Other Reviews: Goodreads
This week I want to look at my favorite book series, Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R. Ward. In March 2012, her 11th book of the series Lover Reborn was released, which I have only read once due to its intensity. That particular book is rather dark, in fact, the darkest of the series. However, today’s blog post is about Lover Unleashed (#10), probably one of my favorites, but to many it is considered the weakest. This week’s post purpose will be to reflect on the book and see why I love it so much and yet BDB series lovers seem to hate it so.
Payne is the twin sister of Vishous and becomes paralyzed after a fighting exercises accident with Wrath. Jane runs to get Dr. “Manny” Manuel Manello who is a specialist in the field. Time is running out for Payne, will she be paralyzed for life and can Manny save her? What happens when their attraction becomes too difficult to deny? Can a human and a vampire live happily ever after?
For details on the Series, check out this landing page, BDB. It is an automatic buy for me, meaning downloading at 12:00am on opening day. J.R. Ward has the ability to meld in love stories, vampire lore, complex storylines, action, suspense, and gritty dialogue as no other author I have read.
I am not sure why this series seems superior than any of her other writing, I have tried very hard to get into the Fallen Angels series and just can not make it through a single book.
Payne, Vishous’ twin sister is one kick-ass female vampire. Payne reminds me of a ballerina. On the surface, she is beautiful, her manners because of her imprisonment on the Other Side very graceful and courteous. Unlike Xhex, Payne appears to be able to survive her life traumas and she still seems feminine and that does not diminish her strength. With Xhex, you almost get the feeling she is ashamed of expressing love, as if it weakens her, whereas Payne balances being a woman and a warrior. Yet, there is a core of strength that she unleashes during her fights with Wrath. At Manny’s first meeting:
Manny stopped by her side and glanced at her body, which was covered with a sheet. She was tall. Had to be at least six feet. And she was built with sleek power.
This was a solider, he thought, measuring the strength in her bare upper arms. This was a fighter.
And, God, the loss of mobility in someone like her took his breath away. Even if you were a couch potato, life in a wheelchair was a bitch and a half, but to somebody like this, it would be a death sentence.
We can see how this injury is almost unthinkable to a warrior like Payne. This is a female who is not only physically strong, but is fragile over the possibility of this disability. But once she begins to fight her illness, she is not someone who whines or simpers around half of the book. There is vulnerability in her speech and action that leaves you wanting to know more about her. There have been females in past novels that are just such whinny bitches that I want to say “suck it up Nancy!”
Ok, I have to say, Manny is possibly one of my favorite males in the series. I love his arrogance, which in the face of all of these aggressive vampires impresses me even more. Here is the danger when you have a strong female vampire and a human who is not a warrior: the human male just ends up looking like a weakling. Take D.B. Reynolds’ book Sophia, and I think I like that one a little less because the main character is a human and he is just overshadowed.
Yet, Manny’s presence and his surgical skill seems to give him gravitas in a book that should have had him curled up in a corner in a fetal position. There is a scene when he encourages Payne not to give up, that demonstrates that Manny is not just a pretty face, but has a gentle, caring heart underneath all of that wonderful arrogance:
“…and I want you to remember this. Your legs are part of you, but not all of you or what you are. So wherever we go after tonight, I need you to know that you are no less for the injury. Even if you are in a chair, you still stand as tall as you ever did. Height is just a vertical number—it doesn’t mean shit when it comes to your character or the kind of life you live.”
I also loved how Butch describes him as looking like the wrestler John Cena and I laughed my ass off.
The Manny quote above to me is the theme of the book. Your problems, illnesses, and disabilities do not define you. This can be seen both in the Manny/Payne storyline as well as the Vishous/Butch storyline. We see in both how they overcome the fractures in the psyche by accepting the problem and working a solution around it. They are not limited by these issues but in fact are made stronger in their relationships.
So, one of the complaints about Lover Unleashed (#10) from readers is that it is so much more of a love story in the Payne/Manny and less about action and angst. The book before of Lover Mine (#9) is John Mathew/Xhex story arc and it is full of pain, abuse, and tears. The book after this one, Lover Reborn (#11), is even darker and grief filled.
I think that because J.R. Ward knew what her plan was with #11, she made this one a little lighter.
Lover Unleashed (#10) is probably one of the most erotic books in the series to me, and yet, we really do not see much “sex” between Manny and Payne until the end of the book. However, scenes like the one below had me Jonesing:
A growl came out of him and he moved so fast that the only thing that could have stopped him was her saying no. And that word was evidently not in her vocabulary.
In a flash, he was between her thighs, his hands spreading her wider, her sex laid open and weeping in the face of his male urge to dominate and mate.
He gave in. Fuck him, but he let himself go and kissed her core. And there was nothing gradual or gentle about it; he dived in with his mouth, sucking at her and tonguing her as she cried out and scratched at his forearms.
I might need a moment here (fans herself). Scenes like these are what make this book so hot and yet at the same time moving our plot forward (I will not go into this, as it might be a spoiler). There is sweetness to their romance that is no less sexy than any other BDB installment.
I like the balance in this book, the sweeter romance of the main storyline of Manny/Payne, and the BDSM/pain aspect of the Jane/Payne/Butch secondary storyline, unlike the books before and after this one.
What could be better?
This is a problem that I have had with the series, not just this book. J.R. Ward has a tendency to write “around” controversial romance issues like homosexuality. For example, Qhuinn and Blaylock are meant to be (their book is slated next) and currently Blaylock and Saxton are together. But whenever it is time for any homoerotic sexy fun time, we get them kissing and “then the door shuts”. I understand that it is most likely because of the author’s fear of pushback by publishers/fans on gay romances in a straight paranormal romance, but it just leaves me frustrated. Show it all, or do not include gay romance, do not slight the story arc because of fear. I hope that we will get a full storyline with Qhuinn and Blay’s book next year.
And, the overarching storyline is not strong in this book, but this is more of a transition between the end of the previous main series story arc and introducing the Bastards for the next series story arc.
I love this book. The interactions between Manny and Payne are both emotionally intense and erotic. We get the dark, gritty chapters with the Vishous/Jane/Butch sections. Overall, it is a very balanced book and one of my favorites of the series.