He’s back! After the splendid members of the Bitchery recommended many, many books for Dr. Turtle, aka SBiT Patrick, the choice was Dark Lover by JR Ward. Behold: Chapters 1-5. Let the mhahgic begihn!
If you’re not familiar with the styling’s of DocTurtle’s romance blogging, he reviews the book chapter by chapter. Ergo: SPOILERS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD ARE BELOW THE FOLD OK?!?!!
Hey, all! DocTurtle…or SBiT Patrick…or whatever we decided I should be called on this blog…here, ready to say a few words about my latest reading assignment for SBTB, J.R. Ward’s Dark Lover, the first of a long series of Black Dagger Brotherhood novels and my first paranormal romance. This book features vampires, vampires, and…more vampires. They’re terrifying and ferocious, but they’re sexy as hell.
I started the book last night, I’m about eight chapters in now (the first five are blogged about below), and as a paranormal newbie the first question I have is to what extent Ward elects to adhere to the “canonical” vampire mythology, if there is such a thing? I also wonder to what extent the amount of sex and violence Dark Lover has presented so far is consistent with that of other books in this subgenre?
Mostly, though, I wonder where in the hell J.R. Ward learned how to name her characters. “Tohrment”? “Vishous”? “Rhage”?!? Phlease. At least now I finally get the running “extra ‘h’s” gag on SBTB. And for those of you who would like to create your own Black Dagger Brotherhood vampire name, I hope you’ll visit the following website I whipped up this morning: The Black Dagger Brotherhood Name Maker Because I care. [SBS: OMMFG This is Soh Mhuhch Fhuhn!]
Before I get to the chapter-by-chapter reviews, I’ll begin by saying that I’m finding the book a breezy read, and a particularly easy one, having just finished Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?, a 900-page behemoth that was dense with Victorian dialogue. Dark Lover is…well, I don’t know if it’s an out-and-out bad book, but it’s definitely cheehsy. The dialogue is forced and in places unbelievable, and though the action is appropriate it almost seems silly. So far there’s been but one real sex scene (I’ll talk about that one in my next set of chapters), and it was brief and blunt and bold but otherwise not unlike many of those I’ve read in the other novels I’ve now read.
Okay, on to the action!
Oh look, there’s a Glossary of Terms and Proper Nouns!
Okay, admittedly this sort of thing is handy for noobs like me, and it gave me my first taste of the laughably self-serious nomenclature Ward’s invented for some of her characters and concepts. I particularly like the entry for lesser, the soulless humans who’ve taken upon themselves the duty of destroying vampires wherever they may be found: “They smell like baby powder,” Ward tells us. Of course they do. Because that’s one of the most important things you need to know about them.
Chapter One: Techno + vampires = excitement
The novel opens in the dark of a hip dance club, Screamer’s, wherein the waitresses wear chain-fashioned bustiers (ouch) and wherein now sit two of our vampire heroes, Darius and…Tohrment. (I type that name under protest.) Darius’s daughter is about to come of age, and he’s explaining to Tohrment how he hopes to induce Wrath, the last of the full-blooded (and no doubt AKC-registered) vampires, to take her under his wing and see her through this trying event. Wrath, we’re told, is “off the chain when it came to the business of vengeance.” The GOP’s Michael Steele would also say that he’s “off the hook.”
Not many minutes pass before we get to meet Wrath himself, almost seven feet of 100%, Grade-A, All-American vampire, as he almost literally plows his way through the dense crowd of dancers. On Wrath’s arrival, Tohrment begs his pardon and stands to leave, uttering (I kid you not) the following line: “No offense, but I’m outtie.” Because a wizened and murderous vampire would say this. He would. Right before he’d say “I’m going to stop by Wet Seal and say hello to Tihffani on the way home. You want anything at Orange Julius? Bye-eee!”
