For many Black Dagger Brotherhood readers, J.R. Ward’s Lover Enshrined made them turn off the series for good. Why? It’s easy to see: Phury and Cormia’s romance is totally subsumed in the greater plot advancement, and honestly, the two of them together are just not that hot.
This is the book that puts the Black Dagger Brotherhood on the Urban Fantasy side of the equation rather than a traditional paranormal romance. If you were expecting hot’n’heavy Brother-crunching action like you had in previous books, you’re not gonna get it. Cormia spends almost as much time hanging out with John Matthew, for goodness’ sake!
But—of course there is a “but”—let’s try to persuade Enshrined-haters why this book needed to play out as it did. It’s not for the romance but for the ongoing threads of plot that—eventually—get untangled, hopefully with a leelan and a shellan on the other side of that bit of tapestry.
First up are the two main protagonists of Enshrined: Phury and Cormia.
Phury, as someone mentioned on Twitter, is an addict. A full-blown, self-medicating addict. His pain is totally believable, his hatred at himself and his actions completely devastating. His journey to the bottom is really a no-holds-barred trip, and if you’ve ever known someone addicted to something, this really rings true.
Up to and including now, Phury has lived for others—trying to fill the void left when his twin Zsadist was taken, stepping up when it was Vishous’s turn to be the Primale, burying his parents knowing he was never enough. The voice inside his head hates him worse than he does (and is British, of all things), and Phury’s addiction and need to actually do something for himself besides get high on red smoke is a crucial part of his character growth.
Plus taking a vow of celibacy? Listening to Puccini? That gorgeous hair?
His mate, Cormia, is equally messed up—she is overwhelmed by the Brotherhood’s world, what with all its color and TV and food, and she develops her own therapy by making tiny little architectural models using toothpicks and peas. That is just weird. She values Phury for his commitment to others, and falls in love with him almost before she knows it. She is strong enough to handle it when he is falling apart, and renouncing her, even if her response is to sequester herself as a scribe. Eventually, however, she does realize she, too, has to live for herself, and it turns out she is the only one who can get Phury through his detox.
Meanwhile, as Phury is getting wasted and Cormia is getting her OCD on with those peas, Qhuinn, Blaylock, and John Matthew are solidifying their bromance. This is the first time we really see just how deep in love with Qhuinn that Blay is, and we know how messed up Qhuinn believes he is. Qhuinn’s family is off-the-charts assholes, too, and again, Ward’s writing reveals the poignancy of bad family and self-doubt. Your heart hurts for all involved.
Wrath is lying to his shellan about being out in the field, which opens up the possibility that not all HEAs are perfect, a trope that plays out much more in Lover Unleashed. That Ward takes her characters beyond the HEA and shows the potential for trouble is a brave piece of writing, again something that makes this series quite different from the usual PNRs.
Tohr is back—broken, but back—and John Matthew is equal parts pining for Xhex and longing for the father he’d had in Tohr. But Tohr is too damaged to provide that now, and Xhex is—well, she is a hard ass. A loyal hard ass, but still not someone you want to fuck with. Unless you’re John Matthew.
There’s movement and strength within the lesser community as well, and it’s kinda cool to see personality—albeit loathsome personality—with this group that’s just been all albino and baby powder heretofore. Plus apparently Mr. D can cook—bonus!
When Phury makes his decision about not following in line with what has been decided for him, it signifies a radical change in the world-building—the Scribe Virgin’s way is not immutable, although she is still the final say in the world, even beyond Wrath, who makes a lot of kingly gestures and statements here.
He’d just blown apart the whole spiritual fabric of the race. As well as its biolgoical one.
Man, if he’d known where the night was going to lead, he’d have had a bowl of Wheaties before getting off that bedding platform.
Phury and Cormia’s HEA is as weird as their courtship was—they live together with some other women from the Other Side, but thankfully Phury only has to service Cormia, since he is no longer the Primale. He’s been kicked out of the Brotherhood, is going to NA, and is hoping for forgiveness, for the chance to—literally—hear Zsadist’s voice again.
When he does, it’s the epitome of the cheesiest reconciliation scene ever, complete with a full complement of Brothers, Zsadist singing, news of a baby, and lots of manly unspokenness:
The hooting and hollering and back slapping of the Brotherhood cut off the rest of what he was going to say. But Cormia got the gist, He’d never seen any female smile as beautifully and broadly as she did then while looking up at him.
So she must have known what he meant.
I love you forever didn’t always need to be spoken to be understood.
So as much as Lover Enshrined can be viewed as an Urban Fantasy, it can also be seen as a category romance, with the hero happy to give up his power, position, and standing in his family to be with the heroine.
Megan Frampton is the Community Manager, Romance, for the HeroesandHeartbreakers site. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and son.