People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.
—Abraham Lincoln (supposedly)
I was excited to finally read Lover Unleashed because I knew that, since it was Payne’s book, there was bound to be a lot of Vishous in it. I’m a major Vishous fangurl. No matter how good a book in the series might be, I’m always left thinking, “Harrumph. Could’ve used more Vishous.”
I was right—Vishous is front and center in much of the book, and that’s great. But I still can’t say if I liked Lover Unleashed; I felt compelled to keep reading, because I wanted to know what happened, and that right there is the most basic test of a storyteller’s ability: do you want to know what happens next?
J.R. Ward knows how to make you keep turning the pages. Unfortunately, for the past few books—I’d say starting with Lover Unbound (which happened to be Vishous’s book)—it seems every time I turn the page, I’m going “What??” or “You did not just say that AGAIN” or “Woman, have you read any of your prior books? And if so, why can’t you remember what happened in them?”
And I did more of that in Lover Unleashed.
“Now wait,” you say. “Kinsey, how can you be a fangurl, how can you read every BDB book, when Ward’s writing drives you up the *&&%$^(@ing wall?”
My sisters, I sincerely wish I knew. Maybe, if I figured out what made Ward’s books so crahcktasic despite the writing deficiencies, I could become a million seller like her. But you know what? Being a great storyteller and a great writer aren’t mutually inclusive. Some authors tell stories better than they write. Some authors can craft exquisitely wrought sentences, but can’t invent a world and populate it with characters and make it come so alive that readers are urged, forced, compelled, seduced, to keep turning the damned page. What good does the ability to craft a bunch of fine sentences do you if those sentences don’t grab your readers’ eyeballs and hang on to them until the very last line?
No matter how much the books bug me, no matter how often I roll my eyes and mutter to myself like I’m on the phone with my mother, I keep coming back. Because I’m invested in these characters, this world, and I have to know what happens to them.
So here are the deets on what I liked—and didn’t like about my Lover Unleashed reread:
First, the things I liked (besides quality time with Vishous): There are new (to the reader) players in the age-old vampires versus lessers struggle. Honestly, the battle with the lessers was getting stale—every night, it’s out on patrol, looking for lessers to kill. But they go right back to their maker unless Butch is there to suck them up, and since he can’t suck up every talcum powder-scented undead freak they kill, the Omega keeps recouping his minions and spitting them back out. It was starting to feel pointless.
Now there are some new (well, old) vamps in town, and they’re not impressed with Wrath and the boys. The Bastards previously rode with the Bloodletter, Vishous’s and Payne’s psychotically bloodthirsty sire, and now they follow his son Xcor. After centuries in Europe, Xcor has brought them to Caldwell. He’s planning to strike at the king, but not necessarily to kill him. He wants to show the glymera that the Brothers have failed to protect the race and it’s time to give the job to someone else. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the Brothers handle having the Bastards on their turf.
The emotional issues driving the story are just as compelling as ever. The relationship between Vishous and Payne is fiercely sweet. She’s watched him for years, witnessed his trauma at the hands of their father; indeed, she killed their father for what he did to Vishous. Vishous has lived his whole life not knowing about Payne but once he discovers her, he is as devoted to her as to any of his Brothers.
“Thank you, brother mine,” she said, eyes locked on him.
Vishous stopped. The tension in him was so great, both of his fists were curled in tight, and as his head slowly cranked around, his icy eyes burned.
“I would do anything for you. Anything.”
With that, he pushed his way out…and as the door eased shut, she realized that I love you could indeed be said without actually uttering the phrase.
Actions did mean more than words.
We also get a lot more of Qhuinn.
Oh, Qhuinn. He’s in deep, serious, hardcore Love Hell. He’s finally admitted to himself that he loves Blay, but he thinks it’s too late. The scene where Qhuinn’s peeking into Blay’s room from the balcony? Classic:
“And as she [i.e., Layla] left Blay’s room, Qhuinn waited for Saxton to come in. Naked. With a red rose between his teeth. And a motherfucking box of chocolates.”
Naturally, Saxton sees him out on the balcony. Qhuinn is mortified, Saxton gracious. Saxton tries, in his subtle, sophisticated way, to let Quinn know that Blay is not completely spoken for, that it’s not really hopeless:
“I’m his lover, cousin…not the love of his life.”
But Qhuinn’s convinced himself that “Blay was through with him. He’d engineered that result over too many years.”
Saxton tries one more time: “Do you understand what I’m saying to you, cousin?”
Qhuinn’s never been the sharpest knife in the drawer, though, and on top of that he hates himself too much to think for a moment that he deserves a second chance with Blay.
Qhuinn shook his head. “It’s not right.”
Not for Blay.
“You are a fool.”
“No. I used to be one.”
“I would beg to differ.”
I love Saxton, don’t you? I really want to read Qhuinn and Blay’s book. I love the classic Love Triangle of Misunderstanding.
The strongest part of this book, like all the BDB books, is its characters. They’re vivid and compelling and three-dimensional. They get up off the page and walk around. At least, the established characters do. The new ones, not so much.
Here, I suspect, is the main thing that disappointed me about this book. I just couldn’t get into the hero and heroine. They felt flat, indistinguishable from any other hot chick and hot guy in a romance novel.
Manny Manello is handsome and macho and smart and tough. And yeah, we know he’s a Transformer, just like Butch; i.e., there’s more to him than meets the eye. But he never felt real to me, not like Vishous or Xsadist or Rehvenge did. He’s kind of a cipher.
And Payne? Well, she’s all over the place. Remember the first time we heard Payne speak to her mother? It was in Lover Enshrined. We’d seen her at the end of Lover Unbound, floating in suspended animation somewhere in the Scribe Virgin’s quarters, but it wasn’t until Phury’s book that she spoke.