Meanwhile, just blocks away at the office of the Caldwell Courier Journal, up-and-coming cub reporter Beth Randall is calling it a night. Before setting out on the twelve-block walk back to her apartment she calls in a Chinese take-out order. Then to the streets goes she, and she makes it halfway home before a pair of lecherous preppie toughs accost her, catcalling, cootchie-cooing, and pretty much making a nuisance of themselves before they pull Beth into a darkened alley and try to rape her.
Beth’s no creampuff, though, and she does a number on Tough #1’s nose and nuts before fleeing to her apartment. As the chapter ends we meet “Butch” O’Neal, the barely-on-the-right-side-of-the-law police detective who’s sure to play a crucial role in the coming chapters. “Let’s hear it for the boys of summer,” he thinks to himself as he rushes off to the scene of Beth’s assault. Why settle for a mash-up of two ‘80s songs when for a few words more you can have three?: “Let’s hear it for the boys of the summer of ’69.”
Chapter 2: Wherein Wrath explodes in wrath and Darius…well…explodes
We’re back at Screamer’s, where Wrath and Darius are having a delightful little tête-à-tête. After hemming and hawing a bit (“crazy weather we’re having, isn’t it?”…just kidding, but it’s not far off), Darius gets around to asking Wrath to help his daughter through her “transition,” the moment at which she will become an adult vampire. It’s like a bat mitzvah, only without all of the gifts and mazel tovs, and a with good deal more blood.
“I can’t do it. Not even for you,” Wrath tells his fellow Black Dagger Brother. He’s not really the touchy-feely sort. Darius continues to plead his case, letting Wrath know that his daughter’s especially delicate, being half-human, and he can trust only Wrath to see her through. Wrath still refuses and leaves, using his mystical vampire powers to cleanse the human minds of their memories of him.
Once outside Wrath makes quick work of a lesser, one of those baby powder-fresh vampire killers of which we heard tell in the novel’s opening glossary. After relieving the guy of his cell phone and wallet, Wrath kills the man. “With a strangled sound, the lesser disintegrated in a flash of light.” Wrath then saunters off to feed his shellan, essentially a love-slave who depends on his blood in order to continue her existence.
Meanwhile, Darius’s bad day continues. Climbing into his BMW 650i (immortal and classy!), Darius turns the key and almost instantly disappears in a white-hot ball of flame. So much for our only somewhat-normally-named male vampire.
Chapter 3: Sad tidings at Wayne Manor
We open at Beth’s apartment. After wolfing down a plate of Lean Cuisine mac ‘n’ cheese (the favored food of most dead-sexy cub reporters), Beth is called to the scene of the explosion at the last chapter’s end. As she heads out the door she promises herself that she’ll tell her cop friend José de la Cruz all about her attackers.
Meanwhile, at the stately home of the late Darius Q. Vampire, Wrath rematerializes (because they can do that) and ensconces himself in his private room, where he waits for his love-slave to show up. Said love-slave, Marissa, shows up almost at once, and within minutes she’s sucking on his wrist. She’d likely rather be sucking on other bits of this vampire king, if you catch my drift. There’s a good deal of sexual tension here, as Marissa would jump at the chance to have a roll in the hay with Wrath, while he only wishes she could find someone who’d love her the way she deserved to be loved. Wrath puts up with the present awkward ritual, though. Neither of them have a choice: she was bonded to him when she helped him through his own transition centuries before (we’ll hear more about that in a later chapter).
As this painful scene draws to a close Fritz (a.k.a. Alfred), Darius’s loyal retainer, approaches Wrath to let the latter know that Darius has died. Wrath is none too pleased by this news: “The candles exploded and fell to the floor as a whirlwind of viciousness swirled around him, growing tighter, faster, darker, until the furniture flipped off the floor and traveled in a circle around him.” So Wrath’s kind of like an evil Mary Poppins?
