Tuesday, April 03, 2012

"Dark Lover," by J.R. Ward

The Chick: Beth Randall. When a strange, dark, leather-clad man breaks into her apartment, the last thing she expects is to have hot monkey sex with him.
The Rub: Maybe the second last - she also discovers he has pointy teeth and five hot vampire brothers!
Dream Casting: Liv Tyler.

The Dude: Wrath, King of the Vampires. To honour his promise to a deceased friend, he seeks out his friend's half-vampire daughter to ease her through her coming transformation.
The Rub: He gets all warm and tingly around her - but his angst! If he settles down, he might actually have to take on all those responsibilities he's been shirking for centuries!
Dream Casting: Eric Bana.

The Plot:

Wrath: Surprise! You're going to be a vampire!

Beth: WTF! GET OUT OF MY APARTMENT!

Wrath: But I'm a sexy, angsty pain-filled vampire!

Beth: ...go on.

Wrath: And I have five brothers who are just as angsty as me!

Rhage: I bring the sex appeal!

Phury: I'll do your hair!

Zsadist: You'll want to fix me!

Tohrment: I'm full of pre-emptive angst because my hot wife is still alive!

Vishous: I bring homoerotic subtext!

Butch, Beth's Friend: What a coincidence! So do I!

Vishous: YAY! LET'S BE PLATONIC MAN-FRIENDS!

Butch: I CAN'T WAIT TO NOT MAKE OUT WITH YOU!

Wrath: OMG YOU GUYS THIS IS MY FREAKIN' NOVEL, GO AND BE NOT-GAY SOMEWHERE ELSE!

Vishous and Butch: *skipping away happily* ~*let's talk about baseball...*~

Beth: You were saying?

Wrath: Let's get hitched!

Beth: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist
6 Orders of Piping-Hot Vampire Angst

1 Order of Piping-Hot Cop Angst

1 Pair of Wrap-Around Shades
1 Evil Karate Dojo

2 Accidental Cases of Forgot-the-Condom

1 Magical Transformation

1 Magical Aphrodisiac Vampire Doobie

1 Abused Ex-Wife

1 Secondary Romance between Abused Ex-Wife and Angsty Cop

1 Secondary Homoerotic Bromance between Angsty Cop and Hacker Vampire

The Word: I really must give J.R. Ward her due.

She has crafted one of the most enjoyably silly and spot-on parodies of vampire romances that I have ever read. It plays so close to the line that it can be read like the real thing, if that's your bag, but it's overlaid with just the right amount of cheese and exaggeration that people who are not normally fans of vampire paranormals (like me) are totally in on the joke.

The whole novel plays like a dark, twisted vampire parody of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - where a woman on the run is essentially adopted by a DudeGroup of inbred cannibal vampires who name themselves after incorrectly-spelled negative attributes.

Let me explain - this particular DudeGroup is the Black Dagger Brotherhood, a secret society of vampire warriors dedicated to protecting the slightly-less-secret society of vampire civilians.

The members of the Brotherhood are neatly introduced with all the pride and specificity of a new line of action figures. Each one comes with his own angst! Romantic Soulmate sold separately!

Wrath: He's the leader of the BDB, and the official King of the Vampires - presumably because he was the only one smart enough to spell his name correctly. However, he is visually impaired, so maybe someone else with a better grasp of English wrote it on his nametag for him. Likes: Black satin sheets, leather, ninja stars. Dislikes: Bright lights. Responsibility. His angst: He's been slacking off on the ol' Royal duties for 300 years because of his low self-esteem.

Vishous: The Hacker Vampire. Sports a goatee and a Mike Tyson-esque face tattoo. Casting: A sleazy Chris Evans. Likes: The Red Sox, hot cops named Butch, things he can do with his right hand. Dislikes: The Yankees, things he can do with his left hand. His Angst: A magical Left Hand of Doom that he must keep gloved.

Rhage:
The Hot Vampire - nicknamed "Hollywood." Described as a "sex legend." I suppose the name Hhumble was taken. Casting: Chris Hemsworth. Likes: Killing. Sex. Ladies. Not at the same time. Dislikes: Anything that does not involve killing, sex, and/or ladies. His Angst: Cursed to turn into a dragon when he's enRhaged.

Phury: The Fabulous Hair Vampire. Casting: Michael Bolton, circa 1991. Likes: Vidal Sassoon, Moroccan Oil, his twin brother Zsadist. Dislikes: Split ends, scrunchies, everything his twin brother Zsadist actually does. His Angst: Vow of celibacy! Woe!

