As the book goes on, the chapters become shorter (thank the Scribe Virgin!) and sillier. The next several are all some of the book’s most delightful. We get to meet a goddess, we’re treated to more stilted dialogue from Marissa and Butch, and we’re exposed to dangerously high levels of over-the-top masculinity.
One note before I continue: I should say that if Ms. Ward is reading any of these reviews, she’s being a tremendously good sport about it, and she should take comfort in the fact that (a) despite its flaws, the book offers a compelling, if sometimes silly, story that pulls the reader to the end almost effortlessly once she or he reaches a certain point (once I got to the chapters currently under review, I just plowed ahead to the finish line; (b) her books sell like hotcakes laced with heroin, and therefore (c) she’s richer and more famous than I’ll ever be for writing these books. It’s reminds of an old line due, I believe, to Reynard Wolfcastle from The Simpsons: “How do you sleep at night?” “On big piles of money. With many beautiful ladies.”
So, J.R., if you’re reading this: props for knowing how to write a book that sells, and double props for being awesomely accepting of all of this ribbing. (See Carla Cassidy, for her awesome response to Pregnesia’s not-so-stellar review.)
Enough hemming and hawing, let’s get back to the book!
Chapter 36: I look good in leather
“Wrath got out of bed and drew on a fresh set of leathers and a black T-shirt.” So the chapter begins.
Okay, J.R., we get it already. Wrath’s a total fucking bad-ass. Does he wear a leather jock? Leather socks? For all the boasting and bluster you’d think Chuck Norris wears Wrath the Vampire Underoos. If Ward were a man, by this time I’d be suspecting that she had certain “issues.” “Male” issues, if you know what I “mean.” And I “think” you “do.”
On this lovely morn Wrath’s almost walking on air as he wanders around the house, for now he’s free of that old ball ‘n’ chain he’d been paired with for several hundred years and is happily betrothed to the most wonderful woman in the world, a delicate flower whom he’s known for a whole week or so.
Can I get a “WTF?” See, one fundamental problem with this “romance” novel is that the romance is pretty much absent, having been supplanted by unrealistically superficial passions and straight-up sex.
Rhage doesn’t know that Wrath has cast Marissa aside, though, so when, a page or two into the chapter, he sees Butch putting the moves on her, he comes within inches of giving Butch a few new orifices. Butch, for his part in the foofaraw, is shocked to find Marissa attempting to protect him from Rhage’s rage.
After a quick exchange in Vampirese, the combatants are calmed, but Butch won’t be satisfied until he’s sure Beth is all right. “I want to see her for myself,” he demands.
“Later. And only if she wants to see you,” Wrath replies.
Meanwhile, if anyone still gives a damn, on the other side of town Mr. X is dropping Billy off at home after having a little man-to-man chat about matricide and rape. It turns out that Billy likes it when the ladies play (extremely) hard to get: “I like it when they’re trying to get away.”
Chapter 37: Beth is getting long in the tooth
“Whoa. Fangs. She had fangs. Halloween was going to be a real kick in the pants from now on.”
Fangs, perfect vision, seemingly limitless endurance…right about now Beth’s feeling pretty good about being a vampire. Time go and face the world.
“In the distance she heard male voices and heavy music.” Again with the machismo. Do you get the feeling that the BDB boys spend all day lounging around, watching UFC bouts on their 6-foot plasma screen TV and drinking 16-year-old scotch straight from the bottle, pausing occasionally only to kick holes in the wall, punch each other in the head, and strike bodybuilder poses in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors they had Fritz install last May?
One of the first people Beth sees is Butch, who’s still bent on getting her the heck out of Dodge. “I’m not going anywhere,” she insists.
He caves pretty easily: “Somehow, I thought that’s what you’d say. But if you need me, I…ah…I’ll be here.” Translation?: “I don’t really care anymore whether or not you’ve been taken hostage by a gang of drug-dealing homicidal maniacs. My current concern is hitting on this here blonde chick.”
“As she went out to the hall, the sound of men talking and the deep rumble of rap music got louder.” Whoa, wait…they’re listening to rap??! That’s new.
