There are spoilers.
Whenever I’m about to read a J.R. Ward book, I like to put on some mood music, particularly what the kids call a “rap” song called Pimp of the Year by a genius named Dru Down. I can always count on a sexy, fun, hot time when reading a Black Dagger Brotherhood novel. If the hero and heroine get naked and dirty with each other and I start hyperventilating? If the evil nasty things called lessers are planning something insidious and gross against our protagonists and our heroes know nothing about it? If I would ever find out who those ghost-hunting buffoons are and what they have to do with the Brotherhood mythology? If the massively muscled, ridiculously handsome tattooed and pierced bois wearing designer suits worth more than my annual salary start looking at each other in a funny way and think about grinding their pelvises together? If John Matthew and Beth (who are supposed to be siblings) manage to bump into each other in this massive house and spend two minutes together and maybe just say, “Hey, what’s doin’?” to each other? These are the reasons I always have a portable electric fan on hand and my cell phone within reach so my BFF Shuzluva and I can text each other our favorite passages while giggling and swooning at the same time. It’s harder than it sounds, I assure you. Have you ever tried typing a multi-sentence text message while on the verge of passing out from over-excitement? So I was very excited to finally get my hands on this book? Because John Matthew and Xhex were my favorite characters? And I wanted to see if John Matthew was somehow going to get his voice back? And if Qhuinn and Blaylock would get drunk and make out and have dirty sex on the floor of a bar’s restroom? I was mostly wondering how Xhex and John Matthew’s story was going to play out? If it will have a similar feel to Zsadist and Bella’s story? Because Bella was kidnapped by lessers in that one and Zsadist spends a significant time in the book trying to find her? Like John Matthew does for Xhex in this book? And do we finally find out why JM keeps getting those damn seizures? Am I going to keep talking like this?
What You Should Already Know But Just In Case You Don’t: John Matthew was an abandoned child who grew up with no love or guidance. Born on a restroom floor of a bus depot (train station?), ditched by his mother and raised in an orphanage, failed by the system, and raped in a dark alley by some nasty dude, he is rescued by The Black Dagger Brotherhood and offered shelter when it is discovered that he is the son of the slain Brother Darius and the sibling of the wife of the King of the Brotherhood, Wrath. He is mute and therefore cannot speak. He was raised as a human by humans and starts out as a puny, little impotent weakling who just wants to be loved. The familial love he seeks is given to him by the Brother Tohrment and his wife Wellsie and it seems for a bit that JM finally has the family he has always longed for. But it is cruelly ripped out of his grasp when Wellsie, his foster mother, is brutally murdered by the enemy of the Brotherhood and his foster father Tohrment, unable to deal with the loss of his life-mate, disappears and leaves JM pondering the nature of his unlovableness. JM soon enough finds his own way with the help of the Brother Zsadist (he is seemingly invisible to his sister Beth with whom he never interacts in a significant manner) and becomes friends with pre-transformation vampire offspring, Quinn (Qhuinn?) and Blaylock. He is tormented by another pre-trans called Lash and is often bullied by him until the tension between the two culminates in a major fight that gets Lash thrown out of the Brotherhood compound. In his free time, between training to be a warrior and bemoaning his weak, puny body, John Matthew congregates with his two friends Qhuinn and Blaylock at the club Zero Sum, owned by a vampire called Rehvenge, where they like to “conversate” about the females with whom they would enjoy sexual congress (the pre-trans are impotent, so they are only able to talk about the sexual act and wonder what it would be like). Employed by this club is a tall, lithe, lean, and androgynously beautiful female named Xhex, a half-vampire half-sympath creature. A sympath, as I understand, is an emotional vampire of sorts who can enter another entity’s mind and manipulate him from within. Because the sympaths possess this frightening power, they are reviled and typically hunted to death by the vampire community. Xhex is in charge of security, a take-no-prisoners type of babe for whom John Matthew forms an infatuation which quickly mutates into an obsession. Xhex is amused by him, but does not return his regard. Soon enough, John Matthew goes through his transformation and becomes the proud owner of size 14 boots with which one may utilize to kick cow feces if one were inclined to do so, and drapes upon his rather large frame an XXL shirt that could double as a blanket for a small child. Xhex and John Matthew indulge in what one may crudely call a “wham-bam, thanks, but lose my phone number” session, and it is not the union that John Matthew had longed for; Xhex refuses to kiss him even after allowing him to penetrate her most treasured cavern of feminine secrets. John Matthew seethes… and broods in agony.