“Daughter,” the Scribe Virgin said.
She was not surprised at the reply.
Payne drops F bombs in Lover Unleashed too, and it’s jarring. Sometimes she’s all thug tough like the Brothers, other times she’s a reticent maiden speaking in the flowery language of the Other Side, all thee’s and wilt’s and goeth’s and verily’s.
Charges of character inconsistency have been leveled at Ward before. Vishous, for instance, behaved very un-V-like in his book, going from tortured, lovesick, bisexual Dom to content, heterosexually bonded male who likes getting tied up and whipped, although there had never been any hint at all that V was a switch. In fact, V’s a sadist, or so we were told; he takes most of it out on the lessers, but there’s obviously something left over for all those subs he’s got showing up at his place, right? But once Jane is in his life, he discovers the joy of submissiveness.
In this book, V’s not inconsistent—he just gets healed of his deep, throbbing, life-crippling psychic scars after one session of mind-fucking BDSM with Butch. He spends an hour hanging from the rigging in his penthouse, trussed up, ball-gagged and masked; Butch scares the shit out of him, triggering a bout of PTSD; V passes out. When he wakes up with Jane next to him, poof! He’s all better. He’s let go of the trauma of his childhood (savage beatings, partial castration), his rage at his mother, his five hundred years in emotional deep freeze, all the crap that made him the fucked up mess we love. It’s a little too easy.
Ward’s never seemed at ease with the BDSM stuff, anyway. Once Vishous got Jane in his life, he no longer had the urge to dominate. But a Dom’s a Dom. Falling in love doesn’t make him a sub. It’s understandable that V was always kind of ashamed of his sexual needs. But Ward sometimes writes as if V should be ashamed of his needs, and that’s always bugged me.
Am I being too critical here? Maybe. But V’s miraculous recovery at Butch’s hands was not the only thing that felt forced in this story. We’re never really shown the source of the tension in Jane and V’s relationship at the beginning of the book. They’re distant, losing touch with each other, but why? Is it Payne’s sudden appearance? Manny’s? I guess I buy V’s instant antipathy to Manny. Manny had a yen for V’s shellan, back in the day, and now the human—V really doesn’t like humans—is sniffing around V’s sister. But why the crisis with V and Jane? It feels like it’s there just because the plot needs it.
And while we’re on the subject of inconsistencies. Ward’s worldbuilding was never all that deep or strong; lots of questions beg themselves if you put down the book and start thinking about them too closely. But that’s not the same thing as violating your own worldbuilding rules, which she started doing in V’s book with the whole memory-wiping thing. We were always told they couldn’t do a mind wipe on a human after a certain length of time, or if the human had interacted too heavily with the vamps (someone correct me if I’m wrong.) Then, in Lover Unbound, Jane Whitcomb spends days caring for Vishous and performs surgery on Phury. She and Vishous have sex, he bonds with her, they say their “I love you’s.” Then he takes her back to her condo and mind wipes her. She’s left confused and shaky and terrified, certain she’s suffered some kind of trauma and can’t remember it.
In Lover Unleashed, they do the same thing to Manny after he operates on Payne. He’s left even more messed up than Jane was, maybe because he’d already been mind wiped back when Vishous was taken to St. Francis with his gunshot wound. After Payne’s surgery, when she still can’t walk, V reverses the mind wipe so Manny can check her out. And then, when Wrath gives Payne permission to escort Manny home, he tells her to mind wipe the pitiful son of a bitch a third time. Manny knows it’s going to happen, and he’s afraid he’ll end up permanently goofy.
So apparently you can mind wipe a human after long periods of intense interaction, it’s just inhumane as hell.
And finally, there’s the writing. I’ve become reconciled to the brand names, the dropping of word endings and replacing them with –ie, the hip hop slang that everyone, from cops to hundreds-year-old vampires to Ivy League-educated doctors, speak in. (Okay, sometimes the slang gets to me. During one of his internal musings, V’s thinking about how Payne is super smart, just like him, and he refers to his “bone dome.” And I was like, “Bone dome? Really?”)
When Manny’s preparing to operate on Rhage, he tells him he’s going to cut his boots off, and Rhage actually corrects him. (“Shitkickers,” the guy groaned. “Fine. Whatever you call it, it’s coming off.”) Okay, it’s sort of funny, but it’s funny in a meta kind of way that pulled me out of the story. Just like when, after they’ve made love, Jane and V are talking, and she tells him hey, I’m a ghost, you don’t think most guys would find that a problem? It’s as if Ward is responding to the many, many readers (like me) who’ve complained about the terminology and about Dr. Casper.
In addition, Ward should be contractually forbidden to ever use the word “so” again. A search of the word in this book alone returned 167 pages. And if no so’s at all is too draconian, then she just can’t use “so” preceded by a form of “to be.”
“She was so that kind of lady.”
“This was so not how he’d envisioned this day ending.”
“And man, he was so not leaving the brother’s side…”
“You’re so going to owe me for this.” “
As she hipped her way off [hipped her way of???] she was so wasting her time”
“He so needed to get over being a pussy…”
The thing that really bugs me is, every one of the sentences above was spoken by a male. Males—whether human men or vampire males—don’t talk that way. Women talk that way, not men.
But then, for the last few books, everyone sounds alike. I first noticed it in John Matthew’s book, but I think it started before that. Every character’s internal monologues sound the same—same slang, same sentence construction. (Along with the “[to be] so” construction, we need a ban on the rhetorical-question-in-an-internal-monologue: “And didn’t that make him feel …” “And wasn’t that just…” There were eight instances of “what do you know”.)
Will Tohr’s book bug me as much this one did? I’ll let you know when it drops on March 27— I’m still reading the series, and I preordered Lover Reborn because I SO just can’t quit Ward.