Well, we’ve made it this far, folks! Shall we go on? Yes, indeed we shall! The next several chapters are filled with more action than the last several, and so they read very quickly.
Chapter 16: Fill your glasses, ladies and gentlemen…
…the drinking game recommences. There’s not a great deal of action in this chapter (Beth returns to Wayne Manor with Wrath while Butch curses himself for putting her in a position where harm can and almost certainly will come to her…and that’s about it), J.R. delivers a goodly number of her own patented style of incomplete sentences, viz.:
“What had she done? To her body last night. To her life right now.”
“It was an absurd switch in scenery. From the violence in that back alley, to rolling lawns and flower beds.”
“Because she was an idiot. Who evidently had a death wish.”
“Wrath cocked an eyebrow at her. Smiled tightly. Didn’t answer.”
“She’d been raped, beaten, and strangled. Not in that order.”
For those in The Bitchery who have defended this element of Ward’s technique, I offer an apology for incessantly harping on it. As a few of you have said, the subjectless sentence can deliver a quick and stinging blow, and used sparingly offers an terrifically effective tool for describing fast-paced action. The key is those words: “used sparingly.” It’s like a drug. Once you’ve built up a tolerance for the sharp and biting subjectless sentence, you need more and more of them to get the same effect; the cool technique becomes cliché.
I promise not to poke fun at this construction any more.
Chapter 17: Homecoming
Beth’s brought back to Darius’s mansion, and Fritz, good doggen that he is, goes gaga over her: “Fritz reached out reverently, clasping her palm in both of his and dropping his forehead to their joined hands. Words in the old language were spoken in a quiet rush.” Good boy…nice doggen!
Incidentally, the word “doggen” is one I’ve used for years now to talk about our dogs in a cutesy mimicry of German pluralization. “I’ve got zwei doggen over here,” I’ll say to Maughta. Now the word will forever have new meaning for me.
Beth’s first trip to the mansion is filled with surprises.
First she gets to watch Rhage (whom she describes to herself as “one hell of a looker”) stitch himself up: in killing off three lessers he picked up a large gash in his arm. Then she gets to see a bit of the house. “The place looked like a museum or something she’d expect to see in Architectural Digest.” Naturally she assumes that the income for this opulence comes from dirty money. “Maybe they didn’t just deal in crack, X, and heroin, she thought. Maybe they worked the antiques black market as well.” We need to get her together with Catherine Montefiore from Kathleen O’Reilly’s Sex, Straight Up. They’d have a grand old time!
Finally, it’s through the picture frame for Beth, through to the secret passageway that leads to Wrath’s sanctum sanctorum. Once there the two can talk things over, private-like.
Incidentally, I should note that in this chapter and its neighbors, we’re given constant reminders that Beth is falling for Wrath and that Wrath is falling for Beth: inwardly they burn at one another’s touch, and they get high off of merely being next to one another. I doubt that I’m alone in finding their nearly instantaneous mutual attraction all that believable.
Why is this? After all, didn’t Jessica Trent almost as instantaneously long for Sebastian, Lord Dain, in Lord of Scoundrels? Yet there, the gradually growing lambent love between the two characters was believable. There, the knowledge that neither lover was “right” for the other lingered far, far into the book, and they continually fought against their attraction tooth and nail (often almost literally), and the result was a smoldering fiery tension that when finally fully fanned singed the edges off the page. Moreover, that protracted resistance added credibility to the romance.
In Dark Lover, not only did our two lovers experience almost immediate physical release, neither appears to have any real existential issue with falling for one another right away. Leaving aside the sex on page 67, neither Beth nor Wrath seems to give a tinker’s dam that s/he is a hair’s breadth from realizing an unholy affair that should be anathema to them both.
I honestly get the feeling that offering a “realistic” depiction of the budding love between these two has a rather low priority on Ward’s agenda. In fact, as I said to Maughta a few times while reading this book, it appears to me that she’s more interested in world-building than anything else: knowing full well that this would be the first book in a long series, she wanted to spend most of her time introducing the characters and their governing mythologies. (I’m reminded of a line from Spaceballs: “don’t worry, we’ll all meet again in Spaceballs II: the Search for More Money!”) In this case, I find it odd that she would devote the first book to the romantic intrigue of her world’s central figure.
Chapter 18: Family matters
Now Wrath gives Beth the low-down on where she fits into all of the goings-on. She wasn’t, as she supposed, an orphan; rather, her father had watched over her from afar, keeping close tabs on her as she grew up. And Wrath & Co. were not, as she supposed, Mafiosi; rather, “fangs. He had fangs.”
