In reading the comments to my first post on this bit of dreck I feel as though I’ve found several dozen kindred spirits. Now on Chapter 33, I’m having to backtrack a bit to keep up with the chapter summaries (but what fun they are! well worth the trouble), and I too am sick and tired of gratuitous references to gangsta rap artists (J.R., puhleeze: just because you know who Jay-Z is doesn’t mean you’re still wit’ it. Embrace your badass old school self!) and prominent product placements. Can somebody please tell Ms. Ward that though specificity makes for a strong setting, that’s no excuse for plastering every page of one’s book with billboards for Pepperidge Farm and Chrysler’s Town and Country.
Meanwhile, as romances go, I’m finding this one decidedly…unromantic. As someone pointed out in the comments to my post, there’s really no meaningful treatment of the feelings these two have for one another: one minute they’re off, another minute they’re on. Wrath comes around too quickly for it to be believable. “Human? Pshaw! Weaklings, hardly worthy of a warrior’s love!…but wait! But soft, what light through yonder window breaks!” I ain’t buyin’ it.
Not to be put off so easily, I’ll put it in reverse, back up to Chapter 6, and continue my drive through the first of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series of paranormal romances…
Chapter Six: Several close encounters
As this chapter begins our dark hero sets about stalking our heroine. His first attempt goes a bit awry, and he ends up scaring the bejesus out of her, forcing him to wipe her mind clean using an old Jedi m…I mean…vampire hoodoo. “Of course she’d have a bad dream after what had happened last night.” Silly billy.
Then it’s back to Wayne Manor for Wrath. “As Wrath walked down into the earth under Darius’s mansion, exhaustion followed.” If you’re like me, you’re hoping that Exhaustion (“Exhaushun”?) is another vampire. But no, it’s nothing more than a bit of world-weariness. Nothing like having to perform a vampire death ritual to take it out of a guy. This particular ceremony requires that Wrath kneel onto a mess of diamonds that he’s scattered onto a marble slab.
Makes sense to me.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Butch “Butch” O’Neal is wrapping up his processing of Billy Riddle. On his way out Butch takes time to flirt with hooker Cherry “Cherry” Pie before heading off to meet his bit of stuff, a bartender named Abby who smells like dried beer and maraschino cherries.
Okay, this chapter didn’t really go anywhere, did it?
Chapter Seven: Official BDB drinking game rules
Lesser Mr. X, the brainchild behind Darius’s killing, and proprietor of the Caldwell Martial Arts Academy, has been promoted to Fore-lesser for his successful assassination. “Fore-lesser” trips off the tongue as easily as “above-lower” or “over-underer,” terms I’m sure J.R. Ward toyed with before settling on the current one.
Oh, and take a drink, everyone! The BDB drinking game resumes on this page as J.R. whips out this standalone paragraph: “Leader of the Lessening Society.”
Read one of the BDB novels out loud with a roomful of friends, switching off every page. Everyone takes a drink if…
1. someone catches a sentence without a subject, or includes a subject without an article. (Example: “Shoulders were twice the size of most males’.” J.R., would it kill you to say “his”?)
2. Make it a double if that sentence is a paragraph unto itself (see the above example).
3. If more than one consecutive sentence as in (1) appears, the current reader may select any person in the room to finish the reader’s drink for her/him. That person must automatically take over as the new reader (after refilling her/his own drink).
4. If a person is the only one to catch a sentence as in (1), s/he immediately takes over as reader, and may command any person in the room to finish her/his (the catcher’s) drink, before getting her/him a new one.
Have fun, peoples!
Chapter Eight: Wherein…holy crap, I got so into the drinking game that I forgot to finish my recap of…
Chapter Seven, Redux: A lesson in vampire hunting
We now learn that vampires are most prevalent in New England, so that’s where the lessers tend to clump, too, and this is where Mr. X now finds himself. He’s got a plan to eliminate the Black Dagger Brotherhood once and for all: he’ll lure them into the open using the females as bait, once he found them by getting at the civilian (yes, that’s what they’re called, all right?) vampires first. As we’ll see in a later chapter, his brilliant plan involves slitting hookers’ throats and leaving them in darkened alleyways while he lurks in the shadows cooing “here vampie vampie vampieeeeee…”
We get another shock in this chapter when we find out that Billy Riddle, self-styled ruffian and would-be rapist, is a member of Mr. X’s dojo. I wonder…maybe Mr. X will attempt to recruit him into the Lessening Society? Hmmm…
Oh, here’s something I found laugh-out-loud funny: “Adhering to the standards [Beth’s boss at the paper]’d gotten familiar with at the New York Times by being a stickler for accuracy was actually one of his strengths.” Would this be the same New York Times for which worked Judith Miller and Michael Gordon?