Soon she can make out what the men are saying: “I lit his cigarette with a sawed-off. He didn’t come down for breakfast, you feel me?” According to Ward, this line elicits “a loud chorus of laughter. A couple of bangs, like heavy fists hitting a table.” Apparently the humor bar is set pretty pitifully low at stately Wayne Manor.
At last Beth enters the room and encounters the brothers in all their black-clad glory. There are a few moments of awkward tension as she’s introduced to them, and then, after Wrath leaves the room for a moment, the five brothers swear their allegiance to their queen-to-be by burying their daggers in the floor at her feet.
“Bacon’s on the way,” Wrath says on re-entering the room and seeing the result of the ceremony the others had just performed. “Hey, they like you.” J’oh! That Wrath!
Chapter 38: A good old-fashioned woo-pitchin’
Butch and Marissa are at it again.
“I would touch you now. Before I go,” says Marissa. “May I? Butch?” He allows this, and a few paragraphs later, “she slipped her finger into his mouth.” They take it a little further, but all too soon the spell is broken for Butch.
“The innocent act is freaking me out a little. You know, the whole doe-eyed-virgin routine.”
Butch is hurt that Marissa’s hurt.
Marissa’s hurt that…and so on. Thankfully we can safely skip a page or so without missing a single thing.
Things get interesting again when Marissa decides to dematerialize right in front of Butch’s eyes. He’s nonplussed, to say the least. “I’m not fucking okay,” he tells Beth, who enters just after Marissa’s left. “She fucking disappeared! In front…she was…I held her hand and then she—“ Beth talks him down from the ledge, letting him in on all she knows. Butch takes it all pretty well (“vampires? Rilly? Gee whillikers!”), and by the end of the chapter he gets another chance to bond with Vishous, over their mutual love of the Red Sox.
This pair’s thoroughgoingly generic baseball-themed patter marks the nadir of this chapter’s prose: “Tell me that Curt Schilling was not a god,” says Vishous. “If he starts going on about Varitek, I’m outta here,” another vampire complains.
Has J.R. Ward ever heard real people talk about baseball, or did she just scan the box scores for a few names and say, “ah fuck it, it’ll read well enough”? I’m trying to imagine what might read worse. “Verily, my new friend, are not the athletic exploits of the Knickerbockers’ star hurler unrivaled?”
The hollow tone of this scene is all too reminiscent of the Simpsons episode at the end of which Gerald Ford moves into the neighborhood and instantly makes friends with Homer. Says the ex-president to Homer, “maybe later you could come over for some nachos and beer and watch the football game.”
Chapter 39: “You can tell I am a deity by the way in which I eschew contractions.”
We begin this chapter with an episode chez Havers and Marissa: the latter’s just returned from Darius’s place, and is fairly prancing about the place with excitement over her newfound human admirer. Havers, for his part, doesn’t believe Marissa when she tells him she wasn’t there for Wrath’s sake.
Marissa calls attention to the fact that Havers looks like death warmed over (or would that be “undeath warmed over”?): “The transfusion didn’t work, did it?” she asks.
“Don’t try to change the subject!” he spits back. Soon after this he storms off in anger.
Enough of the opening act; now the chapter gets interesting.
Wrath sees Beth off to bed and then prepares himself for a certain ritual: “he dressed himself in a white shirt, and long, baggy white pants. He grabbed a string of enormous black pearls out of an ebony box and knelt on the floor next to his bed, settling back on his heels…he started to chant in the old language. He was rusty at first, tripping over the words. The last time he’d said the prayers, he’d been nineteen or twenty years old.” I get this image of Wrath as a be-tzitzitted yeshiva boy davening by candlelight in a snowbound Polish study house as he recites a passage from Deuteronomy.
Soon he’s transported: “The Italianate architecture was white; the marble fountain, the marble columns, the marble floor, all had a pale glow to them.” Apparently vampire heaven looks like the Sicilian countryside.
A voice comes from behind where he stands: “It has been a long time, warrior.”