Zsadist:
The "tortured" one, he is clearly the A.J. of the Backstreet Dagger Boys Brotherhood. Casting: Vin Diesel. Likes: Pain. Darkness. Terrorizing, torturing and possibly murdering women. Hitting that high F in "Defying Gravity" from the Wicked soundtrack. Dislikes: Women. Everything else, too - but especially women. His Angst: He was, um, literally tortured since infancy and is covered in scars.

Tohrment: The well-adjusted one! Nice, reasonable, easy on the eyes. His wife is awesome. Casting: Brian Austin Green. Likes: Rational arguments, and his wife Wellsie. Dislikes: Being called pussy-whipped. His Angst: Having a fabulous hot wife with a baby on the way more or less paints a Bull's-Eye for Fate on his ass - is he only two days away from retirement, too?

Darius: The Dead One. Bites it with a car bomb.

The whole group dynamic is a sharp riff off the Manly-Man-Pain stereotypes that tend to proliferate in DudeGroup romance series. There is absolutely no reason given for the ridiculous names that no other vampire has - and it can hardly be a coincidence that the one Brother in the Hood with a comparatively normal name is bumped off in the first chapter. They're all more or less Angst Archtypes hyped to 11 - Zsadist, in particular, takes the Done-Wrong-By-One-Woman-Therefore-ALL-Women-Are-The-Same trope so far he makes the average Judith McNaught hero look like a petticoated lesbian suffragette.

But beneath all the sweaty, angsty leather-coated muscle, there is a narrative! Before he's blasted to the Ann Rice Novel in the Sky, Darius (or Uhnlucky, as I like to call him) reveals to Wrath that he sired a daughter on a human woman 25 years ago. Thanks to her half-vampire heritage, she's due to undergo Fang Puberty very soon, and he asks Wrath to help her survive the transition with his pure vampire blood. Wrath, who has spent 300 years turning Commitment-Dodging into a science, refuses - but he feels differently after he's forced to collect his brother's remains with a dust buster.

Enter Beth, a perpetually sexually-harassed newspaper reporter. She's tasked with investigating a car bomb that went off outside a nightclub, but she's understandably distracted as she only barely escaped full-on sexual assault mere hours before. She's initially too shaken up to open up to Detective Brian "Butch" O'Neal, a human cop with Vampire-Sized Angst who is an acquaintance of hers - and Wrath certainly doesn't help when he pulls an Edward Cullen and gets caught sneaking into her apartment to see Darius' half-breed daughter for himself.

Forced to psychically sedate her and erase her memories, Wrath tries to Groundhog Day her and breaks into her apartment again, this time smoking a blunt of what I can only surmise is Secret Vampire Weed, which is intended to relax her into listening to reason. Unfortunately, it makes her uncontrollably horny instead - a common side effect in romance! - and they end up Doing It. Whoopsie!

It's not long before Beth's eyes are forcibly opened to the secrets of vampire society - as are Butch's, when he follows her because he suspects the enormous, tattooed, pierced, leather-clad, heavily armed men she now hangs out with are up to no good. Butch is easily the best part of the novel - he's nicely self-deprecating and the one male character who can communicate with a female character without dragging his knuckles across the floor and beating his chest. He's a little hyper-masculinized, too (his suspension from the force for police brutality is completely deserved!), but he makes up for it with his immediate bromance with fellow Sox fan Vishous, a pairing that generates enough homoerotic tension to fuel an armada of Disney cruise ships.

The Brotherhood, meanwhile, are opposed by an evil anti-vampire group with the wimpiest of possible names: the Lessening Society. Watch out! They're going to lessen you! They're not going to eradicate you, but they'll shave a little off the top! Enough so that you'll notice! Oh no!

But no, I'm being too harsh - the society is actually comprised of albino baby-powder-scented eunuchs. But threatening albino baby-powder-scented eunuchs! Ward very cleverly gives the villains attributes that are directly and exaggeratedly opposite of the descriptors stereotypically given to romantic heroes (who are typically dark-complexioned, musky-scented, and virile). Since there is no actual world-building reason given for why they smell like Johnson & Johnson, it seems apparent to me that this is a comedic choice for parody purposes.