Meanwhile, John Matthew’s comrades Qhuinn and Blaylock engage in indiscriminate sexual encounters with many women, some of whom they share together. Too many times during these marathon sessions, their stares have locked onto each other’s and held. Blaylock realizes much to his chagrin that he would much rather be on the receiving end of Qhuinn’s passionate, searing ministrations, instead of pretending he enjoys having sex with women. Unbeknown to Blaylock, Qhuinn, a vampire cast aside by his family because of a physical flaw—he has one green eye, one blue eye—shares his sexual attraction. As much as Qhuinn would like to take Blaylock for a lover, however, there is also nothing more he would like than to get back into his family’s good graces. The vampire society’s upper class, the glymera, may turn a blind eye to certain predilections, but not if one were to openly flaunt it by declaring a person of the same sex as one’s life partner. Qhuinn aims to marry a woman of “worth,” and though his many indiscretions with women may hurt Blaylock now, he knows it will be for the best when Blaylock finally turns away from him in disgust and removes himself from Qhuinn’s reach.
Xhex, an assassin and professional gluteus maximus-kicker by trade, applies barbed cilices to her inner thighs because the pain curbs her evil sympath impulses. She too was abandoned as a child and mistreated by humans and her own kind, which is why she had learned to look out for herself and herself alone. The only person she has ever trusted is Rehvenge, a fellow sympath-vampire hybrid, who has served as her boss, brother, and confessor through the years. The reason for her rejection of John Matthew is simple: she has been down that road before and does not want a repeat. Many years ago, she was involved with a member of the Brotherhood, Muhrder. When Xhex was captured by sympaths, Murhder soon followed and learned of Xhex’s hidden nature. The mental torture Muhrder received at the hands of the sympaths drove him mad and he disappeared, leaving Xhex to wonder if he is dead or alive. As she begins to feel attraction for John Matthew, Xhex strives harder to avoid him and thwart his advances. She tells herself that she doesn’t need anyone and that her “end game” would involve her own satisfaction only. She doesn’t need John Matthew’s “googly” eyes.
And now: At the start of Lover Mine, Xhex is being held captive in a force field (powered by evil?) created by Lash so that she is invisible to the outside world. Lash is the son of the Omega, the evil progenitor of the Lessers and the mortal enemy of the Scribe Virgin, the creator of the vampire race. In between torturing and raping Xhex, plotting the downfall of the Brotherhood, and reigning as the indisputable King of Douchetards, Lash is also an up-and-coming drug dealer and leader of the lessers. But Xhex, as the Brotherhood novels have shown in the past, is no shrinking violet and never fails to give as good as she gets, decorating Lash’s body with bites, bruises, and scratches. She has given up any hope of rescue and the only thing keeping her going is pure unadulterated hatred for Lash and a driving, all-consuming desire to slaughter him as soon as she gets the chance.
John Matthew half-believes Xhex is dead. In her honor, he gets a tattoo of her name in the Old Language across his shoulder blades, a place usually reserved for the name of the male’s chosen mate to be inked into his skin at the mating ceremony. Wrath has assigned a special task force to find Xhex and John Matthew is a part of it, using his cover as a warrior to hide the fact that he is half-insane in his desperation to locate Xhex and get her back. But it’s been weeks since Lash abducted Xhex and the trail has gone cold. Qhuinn and Blaylock attempt to keep up with him as he races up and down all the dark alleys of Caldwell, beating up drug dealers and threatening to bash in the skull of anyone who may know anything, but John Matthew is unstoppable. He is running on fury, sleep deprivation, bottles of hard liquor, and sheer need for Xhex. When Xhex finally escapes from Lash’s clutches, it is John Matthew who finds her hide-out and brings her to the Brotherhood mansion for healing. The two talk, get to know each other, get groiny and naked—the first few attempts are rocky and traumatic for Xhex because she can’t stop thinking about Lash when JM puts his hands on her—and seem to be on their way to falling in love… BUT! Xhex is not the kind of girl to stick around: she wants to kill Lash (and acknowledges that she might not survive the effort) and disappear. John Matthew KNOWS Xhex is not the type of woman who’ll be satisfied being somebody’s wife and mother and wonders if it’s a better idea to split up forever and spend the rest of his life trying to get over her, instead of attempting to cobble together a relationship with her, and they end up destroying each other. BUT! There’s still Lash to maim and kill, so let’s worry about the cuddly-wuddly stuff later.
Back with the Only One Of Us is Truly Gay, Honestly, But We Are In Love With Each Other Duo, Blaylock is getting sick of watching Qhuinn plow women he doesn’t love and wants to get on with his life. When Qhuinn’s slick, Rico-Suave of a cousin (who is serendipitously homosexual, hooray) starts sniffing around Blaylock and asking him out on dates, Qhuinn gets angry. While he is regularly making out with a Chosen called Layla and breaking Blaylock’s heart, Qhuinn had believed that Blay would always be for him, not over there making out with his cousin like he doesn’t understand that he must always remain steadfast and true to Qhuinn even though Qhuinn himself is attempting to have sex with the entire population of skanky, slutty, loose-moraled men and women of Upstate New York. Like WTF, amirite? Blay is DONE waiting in vain for Qhuinn and like that Rascal Flatts song, he is so moving on (Oh, like you wouldn’t be after you witnessed the object of your unrequited love working a bimbo like a child in a Nike factory while staring deep into your eyes for the fiftieth time? Come on! Every man has a “fuck that ish” breaking point!). And Qhuinn seethes with barely repressed rage and jealousy… and angrily makes out with other people.