“Scribe Virgin, how are you?”
“More to the point, how fare you, warrior? You have come seeking change, have you not?” Indeed, as we all suspect at this point, Wrath has come to ask for annulment of his bondage to Marissa. This she does, surprisingly easily, but then she takes him to task for not being a leader to his people. “And yet you will not lead your people. So I can only surmise that you do not value them and therefore fight because you like to or because you wish to die. Which is it?”
There’s a bit more tit-for-tat, and soon the Scribe Virgin’s got Wrath on his knees (“I rather like you like this,” says she), pleading to be allowed to take Beth as his shellan. Since he’s been such a sweet little supplicant, she cuts a deal with him: “I will require a favor. You will lead your people. What say you, warrior?”
“As you wish, Scribe Virgin.”
But there’s more: the Scribe Virgin demands to be present at the wedding, and gives Wrath “a heavy gold ring set with a ruby the size of a walnut” for Beth to wear.
Before she takes her leave, Wrath asks the Scribe Virgin if he can call her by the name by which his father once knew her: “Analisse.” Am I the only one who thinks it’s a bit anticlimactic for the Scribe Virgin’s name to be uttered so soon in this series? Shouldn’t it be that her name is a watchword, a shibboleth, an unutterable Tetragrammaton, an enigmatic set of syllables whose speaking unleashes great power?
Maughta (Dear Wifey) and I actually got into a bit of an argument about what sort of deity the Scribe Virgin appears to be (yet more evidence that Ward’s work is more compelling than it first appears to be). Maughta argued that the Scribe Virgin is a more daily present, chthonic, “down ‘n’ dirty” deity who takes a hands-on approach with her children, much like one of the Roman gods or goddesses who dealt heavily in human affairs and who were known intimately (in more than one sense) by their worshippers. In her view, there’s not all that much distance from Wrath, as king, to the Scribe Virgin herself. “Wrath’s kind of like the Pope,” she said. Since she’s a quotidian companion to the vampire race, it’s not extraordinary that Wrath might speak her name.
I countered: “However, the Pope himself is not an object of veneration, even if he is the chief intermediary with the Catholic deity.” In my view there’s a thick Day-Glo line between the vampires (even Wrath-as-king) and the Scribe Virgin: she is, above all else, the creator of the vampire race, while the vampires are the created. Though Wrath-as-king may be the vampire equivalent of Benedict XVI, he exists on a distinctly lower plane than the Scribe Virgin’s. Therefore, I argue, the casual invocation of her personal name at this point in the series (about two-thirds of the way through the first of, what, seven books?) seems a bit out of place.
What do you think, oh brilliant members of the Bitchery?
For now, we end this theological disputation, and return to our regularly-scheduled snarking, already in progress.
Chapter 40: “Welcome to the club. Here’s your secret decoder ring.”
“I’ve thought it over. I want to work for you.” Billy Riddle’s about to take a walk on the wild side and become a lesser. Of course, Mr. X has yet to tell him about the whole tear-out-your-heart-and-stick-it-in-a-ceramic-jar thing.
“I want you to call and tell your father that you are moving out, effective immediately,” says the master to the student. “Tell him that you’ve found a job and that you are going into an intensive training program.” As Mr. X prepares Billy for his lesserhood, he thinks upon his own induction, and for a moment wonders if he’d made the right decision oh so many years ago: “He’d be an old man now…and he would have had an average life…he would have been one of a hundred million other anonymous men who were bitched at by their wives and who drank with their buddies and who passed their precious days in a haze of ambient dissatisfaction because they were nothing special. But he would have been alive.”
Oh well. That’s the life of a lesser, I guess. And soon Billy’ll find that out for himself.
That’s all for now. I’ll try to get the next five chapters typed up and sent off to SB Sarah pretty soon, since we’re heading into the homestretch on this sucker, and I’d hate to make you all wait. Meanwhile, why don’t you check out this week’s…
…Bonus:: hey, kids! Bored at work? Why not try out the first-ever (I sincerely hope) Black Dagger Brotherhood Madlib!