As funny as they are, however, the Lessening Society serves more as a looming threat than an actual one. They seem to be trapped in the world of '80s films since their evil plans consist of recruiting boys into evil martial arts dojos. Most of the major baddie's (Mr. X) story arc involves him serving as an evil Mr. Miyagi to a young recruit, as he teaches him how to metaphorically wax on and off with paranormal villainy.

There is also a subplot with a Mad Vampire Scientist that is a little Jekyll and Hyde and a lot pointless.

When it all comes down to it, I suppose I am making a conscious choice to see this novel as a parody, because if it isn't, it really is a rather subpar paranormal. The worldbuilding is hit or miss - Wrath states that vampires feed on the blood of other vampires, not humans, and yet Zsadist frequently does and Mr. X catches vampires by attracting them with human blood. I also get iffy feminist vibes from the vampire culture's restrictive "protectiveness" towards the females of the species - why are there no Black Dagger sisters? I mean COME ON, no Bhitchy?

It's also easier to tolerate the Brothers' attitude towards violence and collateral damage when it's viewed through the lens of parody. Without it, the Brothers appear cruel, callous and bigoted (even Tohrment has a questionable scene where he threatens to rape Butch's significant other). And Wrath essentially abandons the wife he neglected and abused for centuries to the point where she's a shell of a person, for another woman and we're supposed to cheer and clap. If I didn't look at this novel as a take off of cliches that I despise, than I'd just plain despise it.

Honestly, I'm still pretty much immune to the Black Dagger Brotherhood's charms (in particular, Zsadist sounds so horrible and terrifying that I can't imagine how Ward would do his novel without retroactively neutering him first), but there are a host of other reviewers who are fans of the series, so if you're serious about giving this one a try, I would try searching for their reviews. In fact, if you are a fan of the series, do leave a comment below - and even drop a link to your own reviews!

As a Parody:
B

As a Serious Vampire Novel:
C-

Purchase Dark Lover here.

20 comments:

  1. Well, I love it, but only started reviewing at the point where it really went downhill for me. (Phury's book, and you casting him with old Michael Bolton is just so beautifully apt! I generally refer to him as Furry.)

    Awesome, awesome review in every way.

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  2. I enjoy these books and never saw them as parodies, but I can completely see your point. :) I might have to re-read them with that in mind. LOL!

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  3. Okay, first - this made me laugh A LOT. Out loud. (laughing is always out loud, right? But this was really REALLY out loud.)

    I was absolutely addicted to this series, until Ward broke my heart with V and Butch. The heartbreak starts here: http://wp.me/pOlrw-9Z and continues here: http://wp.me/pOlrw-a8

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  4. I wanted to lol to no end but your final grading made me stop. So it is a serious novel, not a parody? Oh dear...

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  5. I love this post. Thank you! My favorite line is "Darius (or Uhnlucky, as I like to call him)."

    Ha! Now I am a full on BDB crahckhead, but you are definitely not wrong about the series and this book at all.

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  6. You have made. my. DAY.

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  7. Fantasic review, as usual. Love it!

    As a side note, though: I completely understand why you would be inclined to read this as a parody. However, as someone who came to Romanceland five years ago as a bruised and battered refugee from the Black Dagger Brotherhood message boards (the official ones, where Ward, aka the Wharden, and her Chosen, ruled with an iron fist), I can tell you that this author is utterly serious about these books, and so are her fans.

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  8. RRRJessica is absolutely right. I ran a reader board for a few years, sparked by several of our enjoyment of the BDB books, and Ward's chosen ones tried their stuff at my board as well. They made it a nightmare for a while, actually. They were very, very serious, all of them, about these books.

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  9. Her fans are SO serious. Serious as a heart attack. In fact, I believe at some point or another, the moderators at her "official" boards had to basically say, "No one OWNS the brothers - they're imaginary".

    Um, really? You had to specifically tell them that? Wow. Hard core.

    Last romance conference I went to that she was at, there were probably 350 girls with BDB-related shirts on. They're deadly serious in their worship of the series.

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  10. I should amend my earlier statement, or my statemhent - it wasn't Ward's Chosen that made it no fun at my message board, it was her moderator team, who chose not to disclose right away that they worked for Ward, including one man who was one of our moderators. I got confused with the word Chosen, because basically those folks were her "chosen" as well. They were not at all nice.

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  11. Loved this review & following along with your tweets as you read!