(I swear to God, I’m positive I saw a Lifetime movie once where these 2 guys are best friends and one guy is in love with the other, but the other is a male-slut and plows anything with a vagina, so the gay one starts dating dudes and the “straight” one gets in a jealous, murderous rage and kills the gay one and his new lover and buries them in the woods or something. Or maybe that’s a Law&Order: SVU episode. Now that I think about it, maybe there’s a scene there where Stabler indignantly slams the perp against the wall and says through gritted teeth, “So you killed the only person who has ever loved you because you hate yourself so much that you couldn’t stand the thought of someone loving a piece of dirt like you?!” while Benson half-heartedly holds him back. I could be making that last part up. But come on, doesn’t that SOUND like it would have come from SVU?)
In this contribution to the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, we also see MORE Lesser drama. Yes, I know this is what you crazy kids have been praying to the Wharden for and like Santa Claus, she provides generously. Lash is determined to be the Forelesser (the big dawg) to bring down the Brotherhood and wants to create the army to do so. But he, like Kim Jong-Il, is also quite ronery. He wants his father, the Omega, to create a woman lesser–specifically Xhex– because he believes he can become stronger if he were feeding regularly from a female like the Brotherhood feeds from the Chosen. The Omega decides Lash is getting too big for his britches and appoints a newbie to be the new Forelesser. Lash, having been rejected by the Brotherhood AND the lessers, decides to kill two birds with one stone by selling out his fellow lessers to the Brotherhood and rubs his hands gleefully as the Brotherhood slaughters them. Lash is OFFICIALLY the Spencer Pratt of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series.
Oh my word: I enjoyed this book. I did. I liked it. But do you want to know why I didn’t love it? Do you want to know what made me want to stomp all over this book at one point, shred it to pieces, and burn it for warmth (Damn you, Gas & Electric!)? In this book, more than ANY other Black Dagger Brotherhood book where women are relegated to background roles like taping up scrapes, hand-holding, and in one extreme case, GHOSThood—being a creature with a vagina is such a TERRIBLE thing. WTF. Xhex, our female protagonist, complains about being a GIRL, feeling like a girl, acting like a girl, being weak like a girl… well, guess what, bitch? YOU ARE A GIRL (and not a woman). A woman would be proud of her accomplishments, her strengths, and not dismiss her weaknesses as “girl-like”. SERIOUSLY?!? A real woman can be tough and brave and just as kick-ass as ANY MAN without denigrating the rest of her sisters are weak, stupid, and emotionally fragile. I think a woman who can chop off a vampire’s head or beat the crap out of someone without breaking a sweat and is all, HELL YEAH I’M A WOMAN, FEAR MY WRATH, would be infinitely more kickass. I understand that this series is really all about the men, but do the females really have to be treated like nothing more than side-pieces, set decorations, or the chick in a threesome roped in to join two dudes because the two dudes can’t admit they’re gay, but are horny for each other, so they literally need a buffer in order to have sexual contact? I was REALLY looking forward to Xhex’s book because in the previous books I thought she was an awesome, strong, capable female, but for her to claim her own femininity as weakness in this book REALLY broke my heart, man. Look at Benson or Sarah Connor or Ellen Ripley or Dana Scully or Maggie Cheung in Hero or Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth— and yes, my ONE TRUE LOVE, Olivia Dunham, they’re all females and they’re all Warrior Women and all of them seem to revel in the fact that they ARE Women first and foremost, and are proof positive that you don’t have to denigrate being a “girl” to make it in a man’s world. I love everything about being a woman—the menstruation, the hormones, the pain of childbirth (which I have yet to experience), the random crying at stupid shit, the empathy, the boobs that get “accidentally” jostled by creepy dudes at a bar, the ever widening hips, rocking out to Pink’s “Just U + Ur Hand Tonight” like it’s my own personal anthem— and my soul shrivels when I see such BLATANT female-bashing in books written by a woman, for Mary’s sake. I’m not saying J.R. Ward is a girl-hater or anything, but Xhex? Card-carrying girl-hater. Tell me I’m wrong, I welcome it, but back that shit up.
