Sep 14 2011 2:30pm

The Black Dagger Sisterhood: Women in J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood Series

I honestly can’t count the times I’ve debated which member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood is the best  (My pick will forever be Zsadist, if you’re keeping track at home). Those vampire warriors from J.R. Ward’s series have endeared themselves to us—heh, can you imagine Wrath’s reaction to me saying he endeared himself?

When I look back, my favorite books in the series are always those with strong females.

Each novel finds a warrior finding his one true mate, complications ensue, there’s fighting with vampire slayers and lots of gasp-inducing sex scenes. But each book still includes the other members of the Brotherhood. So, while you meet Vishous in the first book, he doesn’t find Jane until book 5.

So, then, why is it I loved Butch—a cop-turned-Brotherhood member—up until the novel where he takes center stage? One word: Marissa.

Butch is still great in Lover Revealed (BDB #4), but his counterpart is a bore. Butch loves Marissa, a sheltered society vampire. When we first meet her, she  comes across as weak, in need of saving and a bit irritating. And that impression doesn’t change as we get to know her. Don’t get me wrong; I like the big strong man coming to save the day. I just don’t want the woman to lack any strength at all—emotional strength or strength of personality goes a long way.

And, it’s with this thought of Marissa and the good-but-not-great Lover Revealed, that I finally pieced it together: When it comes to BDB books, the female makes the Brother. All my favorite novels have dynamic heroines who challenge their respective Brothers and can snap the group in line.

We’ll start with my favorite Brother Zsadist. I wasn’t interested in him as a romantic hero until Bella saw him as such. He wanted to run from her and hide behind a callous and cruel façade. She wasn’t having it. She wanted him and only him. A shared victimization brings these two closer in Lover Awakened (BDB #3). If Bella hadn’t forced Zsadist to be honest with her, himself, he wouldn’t be a favorite. Her strength fortifies him, makes him a better protector.

Vishous is used to giving orders in relationships. Jane? She is game for some of that in the bedroom (and, better yet, over the sink), but no-one runs her life. She’s a doctor and expecting her to give any of that up? Not happening. By the end of Lover Unbound, V’s leading lady is the official BDB doctor and even the king listens to her final word. She helps shift the dynamic in the house, adding another woman who carries authority, much like Beth.

Ah, Beth. The woman who started it all. The one who brought a king to accept his role. In the first BDB novel, Dark Lover, Wrath agrees to look out for Darius’s half-human daughter. She may go through the change into vampire or not. He doesn’t like the idea, but once he’s around her, the two can’t deny the mutual pull (though they sure try). Beth is willing to fight to protect Wrath and other vampires, no matter the personal consequences. She transforms Wrath from grumpy guy, griping about his lot in life, to a true king. If Beth had never acquiesced, The Blind King wouldn’t be ruling, as was his destiny. The Brothers would be weaker for it, and, really, so would the series.

As romance readers we often get caught up on the heroes—with good, delicious cause—but without the right heroine, these men would likely remained scarred, flawed and never start on that bad boy road to redemption.


While Chelsea Mueller runs Vampire Book Club, she won’t turn down a sexy werewolf, demon or faerie. (Her husband often reminds her that she’s taken.)

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Dolly Sickles
1. Dolly_Sickles
Anything called the "Black Dagger Brotherhood" is pretty badass. I haven't read any of these ... yet ... but will be working on a remedy to that in the very near future.
Barbara Jones
2. bimmergrl
Chelsea, awesome post!! I couldn't agree more. And I adore Beth, Bella and Jane for the very reason that they make their males that much stronger. Btw, Vishous is my male of choice! ;)
Felicia Smith
3. Ferishia
Totally on board with you about Z! He is my top fav next to Wrath. I love Butch too. But Marissa? I thought she was just too weak for Butch. And even though she does (kinda) eventually put on her big girl panties and vampires up, I still find her lacking for Butch.
Amanda Bonilla
4. Amanda Bonilla
Great post! Zsadist is definitely one of my fav brothers. Second only to John Matthew. *swoon* And in the same respect, Xhex is without a doubt my favorite heroine of the series. Ward does an excellent job of pairing up her leads, doesn't she? ;)
5. ChelseaMueller
@Dolly - You will love it. It's sexy and action-packed.

@bimmergrl - Thanks! You can have V, I'll take Z. ;)

@fniemritz - Heh. I suppose Marissa kinda puts on the big girl panties eventually, but she still just rubs me the wrong way.

@Amanda - Yes, the Warden knows how to pair them!
Marissa Culp
6. zebrareader
I have to admit, my favorites change from book to book. And interestingly enough, my favorite of the day isn't usually the hero and heroine of the book! It's typically one of the Brothers and the woman who have one of the lesser but still important roles in that book. All in all, I love each and every one of them and am looking forward to the new characters being brought in.
Amanda Bonilla
7. Book Huntress
Have to agree the woman certainly makes the man. I think that is one of the reasons Rhage's book was so lacking, I just didn't care.

I will say I was sort of disappointed in how much the Warden "tamed" Xhex, I think she should have stayed stronger than she was at the end. I know she had to change somewhat but I thought it was to much.

As for Beth, Bella, and Jane - what can you say those girls have it going on!! Heck even Mary stirs it up sometimes.
Amanda Bonilla
8. Noreen R.
Totally agree that the female does make the Brother. And have to add Zadist was my fav until Vishous's book. Gotta love Vishous even with the whole wanting Butch thing (kind of adds to his appeal).
Amanda Bonilla
9. Between the Covers
I completely agree, Chelsea. The female making the brother...I can see that. I think they each complete and compliment each other.

