No. For the love of everything Alicia Silverstone, no.
And this particularly choice turn of phrase always kills me when I look at the first page: “advanced degrees in violent crime.”
Pray tell, sirrah: Where, perchance, may I obtain an advanced degree in violent crime? No, before we even address that burning question: what would an advanced degree look like? Would an MFA be a Masters in Fuckin’ yo Ass (up)? Can you get PhD’s in, say, Violating Your Parole Like A Dumbshit, or Roid Rage (with specializations in Pointless Property Damage or Kicking The Crap Out of Your Girlfriend), or Mini-Mart Robbery Gone Bad?
And I won’t even go into the names, because really, that’s like shooting fhish in a bharrehl.
For these reasons and more, I avoided reading the book. Look, I told myself, if a book can give me about three hours’ worth of riffing material from the first two pages alone, will I be able to get my internal smart-ass to shut up enough to allow me to read through the goddamn thing?
The answer, surprisingly, was “yes.” Dark Lover is nothing if not compelling. It’s also, well, crap. Hooray for compelling crap. We loves us some compelling crap over here in Smart Bitch Central. The grade is essentially an average of my enjoyment (about a B-) and the writing (D throughout, verging on D- in spots). But but but! Ward deserves daps for the Mary Sue joke towards the end of the book. It single-handedly saved this from falling over in to the dreaded D territory.
Do I really need to summarize the story for you? Have you really lived under a rock for the past two years? Because I’m pretty goddamn sure I’m the last person to have succumbed to the lure of the giant homoerotic rapper wannabe clusterfuck tastiness that is the Black Dagger Brotherhood. But just in case you are one of the few, the proud, the hermetically sealed from pop culture (or at least romance-related pop culture), here’s the skinny. Yo. It be off the chain.
Wrath is the King of the vampires—and the last pure-blooded vampire around, incidentally. And he has all sorts of issues about leading His Race
to the glory of the Third Reich
, as well as massive issues about love and intimacy; that, combined with his monstrous cock, short temper and predilection for killing bad guys (in this book, you know they’re teh ebil because they smell like baby powder and can’t get boners) basically makes him classic romance novel hero material. When one of his warriors, Darius, asks him to ensure his half-vampire daughter, Beth, completes her difficult and dangerous transition into full vampirehood safely, Wrath refuses.
Then Darius gets blown into itty-bitty bits by a car bomb. And Wrath, wracked with guilt, goes to check out Beth’s situation, and finds that while he’s completely reluctant to help her, nothing can prevent a Monster Cock from uniting with a Magic Hoo Hoo. It’s like when an irresistible force meets an immovable object, except with more improbable orgasms and body fluids. And behold, within a couple of weeks, he resolves pretty much all his issues about love, intimacy and his hesitations about leading his race (part of which involves purging the world of a subhuman species that’s in league with a Satanic figure and engaged in a world-wide conspiracy to destroy his people).
And then there are the rest of his Brothers. Not real brothers. And not actual brothers either, if you know what I mean, despite their love of Ludacris. His fellow brothers-who-look-as-if-they-possess-advanced-degrees-in-violent-crime-except-they’re-really-killers. The Black Dagger Brotherhood. All of them will get their own stories and Magic Hoo Hoos, of course. The sequel baiting is shameless, as is the dangling of hot, tormented vampiric types. And then there’s the poor schmuck of a cop with absolutely no life who gets sucked into their world as well—but then Sarah wrote a hilarious and brilliant review of his story here.
Oh, and in the midst of all that is a heroine. That’s right. These are heterosexual love stories—nominally, at least. Beth starts out rather interesting, but devolves into a rather bland Mary Sue type by the end of the story, with all the Brothers fawning over her awesomeness. Remember what the more saccharine Julie Garwood heroines were like? Yeah, kind of like that, except with more pointless angst and less charming ditziness.
Like I said, I enjoyed the book a surprising amount, considering a) how terrible the prose was (which isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker—as always, I like point to my love of Gaelen Foley and Dara Joy as evidence that I don’t need scintillating prose to love a book) and b) how repulsive I found the characters. The story had an energy and drive that made me turn the pages, even though I knew exactly how everything was going to turn out.
But the characters…oy. To be frank, the Brotherhood didn’t come across as tough; they came across as really, really young, and trying much too hard. Guys who are that painstaking about appearing like hard-asses make me think of small-time drug dealers, or teenage boys showing off they cribs. (“It’s Delux, son! Delux. S’not that hard.” Heeee.) The contrived thug-speak and references to hip-hop did not help this image, feel me? Unlike Sarah, I had no problem picturing what race they were. The impression I got from the story was they were old Eastern European aristocracy, so the dudes were white, white, white in my head, and the way they spoke like unholy Valley Girl/gangsta rapper hybrids circa 1992 just compounded the hilariousness.
Less hilariously: The way in which the struggles the vampires faced was couched in racial terms made me feel squidgy inside, and not in a good way. You may have gathered this from the review. It’s not that I think the vampires are unjustified in killing off the lessers, it’s just that when bad guys are portrayed in that bad a light—as being somehow inherently evil when, frankly, the good guys come across as more creepy in some ways (the Scribe Virgin made my anti-authoritarian hackles stand up like whoa and like damn)—I can’t help but wonder what their side of the story is, as told by a differently-biased narrator. That kind of good race/bad race rhetoric and the obsession with bloodlines and pure blood being “stronger” than unpure blood…squidgy, squidgy, squidgy. For this reason, Tolkien and much of high fantasy in general makes me cringe, too. I mean, I get that the whole “born a king” concept taps into a lot of powerful fantasies, and let’s face it, autonomous democratic collectives based on consensus and merit just aren’t sexy, but sometimes, I just look at the framework of the world and go “Huh.” It’s not that I think these are somehow inherently racist portrayals, but the Othering mechanisms in these sorts of narratives are really, really fascinating, no? Especially the voluntary impotence of the Lessers vs. the overbearing virility of the Brotherhood.
Somebody needs to write a dissertation on the multifarious ways fertility issues are presented and worked out in romance novels. So much fodder for delicious, delicious deconstruction and analysis.
Oh, and speaking of the Scribe Virgin: man, she is one creepy-ass motherfucker. Holy shit. Screw the Omega. The Scribe Virgin is the one to look out for. I kept picturing a combination of Sadako and the Blair Witch every time she was described, only more glowy. Sarah said she picturd Orko, which is, like, leaps and bounds more awesome than the image I had in my head.
But like I said: the book was compelling. All that roaring, and rippling muscularity (Wrath’s abs are likened to smuggled paint rollers at one point, which: HEE. LA. RI. TY.), and angsty toothsome goodness was good, campy fun. I laughed, I cringed, I wanted to smack some of the characters around, but dammit, I turned those pages. I finished that book in two days, which is unheard-of nowadays for me.
So for those of you who haven’t read this book yet: everybody else loves it. And I mean everyone. Odds are high you’ll love it, too. If, on the other hand, you’ve found that your tastes correlate with mine a lot more closely: approach with caution and a finely-honed sense of high camp, because you’ll need it.