But…if Wrath was a vampire…and if her dad was a vampire, too…then…her dad…that would make her…that would make Beth…
Attempting to flee, Beth races from Wrath’s bedchamber, down the passageway, and out onto the lawn, where Wrath effortlessly rematerializes in front of her.
He’s got some ‘splainin’ to do, and he does it. Beth listens, and takes it in very…cavalierly. By the end of the chapter, though she’s still reeling from the news, she’s back in Wrath’s arms again. This sudden transformation in her character a bit much to buy: I know Beth’s supposed to be one tough cookie, but her speedy acceptance of all that Wrath’s told her is no more believable than the love that’s growing effortlessly between these two.
Chapter 19: “I’m half-vampire? Really? You wanna have sex?”
Butch and José are back in the bar, the latter trying to talk the former out of his current case of self-loathing. Butch is beating himself up for putting Beth in harm’s way. “You shouldn’t blame yourself, Detective,” José tells our herolet. Butch refocuses by getting back on the case, and the two of them discuss what leads they have on the recent killings. This doesn’t take long: they’ve got pretty much bupkis.
Back at the mansion, things are heating up again between the two little lovebirds. Unpleasantries out of the way, the two now talk over something more appealing: sex!
“You really didn’t mean to sleep with me last night, did you?” Beth asks.
“No, I didn’t.”
“So why did you?”
“Because I had to.”
“Why? Tell me why.”
“You made me realize how cold I am.”
“I liked warming you.”
And believe you me, she’s warming him right now, just looking at him. Sadly, Wrath’s hungry for more than sex just then: he needs blood, and soon. But Beth is simply too tempting, and within a page or two “he heard her gasp at his powerful entry, and her slick heat grabbed onto him, pulsating as she came.” I remember making fun of the phrase “slick heat” when reading Sex, Straight Up. I still find it a silly expression, but I’m beginning to appreciate that it might be a more universally accepted phrase than I’d first suspected. What other way can you even semi-poetically describe a woman’s hoo-haw?
All’s well and good until Wrath tiptoes to the rim of the forbidden canyon and kicks a couple of pebbles over the edge: “He bared his teeth and went for her neck, for the vein deliciously close to the surface of her pale skin. His fangs were about to sink deep, his throat dry with thirst for her, his gut spasming with a starvation that cut to his soul, when he pulled himself up short, horrified by what he was about to do.”
That’s all folks. Elvis has left the building. Or, more accurately, Beth has: for her safety, Wrath forces her to leave. He needs Marissa, stat.
Chapter 20: Three scenes
Okay, as someone pointed out in the comments to one of my posts, the opening scene of this chapter, wherein Mr. X takes Billy and the Loser (isn’t that an ‘80s cop show?) out for Laser Tag, is an utter waste of time. The upshot of the scene is that the Loser is a loser and that Billy is a psychopathic creep. (A propos of nearly nothing, this scene reminds me very much of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, a book which may very well get my vote for Most Overrated Novel of All-Time, at least in the sci-fi category. Fully half of that book is devoted to often elegiac descriptions of the title character’s military acumen that he displays in Laser Tag-like training exercises. Hoo. Ray.)
The next scene is a bit more touching and actually does a little to advance the characters it involves. Fritz drives Beth home, all the while fawning over her and reassuring her of her father’s love for her. “We have every column you’ve ever written. Even the ones you wrote in high school and college.” I get this image of a bunch of battle-hardened and brutish vampires huddled over a plate of Ho-Hos and a high school yearbook, reading out loud to one another: “What is a Senior? The ‘S’ stands for Spirit. The ‘E’ stands for Erudition…”
Meanwhile, Wrath has called out to Marissa, and she comes, just in time. He jumps on her like a Weimaraner on a sack of White Castles. His little toy soldier’s still standing at attention, having kept its watch after Beth’s recent departure, and Marissa can feel it. “For the first time she felt every hard line of him.”
But something’s not right. Marissa looks into his mind and there finds not herself but a raven-haired beauty with “tight, pink nipples.” From that moment on Marissa knows Wrath will never truly be hers. Bummer.
Side note: several more chapters would pass before I realized that Marissa isn’t a brunette. For some reason her physical description earlier in the book eluded me, and I had to find it and reread it to convince myself that Ward hadn’t skipped a beat somewhere.
That’s where we are, folks. The next few chapters keep the heat high, action-wise, and in the very next one we learn a bit more about Tohrment. (The vampire, not the state of being.)