By the time we get to this, the fifth book in J. R. Ward’s h-laden paean of praise to male musculature known to we happy many as the BDB, we’re already quite familiar with our redoubtable hero, the vampire warrior Vishous. We know that he’s wicked smart. We know that he suffered a troubled childhood—which hardly makes him unique among this tortured brethren. We know he has precognitive visions, a “cursed” hand that can both kill and heal, and some intimidating facial ink. We even know his sexual proclivities: dude likes to be In. Charge. (And he’s kinda gay. It’s way hot.)
Previously, the fraught romantic escapades of his fellows Wrath, Rhage, Zsadist and Butch had delighted and amazed—well, perhaps not so much that of Butch; with every “baby” that comes out of his mouth, I die inside just a little bit more —and when it was then Vishous’s turn to find his “female of worth” and make her his own in couplings both varied and plentiful, I was understandably intrigued to see just what kind of woman would be conjured up to melt the cold, cold heart of the Brotherhood’s purportedly most intellectual, er, member. (No pun intended. I promise.)
The result? One Dr. Jane Whitcomb, a trauma surgeon with absolutely no doubt about her own doctorly awesomeness... although she is less secure in her womanhood, natch. But why even bother going too much into the specifics of Jane’s psyche? Sure, she’s a little bit kickass as our tale commences, and certainly her determination and dedication are admirable traits throughout, but—as with so many of these boys’ shellans—in the end she is overwhelmed by the him-ness of it all, and becomes nothing so much as an adjunct to the male who so handily conquers her a hundred pages in or so. (Yes, Xhex and Payne, even you do it, too.) Jane’s purpose, then, is merely to exist, thus to be claimed and worshipped desperately by the three-century-old vampire to whom all other women are mere playthings.
Oh, don’t get me wrong: I like Jane, I like Vishous, and I like them together. And I really like the BDB, in all of its nonsensical, maybe-takes-itself-a-bit-too-seriously glory. (I mean: ahvenged? Defined as, basically, avenged? Do we really need to have that explained to us in those over-helpful glossaries?) What we have here is a series of Redeemed by Love tales—ones that also happen to feature miles upon miles of Grade A, muscle-bound, text-bound beefcake and some pretty elaborate world-building that is, quite simply, deliciously disturbing. None of which, in my opinion (and, also, yet) so exemplifies Ward’s particular brand of compulsively toe-curling genius than Vishous’s bloodstained path to hellren-hood, Lover Unbound.
We kick off with a flashback, meeting the young Jane, oppressed by controlling parents and suddenly bereft of her loving younger sister—after, of course, she learns from a ouija board that she will one day marry a man named “Vishous.” (Oh, dear. Does this mean I’ll have to marry Luke Perry?) Then it’s back in present day Caldwell, New York, where the very same Vishous—we assume; how many of them could there possibly be?—is pining over his lost love and best-friend, Butch, recently made a vampire and mated to the aristocratic Marissa in Lover Revealed. But that is not the only awkwardness with which poor V—as he is fondly known—must thence contend. Because he soon learns not only that his mother is the inscrutable Scribe Virgin, creator of the vampire race and the most frustratingly opaque parent since the Cigarette Smoking Man, but also that he must now accept the mantle of Primale, whether he likes it or not. Of course, you’d think he would like it, since it means he pretty much just gets to go and have creative sex with the chaste, beautiful-to-a-one Chosen with whom the SV surrounds herself, in order to replenish the Brotherhood’s ranks. But, no, he doesn’t, and really, it’s hard to blame him: no one wants their Mom to suddenly become their pimp, after all. But, wait! There’s more. As if all of that wasn’t messed up enough for any one day, V has also been visited by a dream in which he gets shot—and then, he gets shot!
This, of course, is when Jane comes into his life; she saves it, and from almost the moment he hears her voice as he awakens in her hospital, he has one thought only: Mine. Er… but…a vampire in a human hospital? Can this be right? Surely the vagaries of vampiric biology, be they ever so subtle (depending on the mythology employed) would arouse at least some interest in even the most laissez-faire of doctors—which Jane assuredly is not? As it happens, Ward vamps have six-chambered hearts and blood that, (un-)naturally enough, cannot be identified, which has Doc Female Lead desperate to “study” V. Instead, his Brothers hit the hospital staff with their memory-erasing mojo, scrub the computers clean of their presence (and, one hopes, the security camera footage, too), and then kidnap Jane and take her with them back to their clubhouse, at V’s vehement behest.
You know what I like about Jane? Well, I like her sharp wits and her feistiness in the face of abduction by vampires, but more than that I like that she’s not your glamour girl heroine type, all pouty lips and enormous assets, etc. V looks at her with the eyes of imprinted, predestined love, and even he accedes that she’s not exactly model-perfect. She’s all sharp angles and mannishness, and yet he’s crazy enough for her that he rejects his King’s reasonable request that she be returned to her life, already in progress, and instead insists she be the one to care for him in his wounded state. Before long, she’s come to terms with her imprisonment, has delivered unto him some apparently quite skilled hand relief, and all he wants is to do is suck her blood, which we are to believe is, like, a compliment:
Typically he bit females only because he had to, and when he did, he didn’t particularly like it.
With her? He couldn’t wait to pierce a vein and suck what ran through her heart right down into his gut.
Oh, honey. You just say the sweetest things.
Then, more sex, but in her dreams, guided by V’s vamp mind tricks—because, wow, that’s not creepy at all. (No means yes, ladies. No means yes.) Then, actual sex, because she wants it, and why wouldn’t she? These BDB boys know their stuff, and for all that her head is telling her she should resist it, Stockholm Syndrome has a firm hold on Jane’s lady parts, and refuses to let go. There may even be a ball gag involved at one point. Just sayin’.
Elsewhere, of course, other stuff is happening that is not strictly V/Jane related, which is one of the strengths of the BDB books, in a big picture kind of way: our boys are battling the vampire-hunting, soulless lessers left and right; Zsadist’s mate Bella is pregnant, with complications; we spend lots of time with Phury, who we already know will be the next Brother to find his fate—and we have an inkling of that fate’s identity, what with the introduction of the beauteous and recalcitrant Chosen, Cormia. Plus, we hang out some with the young ’uns of the vamp lands: Blaylock, Qhuinn and the also-has-a-troubled-childhood John Matthew, with all of whom we will become way more familiar in later books (and if one of these days Blay and Qhuinn don’t sort themselves out, I will be most displeased). So, general mischief and mischance beset Team Hotness, there’s self-sacrifice and death and bizarre reanimation and the Scribe Virgin actually acting like a vaguely decent person/entity for a change. It is all utterly gripping from beginning to end, and when Lover Unbound comes to a close, as atheists become believers and the laws of the universe are bent with consummate skill, all you’ll be thinking is damn, can’t wait for the next one.
And then, of course, it’s Phury and Cormia and women’s rights in vampire heaven and you’re all like… huh. Right. Okay then.
Well, at least he doesn’t call her “baby.”
Rachel Hyland is the Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.