I’ve been a huge fan of J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series practically from the beginning. She may have been on book 2 or 3 when i discovered them. And while i think Laurell K. Hamilton’s Jean Claude of the Anita Blake series is the best vampire ever set to paper (i like my vamps pretty and complex), i think the BDB is the best series of vampire stories yet created, probably even including the marvelous Charlaine Harris.
Like many people, i consider the third book in the BDB series, Lover Awakened, to be Ward’s finest effort. The brilliance of the series concept — that each book tells the story of one of the vampires and his search for love– allows Ward to really delve into the character of each of her heros. She isn’t bound by the need for a single, consistent point-of-view like Hamilton’s or Harris’ series are, ie Anita and Sookie. Consequently, the reader really gets involved with these heros and Zsadist, the central figure of Lover Awakened, is complicated, anguished, anti-heroic and still hugely relatable. His story is also compelling and the book stays completely focused on him so the reader is hooked. Butch’s story, Lover Revealed, is also terrific and Lover Unbound, because its about the fascinating brother, Vishous, held together well.
Now, before BDB fans pounce on me, let me quickly say that none of the BDB series are bad. Ward is an excellent writer and the world she has created is always involving. But, book 6, Lover Enshrined, showed the strain of trying to maintain the rich imagination and conflict of the series. The story of Phury spent way too much time in the world of the Scribe Virgin (the deity of the vampires) and much of it was, in my opinion, a metaphysical mess. Lover Avenged, book 7, also fell short of the excellence of some of the previous books, not because the story of Rehvenge wasn’t compelling, but because the book was almost equally divided between the story of Rehvenge finding his love and the backstory on John Matthew and his lover, Xhex. This took a lot of the impact away from the Rehvenge story because from the first time the John Matthew character appeared in an earlier book it was clear that both Ward and her readers loved him. Consequently, the part of Lover Avenged that concerns John Matthew so over-balances the story of Rehvenge it divides the focus and reduces the final impact of the book. The book seems transitional — which, in fact, it is.
Which brings me to the new book, Lover Mine. Yes, this is the story of John Matthew, the mute, orphaned vampire, and his impossible, fascinating, assassin lover, Xhex. This book puts Ward and the series right back on track. She clearly loves writing about this man — almost as much as she adores Zsadist and i like the book very nearly as much as book 3, high praise indeed. Every moment of the book is compelling. You will want to keep reading even as you don’t want it to end. Ward orchestrates this book beautifully, introducing several stories that seem unrelated until she weaves them together at the end. But she never loses focus on John Matthew and Xhex, even while the book introduces, or more accurately expands upon, a secondary plot involving the two friends of John Matthew, Blay and Qhinn. This subplot suggests that sometime soon Ward will be introducing her first m/m story to the BDB series and, of course, i’ll be at the head of the line to buy it.
I can’t explain the book in more detail because too much of the plot is dependent on the books that precede it. Yes, you will have to read all 8, but that is no hardship. The Black Dagger Brotherhood series really does cross genres. It’s paranormal but still very contemporary; it’s romance and action. The heros are brilliant and the villains are the slimiest and most evil. These books have something for everyone. If you haven’t yet indulged, start with Dark Lover today. And if you have, make sure you read Lover Mine very soon.