Chapter 4: Wherein we meet the boys of the Black Dagger Brotherhood
Beth’s on the scene of the explosion, where she now comes face-to-face with Butch O’Neal. Beneath that gruff exterior, Butch has got a heart of gold, and a soft spot for our cub reporter. Seeing her split lip and bruised neck, he vows that he’ll track down the scumbags who accosted her in the alleyway. Beth can bring herself to say much about the attack, though. She finds she can’t keep herself together well enough to file her report that night, and she runs along home.
Meanwhile, at Darius’s mansion, Wrath has assembled the Black Dagger Brotherhood for an emergency club meeting. (“I’m pretty sure someone was dipping into the rainy day fund…and our club copy of Blade #2, in mint condition, except for the small Yoo-Hoo stain on the cover, is missing.”) We now get to meet the brothers. There are Wrath and Tohrment, of course, and then there’s Vishous, a Red Sox fan who sports a single black driving glove; and Rhage, who is “Hollywood beautiful with the drive to rival a barnful of stallions.”
Finally, there’s Phury, a celibate amputee who’s certainly got a few axes to grind with various lessers; and Phury’s twin brother, Zsadist, who’d had an unfortunate past and “still bore the tattoos of a slave. As well as various piercings he’d added himself. Just because he liked the feel of pain.” Um…maybe I’m missing something, but wouldn’t that make “Mazsochist” a more appropriate name?
All right, who named these poor kids? Seriously. It’s like the BDB had only one even halfway reasonable name to go around and they all drew straws to see who’d get it. And now that one guy is dead. The names are one of the reasons I’m finding it very hard to take this book seriously. I can’t help but think of the MST3K episode Cave Dwellers, in which Tom Servo changes his name to Htom Sirveaux and Crow says to Tom, “well, Htom, why don’t you hlick me?”
You know what else is bugging me about this book? I’m irked by Ward’s continual insistence on making entire sentences out of prepositional phrases and other sentence fragments. Note the above: “…he still bore the tattoos of a slave. As well as various piercings he’d added himself [incomplete sentence]. Just because he liked the feel of pain [another].” There’s one more instance on that page (28), and two more on the facing page: “…he didn’t give a shit about anything or anyone. Including his twin.” “…the balance could be thrown off in an instant. In favor of the race’s enemies.” “Their kind was flirting with extinction. Even though the brothers were deadly fine at what they did.”
By no means am I calling for a moratorium on the occasional intentional use of grammatically incomplete sentences, which are often very effective at creating a sense of bluntness, starkness, or abbreviation. Such sentences serve a purpose. A vital purpose. (See? I can do it, too!) But c’mon, J.R.: if you’re doing it often enough that it becomes cliché, you shouldn’t be surprised if people start making it the basis for drinking games when your novels are read aloud at parties.
Because that totally should happen.
Oh yeah, and Beth is totally Darius’s daughter. Surprise!
Chapter 5: A short chapter, in which Butch takes care of some unfinished business
As we begin this chapter, Butch O’Neal drops in on Beth at her apartment and asks her about her assailant. During this conversation Wrath is lurking in the shadows outside, listening in. At the last chapter’s end Wrath learned from Darius’s death letter that Beth is indeed Darius’s daughter, and he’s stopped by to check her out.
Beth gives Butch a description of the guys who attacked her, and Butch recognizes one as the guy to whose assistance he’d been called at the end of the first chapter. This boy, Billy Riddle, is laid up in the hospital with a broken nose and a very sore set of family jewels, but his troubles have just begun. After leaving Beth’s apartment Butch swings by the hospital and gives Billy another shot to the nose before running him in for assault.
Stay tuned: we’ll find out more about Billy in the coming chapters.
So far? Dark Lover’s got more cheese than an Amish festival, and the author’s idiosyncratic grammatical quirks are a little distracting. The story’s well-paced, though, and I’ve definitely read worse books (though none lately). If I were a betting man, I’d lay odds that I’ll breeze through the rest of the book and get a few more good yuks out of it, but it’s not likely to be a life-changing experience.
To be continued!