Title: Dark Lover
Author: J. R. Ward
We’re finally more than halfway through this beast of a book, and the action’s picking up. What’s in store for us yet? As I look back over these chapters (please remember that I long ago finished reading the book), I find myself worrying that I may run out of things to snark: how many times can you make fun of sentence structure, silly names, and overblown product placement?
Then I realize that here and there are scattered pockets of comedic wonderfulness, hiding in the pages of the book like the “flavor booster” nuggets of powdered cheese I loved to find in the poorly-stirred mac ‘n’ cheese I’d make myself as a ten-year-old. Chapter 39, in which we meet the Scribe Virgin, is one such highly entertaining chapter. Similarly risible are any of the chapters in which Butch and Marissa interact, at which times Marissa acts like a poorly-programmed sexbot with a broken linguistic processor.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, let’s content ourselves with a few more mundane episodes, starting with…
…Chapter 31: Salad days
We open this chapter with Marissa, Wrath’s longtime and oh-so-recently erstwhile shellan. Thumbing through her memories made up of centuries of Wrath, she can’t help but feel her anger rise. “She didn’t want him back. What she wanted was for him to have a taste of the pain she’d been through.”
The next scene is a longer one in which we learn a great deal about Wrath. Sensing that Wrath has a more than generous share of animosity towards the lessers, Beth asks him “who did the lessers take from you?”
Wrath proceeds to narrate a heartrending story about his adolescence, when his parents were taken from him by the lessers of long ago. His boyhood home invaded by the vampire hunters, Wrath’s parents hid him (aged twenty-two at the time) in a crawl space. From the safety of that hiding place, Wrath witnessed his parents’ slaughter. “While it was happening, they made so much noise, no one heard me screaming.”
Wrath is humiliated by the telling of his tale of woe. “I was such a coward. I should have been out there with my father, fighting.” For several pages he bewails his inability to save his parents’ lives. To tell the truth, his manly pridefulness gets really, really tiresome really, really fast.
By me, the most important questions about Wrath’s adolescence go unanswered: did he have acne? Did he stammer when he talked to girl vampires? Did he always go by “Wrath,” or was he at one time known as “Wrathie”? Look, I don’t care if you’re a vampire, and I don’t care just how much of a total bad-ass of a vampire you’re supposed to be by birth and bloodline, I can’t very well imagine a pair of oohing and aahing parents leaning over the bassinet while one says to the other, “awww, honey, how ‘bout we name him ‘Wrath’?”
Aaaaanyway, we end this bit with the most explicit sex scene in the novel. J.R. even drops an f-bomb on us, right before offering a vivid description of a blow job. Yow. I’m sure the question we’ve all got on ours mind at this point is “do fangs help in fellatio?”
The chapter’s last scene finds our heroes basking in the afterglow. But not for long: Beth’s got to get back to life as she knows it, at least for a little while longer. Before she leaves the two rehash Wrath’s sad and sorry tale yet again. Wrath can’t believe that Beth still finds him “beautiful” after learning the true depths of his “cowardice.”
“I stopped screaming. After they were finished with my parents and the doggen, I stopped screaming. The lessers were looking through our quarters. They were searching for me. And I stayed quiet. I was afraid of dying.”
Boo fuckin’ hoo, Wrath. Honor, schmonor, get over your bad self. This chapter ends just in time to avoid my scrawling a giant “OY” across the final page as I did to several of the later chapters.
Chapter 32: Airwick’s new scent line: outrage, spite, and vindictiveness
After a quick trip to her apartment, Beth’s back at work…but not for long! “Her eyes ached, and the discomfort didn’t fade as she blinked repeatedly.” Hmmmm…
She calls the police station, only to find that Butch has been placed on suspension. José pleads with her to leave Wrath behind (“Another prostitute was killed last night. Same MO”), but she’ll have nothing of it.
“As she walked out onto Trade Street, her belly was in knots, the heat sucked the energy right out of her…this wasn’t the flu. She was coming down with the Godzilla of migraines.”
Now we switch scenes…
On the other side of town, Wrath’s trying to get in touch with Tohr, to apologize for that whole “your personal lack of vigilance is responsible for the downfall of our entire race” thing back in Chapter 24. Vishous approaches him with a status report: “I just read the paper. Another dead prostitute. In an alley. Bled out.” Wrath’s sure that Zsadist is to blame.
Whoosh! Scene switch!
Butch is back now, and he drops in on Beth at home, and it’s a good thing, too: “Her body was facedown on the floor, one arm extended in front of her toward a phone that was just out of reach. Her legs were sprawled, as if she’d been writhing in pain.” We then get a lesson in breaking and entering: “Butch went over to a window, whipped off his shoe, and pushed his hand deep inside the sole. He punched at the glass until it cracked and then shattered.”
Diagnosis? Overdose, of course. Butch suspects heroin. (Sadly, Ward does not launch into a stream of drug-related “street” slang.) Beth’s not up for the hospital, and she insists that Butch take her to Wrath.
Shazam! Scene switch!
Aaaaaaand…we’re back at the mansion, where Wrath offers Tohrment a “rythe.” According to Ward’s handy-dandy glossary, a rythe is a “ritual manner of assuaging honor granted by one who has offended another. If accepted the offended chooses a weapon and strikes the offender who presents him or herself without defenses.”
What’ll it be, Tohr? Sabers? Pistols? Potato guns made of PVC piping?
