Friday, November 11, 2011

The Black Dagger Brotherhood: Dark Lover

Dark Lover by J. R. Ward

I was really into vampire sex appeal late in my teens and early in my twenties.  Of course, at the same time, Goth was the hot counterculture, and Anne Rice was the apostle of the Dark Side.  As I grew into an adult, the love of all things undead began to wane.  Nihilistic attitudes are great when you are young and seemingly impervious.  The need to feel young forever got old quickly; I wanted the dream-life of a thirtysomething.  I wanted a husband, kids, and a house.  Those dreams are rather incompatible with the vampire lifestyle.  Truth be told, I couldn't swallow the lie necessary for that fantasy to continue; I didn't have a Peter Pan complex, nor was I in love with death or my own suffering. 

Given that, I haven't been into the vampire-Goth subculture in a long time.  I read Anne Rice in high school, and then I got into the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton just after college.  I petered out on that series; it just harder and harder to remember who all the characters were and what the plotlines were.  (That might be due to the gratuitous sex that tended to COMPLETELY overshadow some of the plots....).  The most recent take on the vampire mythos, the Twilight series, might be the exception to my general avoidance of the genre.  The writing was addictive and at times comical.  I liked the story, as it stood.  However, applying the themes to our modern society made me throw on the brakes.  Philosophically speaking, the story was not one I would want any teenaged girl to fantasize about or be inspired by.  Outside of that, I maintained a congenial apathy to all things vampire related.

So why am I reading the first book of a vampire series?  Good question.  It mostly started started as a distraction; I had finished the most recently published book of a different series by the same author.  In reading some of the reviews for that series, I found out that the setting was the same, and some of the characters were tangentially related to both series.  I figured if I liked that last series so much, maybe I'd enjoy this one as well.  It would seem my rebound series is turning into something serious....

Dark Lover is the first book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series.The author, like many before her, has put her own creative spin on vampire legends, weaving a new look out of old threads.  It is clear from the flow of the story that the author had planned to write a series of books, entwining plot ties like a Maypole dancer.  The story itself was a solid introduction to the universe the author created, complete with a lexicon and a metaphysical philosophy.  Overall, I gave the story itself 3.5 stars; not as addictive as her other series, but a very good warm-up to the main event contained in the rest of the Brotherhood books.  I just finished the second book, which has taken me all of 48 hours to devour.  Let me say that if you find this first book a little slow or not quite to your liking, it definitely gets better.

As to the plot of Dark Lover, I'll give a brief outline without giving too much away.  Beth Randall is a woman in a man's world.  Working as a journalist, she is often treated as a "lil' lady", valued more for being female than for her brains.  She finds herself wishing for some excitement, a change of pace from her normal life.  So Fate grants her wish, though not in the way she thought.  This particular adventure is named Wrath, and he is the last pure-blooded vampire, sent to protect Beth while she goes through her "transition".

Wrath had decided long ago that the name of the game was emotional isolation.  Outside of his fellow warrior brothers, Wrath refuses to develop any emotional ties, including to the woman to whom he is blood-bonded.  When his fellow brother-in-arms, Darius, asks Wrath to protect his half-human daughter during her transition into a vampire, Wrath refuses at first.  Then, after Darius is murdered by vampire slayers, Wrath fulfills this duty as an act of grief and atonement.  Beth is unlike any female he had met before; his attraction to her is immediate and all-encompassing.  Wrath finds himself opening up in ways he previously found impossible, to the point of admitting maybe isolation isn't a way of life.

The extended cast is primed for individual plots as well.  Each member of the Brotherhood, with the exception of Tohrment, all have some major issues.  The names are an interesting play on words: Vishous, Phury, Rhage, and Zsadist.  I give the author a gold star for creativity.  Who wouldn't love having six super-huge warrior vampires watching over them?  The Brotherhood is paranoid-protective of its members and their shellans, or mates.  And the sex is pretty hot too.  Once again the author does discuss safer sex issues and practices, even though the characters practice unprotected sex; apparently vampires can't catch or carry human diseases, and pregnancy for females is only viable once a decade.  Now those would be some great terms to live with!

So maybe I'm not as apathetic about vampires as I thought.  Perhaps I just needed the right motivation, or maybe a walk on the dark side is a good way to recapture that youthful sense of indestructibility.  Whatever the reason, Dark Lover is a strong hook with excellent bait, and it looks like I'm willing to bite...

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