Sunday, June 20, 2010

REVIEW: The Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R.Ward

The Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R.Ward
  1. Dark Lover [Wrath]
  2. Lover Eternal [Rhage]
  3. Lover Awakened [Zadist]
  4. Lover Revealed [Butch O’Neal]
  5. Lover Unbound [Vishous]
  6. Lover Enshrined [Phury]
  7. Lover Avenged [Revhenge]
  8. Lover Mine [John and Xhex]

Full details of each book can be found at the end of the review.

Genre: Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance / Vampires
Reviewer: Cara
Copy: Bought myself

In the shadows of the night in Caldwell, New York, a deadly turf war rages between vampires and their slayers. There exists a secret band of brothers like no other – six vampire warriors, defenders of their race. [From the back of the box set, books 1 - 6]

If you like your vampires vegetarian and sparkly, look away now... the Black Dagger Brotherhood bears little similarity with the world of Twilight, thankfully! J.R. Ward has created a whole new world for her vampires, complete with history, culture, spirituality and politics. Humans do not feature much in this world; they are not prey and much of the battle between the vampires and their slayers is hidden from the modern-day urban setting of Caldwell in New York state.

Each book in the series focuses on one member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood (or, as in the later books, their close allies and kin) as he deals with his past experiences and finds his life partner. While romance is a significant element in this series, along with some steamy sex scenes, this plays alongside the war with the Lessening Society whose sole motivation is the extinction of the vampire race. Despite their kick-ass, hell-raising lifestyle, the Black Dagger Brotherhood are the good guys, sworn defenders of their race. But each has his own demons to face and ultimately it is through love that they find some inner peace and happiness in a hard, unforgiving world.

The world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood is dark and brutal. J.R. Ward does not shy away from dealing with such topics as sexual abuse, addiction, homosexuality, alienation and self-loathing. Her heroes are seriously flawed characters who live life literally on a knife edge. Each night they go out in search of Lessers to kill and to unwind they party hard. Sex, violence, drugs and alcohol are used by various members to numb themselves against their reality and their past experiences. These are hard, uncompromising men who put their lives on the line every night to protect the civilian vampire population. The books reflect the warriors’ reality in a surprisingly sympathetic and non-judgemental way but do not compromise on their darker natures nor the reasons why each member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood is who he is.

J.R. Ward has created a rich and detailed world for her vampires. Although set in a modern day New York state town, Caldwell, there is an unfolding history of the vampire race running through the series. There are many references to ‘the Old Country’ a European location (possibly Romania but never specified) where the vampire race originated. Many of their traditions and cultural mores can be traced back to before the move to North America, including the birth of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. We learn about the glymera, the aristocratic vampire elite, and their obsession with bloodlines and tradition. The vampires have their own spiritual tradition, as led by
the Scribe Virgin “Mystical force who is counsellor to the King as well as keeper of vampire archives and the dispenser of privileges. Exists in a nontemporal realm and has extensive powers. Capable of a single act of creation, which she expended to bring vampires into existence”
[taken from the Glossary that is provided at the front of each book].

The vampires themselves are roughly divided into 3 groups; warriors (male), the Chosen (female), and civilians (everyone else). All vampires must drink blood from the opposite sex to survive… human blood is to weak to sustain them. They have a very long lifespan, but can be killed. They are nocturnal and have the ability to ‘dematerialise’ i.e. travel almost instantaneously from one place to another, although steel will prevent this. J.R. Ward has created a whole culture around her vampires which is rich and rewarding to read about.

From the first book in the series Dark Lover, where Wrath, king of the vampires is the lead character, we find out that males become ‘bonded’ to their mates, a physical and emotional union that lasts for life. As the series progresses, and each of the brothers finds or loses their shellan (think soulmate), we see how love can temper the more negative aspects of the lead character’s psyche. This is especially true of Zadist in Lover Awakened who was brutally imprisoned as a blood slave and sexually exploited for a long period of time after his transition (sudden transformation into adulthood experienced by all vampires around the age of 25). J.R. Ward handles the descriptions of abuse in a sensitive manner, implying rather than describing in detail, the brutal experiences faced by Zadist, Vishous, John and others during their lives. While the sex scenes between the lead character and his partner were graphically detailed, though well written in my view, the author preferred to leave the brutality to the reader’s imagination thus avoiding any accusations of gratuitousness or voyeurism. I appreciated this approach myself as too many authors get carried away with these types of scenes (yes, Laurell K. Hamilton, I am thinking of you).

The enemy – the Lessening Society – is truly evil. Each member, a Lesser, is a de-souled human who must be stabbed through the chest in order to be killed; otherwise they are ageless. They do not eat or drink and are impotent. Over time, their hair, skin and irises lose pigmentation until they are blond, blushless and pale-eyed. They smell like baby powder. Inducted into the society by the Omega, they retain a ceramic jar thereafter into which their heart was placed after it was removed. Over the course of the books we learn more about the Omega, who is a truly malevolent and powerful entity. The fights between the Brotherhood and the Lessers are a regular and important aspect of the series, and while some were a bit gory in detail, they helped contextualise the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.

As the series progresses, we are introduced to another non-human species, the sympath. While closely related to vampires, they are characterised by the ability and desire to manipulate emotions in others for the purposes of energy exchange… and not usually in a good way. They are generally reviled (and feared) by vampires who have historically discriminated against sympaths and have banished them to an isolated colony. Pure sympaths are really creepy both in appearance and nature. Personally I thought they were great, with a tendency towards evil and ruthlessly selfish, the introduction of sympaths added a really interesting facet to the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Both Lover Avenged and Lover Mine feature vampire / sympath half-breed characters in Rehvenge and Xhex.