There are also so many storylines going on and from varying points of view that if you’re not paying close attention and accidentally skip a few pages, you’ll find yourself lost and asking what the fresh hell is going on. Here they are, from what I gathered:
1) John Matthew and Xhex
2) A healthy slice of Darius’ past (in italics) – which reveals why Tohrment takes in John Matthew as his foster son and oddly enough, why JM and Xhex are so MFEO.
3) Lash and his never-ending quest to be the biggest douchebag in the universe— yes, even a BIGGER one than John Edwards, Blago, the flesh-bearded Spencer Pratt, Jon AND Kate Goselin, and that shitstack who’s the CEO of BP ( “I would like my life back” FUCK YOU, guy. Seriously, die in a goddamn gas fire, motherfucker!)
4) Payne, who HATES her mother the Scribe Virgin (females hating females *sigh*) and wants to escape and have a real life and inflict her goth-girl angst and issues on some poor unsuspecting schmuck who is blissfully unaware of her existence right now and is possibly living a happy life as of the publication of this tome
5) Layla, who just wants to “feel like a Woman” and does not feel complete unless she is ravished and devoured like a scrumptious blueberry pie fresh out of the oven with a side of pecan ice-cream by a healthy, good-looking “heterosexual” male who wears a watch worth several thousand dollars, name-brand clothing specifically tailored to his rather large form, big leather boots designed for stomping and kicking of feces, and pure, unadulterated pain that can only be kept at bay by whiskey and sitting in the dark listening to Evanescence
4) And what seriously made me scratch my head and go, “WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU PEOPLE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE” – an aging hipster who “sold out” to make money and a big-breasted, blond-haired woman (the hipster has no respect for her because he thinks she’s a skank and an idiot, but secretly, she’s really smart and in love with him and doesn’t sleep around as much as he thinks) who are supposed to be ghost-hunters like those idiots in that show on the Sy-Fy Channel. They visit some out-of-the-way bed and breakfast because it’s supposed to be SUPER haunted and the ghost is some Fabio-type who stalks young women in night or something and has sex with them. MAJOR SPOILER: THIS is how Muhrder is re-introduced? FOR REALS?!?! *sigh*
5) Wrath – the Blind King who does not want to feel helpless and weak, so he has sparring matches with Payne on the Other Side. They punch and kick and head-butt each other. And they’re BFF. I quite enjoyed this part.
6) John Matthew and his tenuous, but slowly developing relationship with his older sister Beth. The two are wary of each other at first, but what starts out as an accidental meeting in front of the fireplace while everyone else is at sleep becomes regular heart-to-heart sessions; they talk about each other’s childhoods, JM asks her for advice regarding Xhex, Beth confesses to her little brother her concerns about the increasingly emotionally distant Wrath and how scared she is of losing him, all over a couple of steaming mugs of cocoa.
Psyche! I’m just kidding about the last part.
What REALLY pleased me about this book is that it fulfilled most of the “wishlist” that my good friend Shuzluva and I have talked about in the past and when I read the “checklist” that she put up in her review at Dear Author, I resoundingly said, “Yep” as I mentally ticked off the items. If I may gratuitously borrow from my sister from another set of parents, Shuzluva: John Matthew does NOT get magically fixed by his fated mate and their subsequent sexin’. Xhex’s issues do NOT get swept-aside and she does not turn into the sadly prevalent stereotype of a whimpering, simpering female who’ll wimpily throw her gun at the monster and leave the ass-kicking to the hero. The developing relationship between the male and female protagonists is front and center and not just background to the overall narrative. The Scribe Virgin does not step in and wave a wand to make everything all better. The hero and the heroine actually WORK on resolving their own issues themselves. Imagine that. No magic wand, no deus ex machina; just two adults hashing things out and making the decision to stay together even though it won’t be easy and neither of them are all the way “okay,” but it just makes sense TO THE TWO OF THEM to be a couple and that’s that. There will be pain, there will be blood, there will be tears, but the alternative would be brooding, angsty, lonely, bitter, drinking hard liquor in the dark and an all-around pain-in-the-ass to other people, so they resolve to be the one of the most fucked-up couples in the history of romance novels. YAY.
Shuzluva and I recently talked about what it is about J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series that makes us, the readers, wait breathlessly for the next installment to the saga even as we gnash our teeth and vow “Never again!” while ineffectually shaking our fists. And I think I’ve figured it out: WE CARE about these fictional people. J.R. Ward somehow created larger-than-life characters that make us laugh, cry, rant senselessly on our blogs, and pre-order the books on Amazon. And really, that’s all there is to it. That’s the magic. That’s why we crave her books like red velvet cupcakes with cheesecake frosting. I give a shit about these people who don’t exist except in J.R. Ward’s fertile imagination. And that’s why I’m going to keep plunking my money down for each and every installment. Keep ’em coming, Wharden.
P.S. Will you throw me a bone and make Blaylock+Qhuinn=4EVA in the next book, please? Kthxbai!
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