NAL / September 25, 2012 / $27.95 print & digital
Mels Carmichael, reporter for the Caldwell Courier Journal, gets the shock of her life when a man stumbles in front of her car outside the local cemetery. After the accident, his amnesia is just the kind of mystery she likes to solve, but she soon discovers they’re in over their heads with his past. Over their heads with passion, too...
As shadows walk the line between reality and another realm, and her lover’s memory begins to come back, the two of them learn that nothing is truly dead and buried. Especially when you’re trapped in a no holds barred war between angels and demons. With a soul on the line, and Mels’s heart at risk, what in Heaven—or in Hell—will it take to save them both?
J.R. Ward's books are a guilty pleasure. They’re filled with big muscular men with dark pasts and deep pain, over-the-top masculine guys who call themselves “pussy” if they so much as shed a tear. The way most of her heroes behave, swaggering around in leather and claiming their mates—sometimes when the mate isn’t sure she wants to be claimed—would annoy the stuffing out of me in real life. In Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood books, those dangerous men are addictive fun.
Rapture—the fourth book in Ward's Fallen Angels' series—includes Ward’s usual elements of the hot alpha warrior, although there’s not a lot of the mate-claiming. It also has the basic set-up of good versus evil. Former assassin now dead-guy-angel Jim Heron has to save the world by winning a game of save-a-soul. The twist is that angels like Jim, and his side-kicks Adrian and the late(?) Eddie, are strong, suffering, foul-mouthed, chain-smoking warriors who like drinking, drugs and sex, a lot (except when they don’t enjoy the sex because it’s empty and meaningless. But they do it anyway). Jim has to win this perverse game of winning souls because if he fails, the world will fall into eternal darkness, etc. Each book in the series has the the story of the prize soul’s path as well as the ongoing battle with bad guy. That baddie would be Devina, who usually wears the skin of a gorgeous brunette with an attraction to brand-name labels.
I’ve enjoyed (read: grabbed and read as soon as I could get my mitts on them) the angel series. I had as much fun with the latest, Rapture, as I did with the others. I enjoyed it until the second I put it down and remembered that I had to actually THINK about the book, to write about it, not just gobble it down like a candy bar. Now I feel like someone who’s reading the label after the treat is gone.
Here’s a list of familiar and new ingredients:
Old—The OCD pure evil Devina has a session with a clueless human therapist. The way Devina translates her rampage of destruction and death into middle management battles so the therapist can understand her issues is still funny, though it has been done before. I can’t help feeling some sympathy for the devil.
Old—Nigel shows up in here, but the effete British gay good guys, Nigel et al, aren’t around much. That’s okay, because I didn’t really understand their role. I’m not sure they do either. Middle men angels? A joke about theology? The cricket and tea scenes were odd, though the contrast with the gritty Jim and crew was interesting. But mostly…odd.
New—A bad guy lost soul from a previous book is brought back to be the soul-prize in this one. He has amnesia and I usually hate that plot device. It didn’t bother me here—his lost memory makes sense.
New— There are some hot, hot scenes of impotent sex. No kidding. J.R. Ward, queen of the buckets of rampant coming male parts, has a non-functioning hero who’s pretty tasty (although now I recall Rehvenge of the brotherhood had ED issues too).
Spoiler alert: eventually our hero regained his mojo and the sex becomes more familiar. The heat factor remained, though I was strangely disappointed by how standard the sex becomes.
Side-note: If bad guy humans like Matthias can potentially be reformed, maybe Devina can too? Naw. But I keep wishing Devina, whiny, awful and self-absorbed, was Jim Heron’s real love interest or maybe his final soul to save, just because she is sort of interesting.
Old— Jim Heron’s personal battle with Devina. He has to hate himself for doing angry hateful icky sex with her of course. Jim and Devina doing it is in there, though not as extensively as in previous books.
Old—there’s the requisite mention of Cissy, the young girl held prisoner. She’s the opposite of Devina. A sweet innocent, she’s not nearly as interesting as Devina, but that’s because her role is to be a distant Beatrice, a figure to influence and inspire Dante (in this case, Jim). She doesn’t do much of anything—except be a victim imprisoned by Devina.
New—The heroine, Matthias’s love interest, is cool. A reporter named Mels Carmichael, she’s a good solid character, feisty but not TSTL, slightly unhappy but not tortured (that thar’s men’s work, lil’ lady). Her conflict with her mother, a widow she feels she must take care of, is believable and the resolution actually heartwarming.
Old—There are glimpses of characters we’ve seen in her other books. I enjoy seeing more of Caldwell, NY’s citizens— like the guys in the newspaper office, in particular Tony (I would get a kick out of seeing him turned into a hero. He’d have to put down the Twinkies and lose some weight, though). I love the occasional sighting of patient, good cop de la Cruz. That guy more than earns his paycheck.
New—On the always-funkadelic theology front, we get a glimpse of god (the creator) and I wonder if he’s thinking of this soul saving as an extended game of fetch.
Suspect ingredient (the usually mysterious multisyllabic stuff in tasty treats always end up toward the end of the list, right? )— I adore the long-suffering warriors, but I can’t help noticing some of their suffering doesn’t feel real. Jim and Adrian are mourning, experiencing true pain, because their comrade Eddie has died. But…I don’t believe it. He’s not rotting and not really human. The deal with this universe is that death isn’t so final after all. People pop up like Pac-Man. Matthias comes back from the dead with some regularity. Cissy and others are drained of their blood and yet still exist with their memories and selves intact (tortured and imprisoned but intact). So Jim and his great side-kick are mourning Eddie, but you can’t help feeling that Eddie will come back to them or at least wave at them from the great beyond where’s he’s happy.
The way Adrian mourns is to have smoking, meaningless sex, grabbing women he has no mental or spiritual connection with. Apparently that’s what he and Eddie did together for fun. I’m not sure what the scene with the ultimately satisfied waitress tells us. Is it sex to titillate us readers? Or to act as a contrast with people going at it who care about each other? I think the second. Matthias, without a working organ, is better at sex than Adrian, who— speaking of sex—makes a real sacrifice in this book. A bigger deal than death in this universe.
Old and probably unhealthy ingredient— If you’ve read this far, you probably like the books and don’t particularly care about the thing that nags me when I read the series. This is the sort of thing I try to ignore too, because we’re talking tasty treat, not nutritious food-for-thought here.
But I’m supposed to be paying attention so….Why is the one strong, slightly-complex female character who shows up from book to book Devina? And even she is more cartoon than complete, not to mention not always female. Why are all the souls Jim must save males? Why are the women basically defined by the men (or by their use as victim or sex object)? Although yeah, Mels and her mom become strong and reconnect when they finally close a chapter on a man. But even Mels is flat out told you’re here to save Matthias.
On the flipside, the fact that the main men are seen as warriors, that is they’re all about the people they’ve killed in their past, is hardly less limiting. True, the suffering they feel for having been destructive makes them more dimensional … but not much.
Right. I feel better having listed that particular ingredient. It’s not enough to stop me from picking up the next J.R. Ward the moment it comes out. Nom nom nom, bring it on.
Kate Rothwell writes romance using her own name and the pseudonym Summer Devon. She lives in Connecticut with four men (three of whom are her sons). You can out more about her at KateRothwell.com and SummerDevon.com.