Tuesday 19 May 2020

#CBR12 Book 22: "Dark Lover" by J.R. Ward

Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 2 stars

Official description:
In the shadows of the night in Caldwell, New York, there's a deadly turf war going on between vampires and their slayers. There exists a secret band of brothers like no other-six vampire warriors, defenders of their race. Yet none of them relishes killing more than Wrath, the leader of The Black Dagger Brotherhood.

The only purebred vampire left on earth, Wrath has a score to settle with the slayers who murdered his parents centuries ago. But, when one of his most trusted fighters is killed-leaving his half-breed daughter unaware of his existence or her fate-Wrath must usher her into the world of the undead-a world of sensuality beyond her wildest dreams.

Where do I even begin with this book? J.R. Ward is a big name in the paranormal romance circles. This book came out in 2005. There are now 18 books in the series, which does not seem to be wrapping up any time soon. Am I going to be reading any of the rest of the series, two more of which I own (but thankfully only paid e-book sale prices for)? Unlikely. I knew about Dark Lover long before I bought it, on sale, back in 2014. I enjoy a lot of paranormal fantasy, although the romance sub-genre frequently tends to feature the "fated mate" trope a lot more often than I like. It's not a genre trope I am fond of. I like to believe that the characters I read about have some kind of choice about who they end up with.

I didn't know too many details about the series, except that it's been running for a long time, has a huge amount of devoted fans, and the vampire protagonists all tend to have implausible names, often featuring an unnecessary letter or two (seriously: Rhage, Zsadist, Vishous, Phury, Tohrment, the list goes on). In contrast, Wrath has a perfectly normal spelling to his name, but he does get to be the super-tormented king of the vampires. Wrath is a trademark alphahole hero. He is in fact even referenced in the very entertaining little essay that Ilona Andrews wrote and published on their blog. He's nearly seven feet tall, and built like a tank and is all tortured because his parents were killed while he was hidden away and unable to stop the killers. The only feelings he allows himself are those of brotherhood and fraternity, anything softer is clearly far beyond him.

Elizabeth "Beth" Randall is a journalist who grew up in a series of foster homes. She never knew her parents. She's also half-vampire and her father is blown up in a car bomb by vampire hunters at the start of this book. Vampires and half vampires don't come into their full powers until they're in their early twenties. Beth is clearly going to go through her transition soon, and a letter to Wrath, her father begs him to find her and help her through the change (which could be deadly for her). Initially, Wrath has no interest in this, but loyalty and honour to his dead friend compels him to seek Beth out, and once he sees her, it's pretty much inevitable where things will be going.

Beth, who starts the book narrowly escaping sexual assault, has never really been interested in any guy, even though they seem to be throwing themselves at her, left and right. One of her potential suitors is a cop named Butch, who beats up the arrested suspect in her assault case. However, once Beth meets Wrath, it becomes clear that she has a thing for tall, muscular, brooding dudes with rage and commitment issues.

Vampires in this world only really survive by feeding on other vampires. In a very heteronormative twist, men seem to have to feed on women, and vice versa. Hence, Wrath has a mournful lady vampire who he feeds from but refuses to in any way treat with respect. Since he's the king of the vampires, she's bound to him and can't go elsewhere and is generally pretty miserable. She's initially a bit upset, then very relieved, once Wrath sets his sights on Beth and she goes through her transition. Sad lady vampire never did anything to stir Wrath's desires, but between him and Beth things are very different.

There's a lot of world-building here, much of which is really annoyingly old-fashioned. This world does not seem to be very progressive or feminist. Vampires are a separate race from humans, but can clearly mate and create offspring with them. As I mentioned before, the vampires come into their full powers in their early twenties. Not everyone survives the transition. There's a secret society of vampire hunters, who all seem to be incels, trying to kill all the vampires. They are controlled by a being called the Omega, and have to sacrifice their hearts and humanity (literally) to their cause. Based on the representatives we see in this book, the vampire hunters are really not much of a threat, unless they're deploying car bombs.

This is a fun enough, but really rather dumb book. Other people have reviewed it WAY better than I have. See, for instance Navessa's review on Goodreads or romance author Alexis Hall's review over on Dear Author. While 18 books and counting might at one point have been appealing to me, now it's a strong deterrent, and the official book descriptions of most of the sequels had me rolling my eyes so hard it hurt. I really don't see myself spending more time reading about Ward's alphahole heroes and the women and/or men that fall for them.

Judging a book by its cover: This cover couldn't belong to any genre but paranormal romance, really and one featuring vampires at that. Bladed weaponry - check. Neck biting pose - check. Tattoos - check. And just in case you hadn't already figured out that it was about vampires, the cover is nice and bright red. At least you're unlikely to think this is a chick-lit book about a twenty-something single woman in the big city (although our heroine fits all those descriptors as well).

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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