    I'm a recovering addict of this series, even though its completely ridiculous. I was dedicated through Lover Mine, but haven't picked up the last two. Now that Ward announced who the next book is about, I'm picking it back up, because I can't *not* read that book.

    Second the comments about Ward's message boards. I got an account over there, excited to discuss the series with other fans, only to find out that the moderators rule with an iron fist and the rules are, IMO, needlessly restrictive. You can't even speculate in more than general terms without your post being designated as "fan fiction" and edited for you. Its kind of bizarre.

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  12. Fer crying out loud. I've seen these names floating around for pretty much ever, and I only JUST NOW grasped that "Zsadist" is supposed to be like "sadist."

    I guess the absence of an H must have thrown me...

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  13. i LOATHED the first two books, could barely slog through them...thus i ADORED this review and all your live-tweeting while reading it! so while i avoided the crahckhead as so many others have for BDB i am just as ashamed of my love of the horrible/awesome/terrible Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole. so ummmmmm... i highly recommend those, ha!

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  14. Willaful: Thank you so much! Yeah, Phury didn't have a whole lot of personality other than OMG HIS HAIR IS AWESOME. Like EVERY CHARACTER points it out!

    Jami Gold: Enjoy!

    Anna Cowan: Heartbreak? Eep...

    Anachronist: Well, it depends on how you see it. For me, it's too silly and over the top to be real. For others, it's different.

    Megan Frampton: LOL, hey, everyone has their guilty pleasures.

    Kmont: *airkisses* Mwa!

    RRRJessica: Good Lord. Yeah, taken seriously, I have serious problems with most of the characters. I did NOT care for Wrath's casually abusive treatment of Marissa AT ALL. Nor the fact that they go around murdering people with no real code of honour. Even famous historical warriors like knights and samurai had codes of honour and they probably weren't 100% bloodthirsty 100% of the time. Just because they're dedicated to protecting the race doesn't mean they have to love violence.

    Kmont: So I should slowly back away from the other books in the series, I take it?

    Kati: Duly noted next time I'm at a conference. And actually, I got a LOT of tweets from Zsadist fans (and one person roleplaying as Zsadist on Twitter) after I made the "disgusting pig" tweet about him.

    Holly: Wow. Like, I understand authors being proprietary over how their characters are depicted (Robin Hobb is huge against fanfiction), it doesn't look good when you personally and meticulously police your own messageboards.

    Lusty Reader: Kresley Cole, huh? Mmm, I think I'll personally pass. The over-Alpha male caveman paranormal types are an absolute turn-off for me - and I actually only read this book because the series and discussions about it are so prevalent in the romance blogosphere.

    I find that heroes in paranormals are hypermasculinized - and the magic aspect gives authors a way to make them bigger, meaner, stronger than they normally would be as regular dudes. I mean, if there's a romance series about sweet shy Beta males who also happen to be paranormal creatures, set me up, baby!

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  15. Still laughing at your review. Thanks! I personally enjoyed the bejesus out of these books till Lover Mine and then haven't kept up with them. They're fun unless you start trying to... you know...think too hard about them in which case (as your review shows) they fall apart like a cheap suit. Don't be too quick to say "no" to Kresley Cole though -- those books have some righteously fierce heroines to go with the heroes.

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  16. Mepamalia -- > true, but the reason I've never gotten into most paranormals in a big way is that, well, the paranormal element works as a great opportunity to make alpha males even alpha-ier. Beta males are EXTREMELY rare in paranormals - I think the only ones I've ever read has been Hugh from Demon Angel and Lannes om Wild Road and that's it.

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  17. "Beth: ...go on."

    God, you make me laugh even when you're eviscerating my favorite books.

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  18. fairykat4:43 AM

    By the way, please please Storify your live tweets on reading this book, they were FANTASTIC.

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    1. Wow, I had no idea about Storify. I'll check it out!

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  19. What an excellent writer this is! Dark Lover will easily make the best seller lists and win awards. I love paranormal romances (as well as all other kinds of romances - having read hundreds of them) and this is top quality. At first, I was dismayed by the level of violence and cussing in this book, it being even grittier than Kenyon's and Feehan's works. Still, I think Sherrilyn Kenyon fans will love this. The romance was superb - not overboard on the sex but plenty of detailed sensuality - just perfect! We get to meet several lovable(ha!) characters which will make up future books in this series and I will read them all, even if I am flinching a bit at all the blood, gore and language. The romantic line is worth it.

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