But I digress…
Chapter Eight: For reals this time, or, Hey look! Sex!
As Wrath wraps up the death ritual he’d undertaken on behalf of his fallen warrior friend, Marissa rematerializes in his bedroom. The most crucial element of the ensuing scene is the revelation that Wrath is picky about his underwear: “Oh, not fucking likely. He was not going to fight in BVDs.” Real vampire warriors wear boxers. He barks at Fritz to get him a pair, posthaste, before heading off once more to stalk Beth at her apartment.
In the intervening pages we learn a bit more about our hero. In the 17th century, before his own transition, Wrath was a pigeon-chested pipsqueak, an orphaned English stable boy so frail that the transition nearly killed him. As it was, the change kicked his ass. After drinking his first blood from Marissa’s veins, he grew thighs as thick as tree trunks, beat back a passel of stable hands who stumbled upon him as he awoke from his blood-soaked stupor, and finally found refuge in the darkness of a grain cellar. Many hours later he emerged a changed man.
What would the transition do to Beth? And would she have to change her name to Bheth afterward?
Beth comes home. After feeding her cat (Fancy Feast!) and washing off her face, Beth steps back into her living room to find herself face-to-face with nearly three hundred pounds of vampire. Wrath steps blithely into the room. “God, he was gorgeous.”
In awe of his beauty and physical presence (not to mention the drug-filled haze coming out of Wrath’s cigarillo), Beth is drawn near. “God, everything about him radiated sex, from the strength of his body to the way he moved to the smell of his skin…‘Kiss me,’ she said…Another moan boiled out of her mouth.”
Wrath’s liking it, too: “This half-human was the hottest thing he’d ever gotten anywhere near. And he’d cozied up to a lightning strike once or twice before.” Okay. Soon he pulls a neat little trick which I, for one, would like to learn: “He bared his fangs, let out a hiss, and bit through the bra’s front closure.”
From there it’s all downhill. Sex Scene Number One is consummated on Page 67. Though the scene itself is smokin’ hot, there’s little to believe in here: neither character even knows the other yet, and we’re meant to believe that Wrath’s bound and determined to have nothing to do with Beth. While there’s something to be said for a little quickie on, say, Page 67, this scene manages to be a farce of itself.
Chapter Nine: Vampire, love thyself!
What a difference a page makes…we’re thrown back into the seedy side of town, where we find Mr. X cruising Caldwell’s red light district in his Chrysler Town and Country. It’s not long before he finds what he’s looking for: “ ‘Wanna ride?’ another [prostitute] said, shaking her ass like it was a can of paint.” [Insert image of woman’s rear end in an electric paint mixer. Ouch.] A page later, Mr. X happens upon Cherry Pie, whom we met briefly before. “When she bent over to pick the money up, he drove the needle into the back of her neck and pushed the plunger home. Moments later she slumped like a rag doll.” Ah, Cherry, we hardly knew ye.
We now meet Marissa’s reclusive brother, Havers (pronunciation, please?), a brilliant vampire scientist who runs Vampire General Hospital and who’s working on a process by which regular transfusions will free vampires from having to feed on one another’s blood. Uncomfortable with being a vampire, Havers is the world’s first vegetarian vampire…after Bunnicula, of course. (Incidentally, my wife Maughta adds at this point that “as a kid Bunnicula freaked. Me. Out.”) Havers’s research montage gives us what I think is the book’s first triple-whammy: “He ran more tests and tried different approaches. [Wait for it…!] Retried. [Boom!] Walked away from the project. [BOOM!] Came back to it. [Bottoms up, y’all!]”
By the way, as I said above I’m about thirty-odd chapters into the book now, and Havers still has my vote for the novel’s most pointless character. (Not for lack of competition: several of the BDB members are pretty cursorily sketched.)
I’ll leave it there for now, as we’ve come a long way, having met several new characters and surviving our first vampire-on-human sex scene. Our next set of chapters will come to us courtesy of Grey Goose vodka and the Escalade: Cadillac luxury in a full-size SUV™. My verdict on the book at this point: slow, but soon to pick up a bit, if only for the silly action and often laughably stilted dialogue.