But Tohr won’t have any of it. “I cannot strike you, my lord.” Bummer. At this point I think just about every animate creature (and a few inanimate ones) in this book is looking forward to seeing Wrath getting his butt whupped.
Zsadist chooses this moment to crack wise about Wrath banging Beth, and Wrath responds by confronting Z about his hooker-killing habit. “I don’t know dick about that. Smell me. I’m telling the truth.” Here we learn that anger smells like oranges: “He caught the scent of outrage, a tangy flare in his nose like someone had blasted him with a citrus air freshener.” Wrath and Zsadist are ready to rip off one another’s limbs, but there now comes a furious pounding on the door.
It’s Butch, with Beth. Without missing a beat, Wrath takes her from Butch and races towards his private chamber. Butch is left in the hands of the other vampires. Within minutes he and Rhage get into it, whaling away at each other with over-the-top macho braggadocio. It’s a good bonding experience. By the time Fritz shows up with spinach crepes (I wish I were kidding), the two are well on their way to becoming fast friends.
Chapter 33: Intermission, with italics
I’ll sum this one up quickly, having spent far more time on the last chapter than it deserved.
Plot Point #1: Wrath professes his love. “Damn it, don’t you die! I love you, damn you! Goddamn you, don’t you let go! Beth! I will not let you go! I will come after you before I let you…”
Plot Point #2: Marissa decides to drop by Darius’s place and wait for Wrath. What will she there find?
Plot Point #3: Mr. X is back, and he’s begun to turn the screws on Billy Riddle. I turns out that Billy’s not too keen on his dad: “I hate him. Because he breathes.”
Chapter 34: Another mercifully short chapter
It’s time: Beth’s hit her transition, and Wrath is there to help her through it. “She started to drink at his neck with great, urgent pulls of her mouth. Her arms tightened around his shoulders, her nails digging into his flesh.”
When she had slaked her thirst, “much later, Beth lifted her head. Licked her lips. Opened her eyes.” Disregarded everything she’d ever learned in First-Year Composition.
Wrath doesn’t waste any time: “Will you have me as your hellren? Marry me.” Because the best time to propose to your girlfriend is when she’s most vulnerable and therefore fully incapable of making snap decisions on life-changingly important matters like marriage. She doesn’t answer yet.
Time passes, in short sentences like “Hours. Days.”
At last, Beth awakes and feels the grunge. (You know it’s bad when you can smell yourself. And when you’re no doubt caked with the dried blood of your loved one.) “Shower.” Lovingly he carries her to the shower and washes away the remnants of her transition, toweling her off when he’s done.
It’s actually a pretty well-written scene and does more to portray convincingly Wrath’s love for Beth than the rest of the book put together. Nonetheless Ward can’t help but finish the chapter off with “Wrath knelt by the side of the bed, suddenly aware that his leather pants and his shitkickers were soaking wet.”
Let’s start a list of the words and phrases one should try to avoid in touching romantic scenes:
3. hemorrhoid (or hemorrhoid cream)
4. tungsten carbide
6. [FILL IN YOUR OWN!]
I’m so going to have to write a BDB mad-lib before this is all over.
Oh, yeah, and Beth totally accepts Wrath’s proposal.
Chapter 35: I am programmed to love you long time
This chapter does next to nothing to push the plot forward, but for my money it’s entirely worth it for the unintentionally hilarious dialogue between Butch and Marissa.
“Butch inhaled. Frowned. What the hell was that? The tropics. He smelled the ocean. He turned around. A breathtaking woman was standing in the doorway.”
After a few pages of tone-setting, she introduces herself: “Marissa. I am called Marissa.”
Marissa…I’ve just met a vampire named Marissa…
Butch is staring. “What are you looking at?” she asks him.
“Sorry. You’re probably sick of men gawking at you.”
“No males look at me.”
Butch is incredulous. “Man, you are so…totally…beautiful.” And then he looks away: “Look at me. Not staring. Not staring at all. Hey, this is a nice rug. You ever notice it before?” Anyone else feel like we’re watching an episode of The Brady Bunch where Greg’s trying to hit on his steady?
“I think I like the way you look at me…you look at me as though you’re thirsty. Your name. It’s Butch? What are you thirsty for, Butch?”
And so it goes, Marissa unwittingly taking Butch for the erotic ride of his life. Of course, for the first fifty pages or so of their nascent relationship, Butch remains convinced that she’s the highest of the high-end prostitutes. That doesn’t stop him from admiring her “gorgeous blond hair” and “delicate perfection.” Moveover, does anyone else have a feeling that Marissa, the very last one who might stand between Wrath and Beth is about to take a big ol’ step to the side? We’ll find out more as the next several chapters fill out this new relationship a bit more solidly.
I should say that while I was out for my morning run today I gave some thought to Marissa’s stilted phraseology (whywhywhyinthehellamIspendingsomuchtimethinkingaboutthis?!!?), and I developed a theory that might explain it: as Marissa appears to be one of the most carefully cloistered members of the vampire “upper class,” presumably she has little contact with many vampires of lower social rank, let alone humans. Therefore it’s likely that her linguistic assimilation is taking considerably longer than the other vampires’, and so even in 2005 (when this book was written) her English is highly imperfect and she thus speaks haltingly and awkwardly. Could be.
Confidential to J.R.W. in the South: nothing says “2005 slang” like using the word “moll” for a gangsta’s girlfriend.