Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dark Lover by J R Ward

My Rating: 3.5 / 5.0

Wrath is the only purebred vampire left on Earth, but he refuses to acknowledge his position as King. Instead, he is the leader of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, a group of warriors who protect their race against their deadly enemies, the undead Lessers. Almost blind and tortured by the loss of his parents, Wrath is aptly named, so when Darius, one of the Brothers, asks him to help his half-human daughter to survive her transition to full vampire-hood, Wrath refuses. He is not meant to be soft and gentle, loving and giving: his role is to kill Lessers and keep everyone at arm’s length. Then Darius is blown up by a car bomb and wrath realizes that he must fulfill his promise.

Mr X is one of an endless line of Lessers: homicidal psychopaths that find their way to the Omega and gladly sacrifice their souls in return for immortality and the freedom to kill as many vampires as they can find. Most Lessers do not survive very long against the Black Dagger Brotherhood, but Mr X has been hunting them for a long time and has become very good at it. He works out of a martial arts training center as he trains and organizes the local Lessers into a more efficient fighting force. He is also interested in recruiting new Lessers, and Billy Riddle has caught his eye as a real candidate.

Beth Randall is a newspaper reporter who is being sidelined by her lecherous boss. One night, on her way home from work, she is attacked by a pair of teenage boys who try to rape her. She fights them off and later identifies one of them as Billy Riddle, a senator’s son with a record of sexual assaults and violence. Her friends in the police force are concerned for her, especially Butch, who exacts his own revenge on Billy and is then suspended. When she meets a tall, dark, handsome stranger, who tells her that her he knew her father, she is compelled to find out more.

This urban fantasy is an enjoyable read, but it does have some issues that I could not overlook. In short, it is what we in Britain call a ‘curate’s egg’, which means that is a mixture of both good and bad bits.

I will start with my most favorite aspects of the story. The characterization is good, with a mostly show rather than tell way of conveying personality. The dialogue is very good at giving us a strong impression of a character very quickly, so that it is easy to distinguish between the different Brothers, for example. On the whole I liked both Wrath and Beth, finding them both to be credible and sympathetic. I have to give special mention to my favorite characters in the book: Fritz and Butch. Fritz is Darius’ butler, who enjoys serving Wrath, Beth and anyone else who will let him. He is wonderfully drawn and I kept giggling at him and his witty dialogue. I loved how he could manipulate Wrath whilst remaining totally subservient. Butch is your typical insensitive alpha male cop who is living in the wrong century and gets confessions by ‘persuasion’. His reactions to Beth are touching, as is his back-story, and his reaction to Marrisa is sweet and funny.

The dialogue is excellent, with lots of witty banter and characters bouncing off one another. I particularly like the scenes when Butch is first introduced to the Brothers and manages to avoid being eaten by talking about baseball. The banter between him and the Brothers goes from tense to bizarre and, finally, to hilarious as they accept him as a true warrior, even if he is only a human. I also liked the variation upon the ‘good’ vampire theme. In this case the evil undead are actually the Lessers, who are decidedly nasty and smell of baby powder. Also, we have two deities introduced: the Omega and the Scribe Virgin. These mysterious characters are not very well explained or used to miraculously solve problems, but are interesting aspects of a different mythology.

So, what is not to like? Well, I have a real problem with the Brothers’ names. At the beginning we have Darius, which is fine, then Wrath is introduced, still OK, but then we get Tohrment, Vishous, Rhage, Phury and Zsadist. I am sorry, but these are just naff names, and the ‘unusual’ spelling just makes them even sillier. This is a shame, because these are really badass Warriors, so I do not want to giggle whenever I see their names written down. There is no suggestion that these are adopted names, even though they are appropriate for each man, so they were born with them: yikes!

Although I quite like Beth, she does seem to be amazingly stupid, which I always find difficult to read. She finds Wrath strangling Butch and then follows him when he runs off? I believe the phrase is ‘too stupid to live’. Also, I found that they and their romance were more than a little predictable. Do we have to have a heroine who is so beautiful that everyone’s jaw hits the floor as she walks past, even though she is insecure and unaware of her effect on people? Does our hero have to have a tortured past and so be unwilling to have close relationships, even when he is sure that he has found the woman of his dreams? I had hoped for a little more originality. Sparky at Fangs for the Fantasy is very critical of the speed with which Beth and Wrath get horizontal, and I have to agree with her. I always find it disappointing if the romance moves straight from meeting to sex, because it effectively removes the possibility of real ‘romance’: even Butch wants to take it slow with Marissa. I am not a prude, and I enjoy a good sex scene as much as the next person, but, heck, they could wait until they have exchanged phone numbers!

My final complaint comes in part from my background as a biologist. In this world the vampires can feed from humans, but ideally they feed from a bound partner. That’s right: he feeds on her and she feeds on him. My inner biologist had real trouble with this concept, which is like a mythical perpetual motion machine and just does not make sense.

AnimeJune over at Gossamer obsessions has a very funny review, where she makes a good case for this book actually being a parody of Vampire Romance. I am not sure if that is what Ms Ward intended, but I can certainly see how it could remove some of my issues and make the whole thing more enjoyable. I may try this approach with Book 2.

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