Monday, February 06, 2006

A Perfect Read

This entry is purely a rave for J.R. Ward's book Dark Lover. I started it Friday night at bedtime and put it down sometime late Saturday night. And before you think I'm a really slow reader, I did do other things during that twenty-four hour stretch besides read, like cleaning bathrooms. But let me tell you, every second I wasn't reading, I was wishing I was.

I first heard about Dark Lover via PBW's recommendation, back in June of last year. I ordered it just after its release but stuck it on my TBR shelf along with the dozens of others to wait its turn in line. But over the past months, I couldn't help noticing all the wonderful reviews this book had received in various places (AAR is the only one I can think of off the top of my head, but trust me, there are more). Reading the good buzz got me really excited, so I admit I picked up the book with pretty high expectations.

I was not disappointed.

The story concerns, mainly, Wrath, the last pureblood vampire on Earth. He's the reluctant king of the vampires, but more importantly, the leader of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, a group of vampire warriors who work to keep the vampire civilian community safe from the Lessening Society, soul-less creatures who want to eradicate the entire vampire species.

Wrath's fellow fighter and good friend, Darius, asks Wrath for a huge favor. Darius has a half-vampire/half-human daughter whom he's never met personally. He fears she will soon go through the transition that will change her from mostly human into mostly vampire, and in order to survive the ordeal, Beth will need a strong male vampire - one with a lot of pure vampire blood running through his veins - to help her through it. He approaches Wrath, who flat out refuses to get involve.

But when Darius is killed, Wrath feels he has no choice but to find Beth and help her make her way into the vampire world.

It doesn't take too much imagination to figure out that Wrath and Beth will be attracted to each other and maybe even fall in love. No big romance surprises on that front.

What makes this book an amazing read is the world J.R. Ward has created for her characters to inhabit. The vampires couldn't be further from the stereotypical puffy-shirt wearing, heavily accented, human-stalking creatures of the night cartoon. These vamps are real guys. Sure, they can't go out in the sun. And sure, they look pretty dang scary with their long fangs. But these are the guys who were the coolest of cool in high school, the bad boys your momma warned you about but that you couldn't help lusting after anyway. They sport a variety of tattoos, listen to hip hop and rap as loud as the volume will go, watch sports on TV, drink beer, and play pool. They just so happen to also be nearly immortal warriors who can kill someone a hundred different ways and need to drink female vampire blood on a fairly regular basis.

Beth is a very cool heroine, neither weak-kneed nor overly kick-ass. She's just a regular girl who shows both common sense (as in her actions when she is attacked while walking home one night) but isn't so snarky and quick with the come-back that she doesn't seem real. When she learns who her father was and what is going to happen to her, she takes it with a good mixture of disbelief, horror, fascination and resignation. Nor does she play the coy virgin with Wrath, beating herself up about him being the wrong sort whom she shouldn't love. She's attracted to the guy from the very second she meets him and she doesn't deny herself the pleasure he offers.

One thing I appreciated in this story was the blood-sucking part of the whole vampire mythology. In most paranormal romances, if the vampires are portrayed as heroes, their need for human blood is dealt with in such ways as to eliminate any hunting and killing of humans - not exactly hero behaviour. J.R. Ward has also eliminated human blood from her story by making her vampires need the blood of a vampire of the opposite sex to survive. In fact, human blood is considered inferior. The equation of blood sharing as compared to sex is pretty much perfect. In fact, Wrath's possessiveness of Beth's fangs - 0nce she has them - was just as strong as his possessiveness of her breasts, and his reaction when another male admires them is fabulous.

Another thing I really liked about J.R. Ward's world is the involvement of human characters. I can't say too much without spoiling the plot, but there is a man in the story who starts off as an unknown - I couldn't get a read on if he was a good guy, a potential love interest for Beth, a bad guy, or what - who turns out to play a wonderful role in the story.

Everything about this book - the pace, the realistic dialogue, the steamy love scenes, the mythology behind the vampires - was pitch perfect. The world was dark without being depressing, the bad guys evil beyond evil without the story turning gratuitous. If I were to recommend a paranormal to a person who'd never read one before, this might be the one I'd suggest in order to make a new fan out of the genre.

After Darius is killed, there are six members of the Black Dagger Brotherhood remaining; Wrath, Tohrment, Rhage, Phury, Vishous, and Zsadist. An aside to say that although these names are really cool, they are kind of the only problem I had with the book. The slighly off spelling to keep them from being Wrath, Torment, Rage, Fury, Viscious, and Sadist just didn't work for me, and the theme is overplayed just a tad. But since I liked the guys so much, I give this a total pass. They could be named Skippy, Larry, Curly and Mo for all I care as long as I get to read more about them.

Anyway, these six vampires are so intriguing, I can barely wait for each of their stories to be told. Rhage's book, Lover Eternal, is coming out in a mere month - March 7 - and I'm torn between ordering it via Amazon and hoping it is sitting on my doorstep or hauling it to the nearest B&N and hounding the clerks to locate and open the box the second the doors open. And I'm thrilled to know that Zsadist's story will be released in September, so it looks like J.R. Ward is able to handle a six-month turnaround schedule for new books. I don't know if I could wait much longer than that.

I also have to give kudos for J.R. Ward for the website she had designed (or maybe designed herself) to support the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. I spent a good amount of time there after finishing up Dark Lover because I wasn't ready to leave the world I'd been so fully immersed in. I especially loved the interviews she conducts with each member of the Brotherhood, although I recommend you read the first book first because Wrath's interview contains spoilers.

It's been so long since I've picked up a perfect read. A book I could not put down for anything. The feeling when you find one is so absolutely sublime, something I doubt anyone who isn't an avid reader would ever understand. So thanks, J.R., for giving me such a gift.

And write. Really fast.


Scrivener said...

Interesting recommendation, Lynn! I went to the author's website and read the extract from the first book posted there. There are noticeable similarities to Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark-Hunter series - which I adore but I know you're not so impressed by - but I've added this book to my wish-list. It sounds worth a try, and it's always good to discover a new author worth collecting. Thanks!

Lynn M said...

It's not so much that I don't like the Dark-Hunter books, per se. I mean, I like the premise. It's just that the couple I've picked up haven't struck me, in part because of voice and also because the one I read through had everything plus the kitchen sink in it. I didn't undertand the attraction between hero and heroine, and there was a tad bit too much mental lusting for my taste.

In Dark Lover, I like the voice. Too, as you know ;) I'm a big fan of the darker romances. This one is good because it doesn't go too dark. Everyone is torchered in some way, but no one broods about it.

Really, do pick this one up if you can and let me know what you think and how it compares, in your opinion.