Friday, March 17, 2006

Lover Eternal

Since it's been ten days since its official release day, I think enough spoiler space time has passed for me to offer up my thoughts on Lover Eternal, by J.R. Ward.

First of all, I could not wait to read this book. I absolutely loved Dark Lover, the first book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. The world Ward has created - the mythology, the group of heroes that make up the brotherhood, their way of talking and walking in the real world - really sucked me in. Mostly, though, the heroes left me needing to know more and more about them. They certainly don't fit the traditional vampire model, frilly-shirt wearing seducers with thick accents and pasty skin, but rather come across as modern day guys who can turn any woman's knees to jelly.

The hero of LE, Rhage, is the pretty boy of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Movie-star good looking with sex appeal to spare, he spends the time he's not hunting down members of the Lessening Society working the bars and shagging everything in a skirt. Apparently, stories about his sexual exploits are legendary among the vampire population. He's as happy-go-lucky as a vampire warrior can be, the party boy with no ties and no worries.

Except Rhage is hiding two secrets. Well, one secret is actually not so secret. Long ago, the Scribe Virgin cursed Rhage by placing a beast inside of him. This dragon-like creature comes out whenever Rhage loses control of his emotions, and when it appears, the beast shows no mercy to anyone, friend or foe. Rhage's mad skilz at fighting and loving are actually his efforts to alleviate enough stress to keep the beast at bay.

Which leads to Rhage's real secret. All of that mindless sex? He actually hates it. It has become a chore for him, something he does almost medicinally, and he's more than a little tired of it all. Kind of like working at the ice cream shop; by the end of the summer, the ice cream just doesn't taste so good after having eaten as much of it as you could ever want. Rather, he longs to make a real connection with someone, to find something deeper and more personal than the up-against-the-wall encounters he's so used to.

Enter Mary Luce. Mary is a human who stumbles across the vampire world when she serves as a translator for a mute young man who has been recognized as a pre-transformation vampire by Mary's next door neighbor and vampire-ess, Bella. While at the Brotherhood compound, Rhage, coming down from his latest Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde switcheroo, literally bumps into Mary and finds something in her voice that soothes his savage soul. Unable to help himself, he sets out to spend more time with her.

Which Mary can't understand. Why would this gorgeous man want anything to do with her? she wonders. Mary is not only an average-looking person (as opposed to a total goddess), she has just discovered that the lukemia she'd thought she'd beaten two years earlier has come out of remission. She's looking at major health issues - possibly death - and isn't interested in putting an outsider through any of it. She's pretty sure Rhage's interest in her is some kind of sick joke.

But, since this is a romance after all, Rhage and Mary reach an understanding that involves lots of sex. First, however, Rhage has to come to terms with the beast inside of him, a beast that Rhage discovers is just as interested in Mary as he himself is. His fears that letting go in the throes of passion will unleash the beast, who will hurt or kill Mary, won't allow him to take advantage of the comfort she's willing to offer. Nor will Mary accept the support of a man she's just met as she faces what could be her own death. She's determined to face her troubles alone.

Overall, I really liked this book. It read as quickly as Dark Lover, kept me turning pages in such a way that I had to tear myself from it to do such mundane things as shower and eat. The Brotherhood is as interesting as ever, and the pure evil of the Lessening Society grows even more terrifying.

I also liked how the main characters in the first book - hero Wrath and heroine Beth - are mentioned, with Wrath appearing properly in his role as king of the vampires, without us being clubbed over the head with them. I'm not a big fan of series books where the couple from the prior book shows up all the time wagging their HEA all over the place. This story picks up where the last one ended and moves forward without revisiting old stuff in that cloying way.

Since I read DL first, I can't objectively tell if LE works well as a stand-alone book. There was nothing in the story that I didn't understand, but I have read the series from the beginning. I find the glossary at the beginning of the book very helpful, although I know such a thing often scares readers away, thinking they are going to be very confused if they're going to need a glossary. I'll be interested for the gals over at the Paperback Reader to offer up their thoughts on this since I believe they haven't read the first book yet.

That being said, I did have a few problems with the story. First of all, it seemed to follow nearly the same format as the first book in the series. In both DL and LE, hero meets girl at her home, hero and heroine clash but have an intense sexual encounter, hero convinces heroine to move to the Brotherhood compound so he can protect her, after which time the heroine hangs out in the hero's bedchamber for a heck of a lot of the time waiting for the hero to come home and have sex with her. The heroines don't do a whole heck of a lot; they are too busy being protected.

Too, I'm not really sure what Rhage saw in Mary that drew him to her so obsessively and so quickly. Or rather, what began their relationship wasn't used as the motivation for his attraction after that very first meeting. When Rhage first meets Mary, something in her voice is soothing to him. I liked the idea that at long last, Rhage has met a woman who can calm the beast inside of him. I imagined the story continuing with Rhage using Mary as a tool for controlling the beast, only to fall in love with her. But after that, not much talk of Mary's ability to soothe anything ever occurs. Instead, he seems to fall in love with her for reasons I was entirely sure of and spends the rest of the story avoiding sex with her because he's afraid the beast will emerge.

I wish Ward would have dropped a line on how to pronounce Mary's last name. Spelled LUCE, I wasn't sure if it was "Loose" or "Lu-chee" or "Looch", and every time I saw it I puzzled. Also, Ward fell into one of my pet peeves by having Rhage use Mary's name too often in dialogue. In a few scenes, nearly every other line of diologue Rhage uttered to Mary included her name. For as natural and realistic as Ward's dialogue is content-wise, this little nitpick pulled me out of it.

But, as she did in the first book, Ward has set up the next hero in line for his own story. By the end of Lover Eternal, the darkest brother, Zsadist, has already met the woman possibly able to reform him. As it stands, the female vampire, Bella, has fallen in the clutches of a particularly sadistic lessener and is being held prisoner. Zsadist is already crazed with the need to find her, and I am dying to read their story. Sadly, I have to wait until September for the release of Lover Awakened.

And I certainly hope that Ward intends to write all the stories of the brotherhood. I give Lover Eternal a solid B+ and highly recommend both books in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Warning, though - once you get on, you'll find that you don't want to get off and just have to wait for the next go-round.

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