I read all 8 books in the series over the course of 3 weeks and I must admit I enjoyed the experience. Although each book primarily focuses on one lead and his romance, all the characters appear throughout the series and we see them grow and develop beyond the confines of their relationship. Finding a life partner does not mean a happy ever after ending either, something which made the series less ‘romantic’ and more realistic in my view. And not all relationships are male/female either, something which added a different dimension to the series and showed us that life is not all black and white. There are lots of shades of grey. I felt that J.R. Ward handled this aspect very well, especially when it came to Vishous in Lover Unbound. I hope that Qhuinn, Blay and Saxton feature more prominently in future books as this is shaping up to be an intriguing love triangle.

I was initially disappointed in the female characters in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, as they were portrayed as weak and in need of a man to define them. However, this first impression was dispelled as the series progressed. Despite the protective nature of vampire males towards their females, they managed to make themselves heard and soon appeared as strong, feisty women with independent traits who worked within the confines of vampire society to support their men yet lead fulfilling lives of their own too. A significant exception is Xhex, who follows her own rules and is the fighting equal of all the Brothers. She kicks ass big time! Another character, who appears briefly in the last two books, is Payne, another highly aggressive female with a very interesting background story which begs to be developed further.

Overall, the Black Dagger Brotherhood series is worth reading if you like your romance surrounded by a solid over-arching plot, complex world-building and lots of high-octane action. Indeed, I would consider the romance aspect almost secondary to the story of the Black Dagger Brotherhood and their world, despite the books being clearly marketed as Paranormal Romance. Yes, the Brothers adhere to the rules of alpha male characters – big, strong, aggressive, single-minded, well-endowed etc. etc. – but they have significant weaknesses and flaws too. Traumatic past events have left both physical and mental scars on them which must be faced if they are to win the heart of their desired partner. J.R. Ward is not naïve, she does not magic away these shortcomings with ‘the love of a good woman’ but instead the characters retain their problems although acceptance by their partner and their peers plays a major part in helping them deal with their issues. I found this a very positive and realistic approach, particularly given some of the harrowing past events experienced by various characters throughout the series.

I hope that J.R. Ward continues to write more in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series as I will certainly buy any future novels as soon as they are released. Despite the occasional street-talk / gangsta rap type slang dialogue, they are well written books with a strong back story set amidst an ongoing war between vampires and Lessers. I admit I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the entire series in sequence, and while the romances are standalone, each book continues the war and the changes within vampire society thus making the Black Dagger Brotherhood books possibly one of the best vampire paranormal romance series around today. Dark Lover, the first book, is possibly one of the weakest but essential reading as it sets the scene for the rest. The series really hits it’s stride with Lover Awakened and by book number 8, Lover Mine, the reader is left clamouring for more. Highly recommended!

Full details of each book in the series, in sequence:
Title: The Black Dagger Brotherhood series, books 1 - 6
Author:  J.R. Ward
Paperback: Box set, 6 books
Publisher: Signet Book (29 Sep 2009)
ISBN-10: 0451947630
ISBN-13: 978-0451947635

Title: Dark Lover
Author: J.R. Ward
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Piatkus Books (5 July 2007)
ISBN-10: 0749938188
ISBN-13: 978-0749938185

Title: Lover Eternal
Author: J.R. Ward
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Piatkus Books (5 July 2007)
ISBN-10: 0749938196
ISBN-13: 978-0749938192

Title: Lover Awakened
Author: J.R. Ward
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Piatkus Books (4 Oct 2007)
ISBN-10: 0749938234
ISBN-13: 978-0749938239

Title: Lover Revealed
Author: J.R. Ward
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Piatkus Books (3 May 2007)
ISBN-10: 0749938226
ISBN-13: 978-0749938222

Title: Lover Unbound
Author: J.R. Ward
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Piatkus Books (4 Oct 2007)
ISBN-10: 074993848X
ISBN-13: 978-0749938482

Title: Lover Enshrined
Author: J.R. Ward
Paperback: 560 pages
Publisher: Piatkus Books (12 Jun 2008)
ISBN-10: 0749939036
ISBN-13: 978-0749939038

Title: Lover Avenged
Author: J.R. Ward
Paperback: 736 pages
Publisher: Piatkus Books (26 Nov 2009)
ISBN-10: 0749941731
ISBN-13: 978-0749941734

Title: Lover Mine
Author: J.R. Ward
Paperback: 672 pages
Publisher: Piatkus Books (6 May 2010)
ISBN-10: 0749941782
ISBN-13: 978-0749941789


Tiah said...

I just started this series last week and I am really liking it. It reminds me a lot of the Dark-Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon just without the Greek history lessons.

Murf61 said...

I liked the Dark Hunter books initially but got bored. These have more staying power I found :-)

crazeepez said...

I have read everyone of the Dark Hunter series. I loved everyone! A friend told me to read the BDB series. I am on book 6. I absolutly fall for each character and feel their pain. I laugh and cry with each book. I just don't know which brother I love the most! I am sad that there is only 8 books. I hope JR Ward has alot more writting to do for them. I hope that Tohr comes back and finds another love!!!

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