books, I’d seriously been wondering how the Lessening Society was that much of a threat if their leaders kept getting killed off so easily.
The book also starts expanding the world, which is something I always like. While I doubt the worldbuilding will be solid or consistent — let’s face it, the worldbuilding is not the books’ strongpoint and I don’t expect that fact to change — I do appreciate the effort. In particular, I am fascinated by Rehvenge’s storyline and the symphants’ society. I really look forward to learning more about them in future books and given the events that happen in Lover Enshrined, I hope the series will explore them in more detail.
As for a grade, I’m torn. I found the romance so boring, I actually believe removing that storyline entirely would have made the book better. When I came to the scenes between Phury and Cormia, I found myself wishing for them to end so I get back to the other stuff. Not the desired reaction, I’d think, when those scenes are supposed to be the focal point of the book. If I’d have to give that part a grade, I’d probably say a C. It didn’t annoy me enough to give it a lower grade but I thought it was very bland. But for the rest of the book and the events it covers, I’d say an overall B- for me but I will warn that at this point, I don’t think you can read the books out of order anymore.