BTW...Z's my fave, too. ;)

Louise @ Between the Covers
Amanda Bonilla
10. lapointe20js
Z will always be my fav, but all the Brothers rock. I am now reading JR Ward's Fallen Angel series and it is really good too and it is cool that the Brothers kind of wander thru the story. She has to be my fav author
Amanda Bonilla
11. rkwygirl
Totally agree. In my humble opinion Black Dagger Brotherhood is the BEST paranomal romance series out there. If you have not read it. STOP what you are doing and get to reading this series. You will not be disappointed. Then join J.R. Ward's page on Facebook. She visits fequently. p.s. Her Fallen Angles series is fantastic as well. But start with the brothers!
Amanda Bonilla
12. Darlynne
For this band of one, my favorite couple is still Rhage and Mary. Unlike the other shellans, Mary was not immediately likable. In fact, I thought she was rather cruel to Rhage, who had clearly hung his heart and everything else out there for her. A frequent criticism of most of Ward's female characters has been that they're Mary Sues, too perfect, too good to be true, no need to evolve. Mary wasn't, she had the farthest to come, IMO, to win me over, and she remains someone I like a great deal.
Elizabeth Halliday
13. Ibbitts
I agree with you 100%, Chelsea. I will always love the King, first and foremost, but that is equally because of Beth. Then there are the rest of the brothers: I love Z because he breaks my heart - and Bella beacause she won't take 'no' for an anwer; I love Rhage for his strength and his vulnerability - and Mary because she has the courage to accept him as he is; and a non-brother: Rehvenge - because Ehlena won't give up on him...
Wendy Mitchell
14. Blue Shedevil
I soooo agree with you about Marissa. I was infuriated with her all throughout the book. I found Mary earned her stripes, I mean come on. She bedded a dragon ( it was chained..but still). I think Beth will always be my favorite, she is the flag bearer, so to speak. Great post, I don't feel so incredibly disloyal anymore.
Amanda Bonilla
15. Sugr
I didn't think I would like Rehvenge's book as much as I did but I think it is definitely in my top favorite BDB books even though he isn't a Brother. I really had zero interest in him before reading his book.

I totally agree that I need a strong female to back up the male. I don't like the females to be weak. They need to be strong, to stand up to their man and put him in his place when he's wrong.

I absolutely loved Z. And V. I would have to say Phury's book was my least favorite.
TJ Erquhart
16. SoxChic
It's so hard to pick one Brother but I have to say I heart Rehv. Tho I love all the Brothers. This series has been absolutely AMAZING! I love the that the fights are more bad a** & the sex is HOT! Keep em' coming Warden! We can't get enough!!
17. ChelseaMueller
@Noreen - V's thing for Butch adds to his appeal, for sure!

@Louise/Between the Covers - That's exactly it -- compete and compliment.

@ Darlynne - I haven't really thought about Mary all that much -- the second book was overshadowed by the third for me, but you're right about Mary and her character progression.

@Ibbitts, @Sugr & @SoxChic - So with you on Rehvenge. I didn't think I would like him or a book about a non-Brother, but loved that relationship. He's one of my favorites, alongside Z, of course.

@Blue Shedevil - Doesn't make you disloyal in the least!!
Amanda Bonilla
18. Tina Moss
Great post! I agree 100%. I loved Butch, but Marissa didn't add anything to the dynamic. Zsadist is probably one of the most beloved heroes of the series because of Bella. She cracks his hard shell and brings him back to an emotional life.
Synde Korman
19. SyndeKorman
I haven't read these books, but you have peaked my interest.. Thanks Chels...
Marcela Fandino
20. BookaholicCat
I agree completely with your post. I love Beth and Bella but I'd also have to add Xhex to the list. You are not the only one who doesn't like Marissa, she is boring and dull... I'd rather have a HEA with a threesome between V, Jane and Butch than him with Marissa.
Amanda Bonilla
21. Monica Vidal
OMG! THANK YOU! I think you've just wrote everything I've always thought about the BDB ladies but didn't know how to put down on words. I have serious issues with Marissa, precisily for the reasons you mentioned. Plus, she's too sweet, too delicate, too boring. Sorry, but she is. I wanted to smack the bejesus out of her in Lover Revealed for not understanding Butch the way she should. First, she didn't want him to make the regression, than she didn't want him to make the transition, then she didn't want him to fight...I was like "Man, do you even KNOW Butch?" God, what did she expect from him? That he'd be home and bake while his brothers were out there fighting?

I get that she lived this very closed life for 300 hundred years, but once she was out of it, I didn't see much difference. It was like she was expecting things to happen to her but was too scared and too afraid to let them happen! That's why I've always loved Beth, Mary,Bella, Jane, Elehna and even Cormia. They all were not afraid of going for what they wanted. They were confident, strong and they made me feel like they all could be me, at some point, they all amde me feel like they could really be me.

Again, thank you for writing this! really loved!
22. ChelseaMueller
@BookaholicCat - I don't think you're the only one wanting V and Butch to have a bit of an HEA!

@Monica - So glad you liked it! It's good to give the BDB ladies a little love, especially those who really make the series.
Amanda Bonilla
23. Sugr
I can't wait until Qhuinn and Blay's novella. And Tohr is the next book, right? I'm excited for that one too.
Jacquelline Donaldson
24. jacquie_d
I agree with all of the posts especially in respect to Rhevenge his book was awsome and his story had me in tears of sadness and joy BDB books are kickass and can't wait till the next one.
Amanda Bonilla
25. AmyF
I completely agree with you on Marissa! She is so aggravating. My favorite brother is Vishous. Love, love, LOVE him. And my second favorite is Butch, but not because of him and Marissa. It's because of him and V. I love the dynamic those two have and while I love Jane and V together, there will always be a little part of me that wishes V and Butch ended up together. But you are totally right about the women, they make the series and Amanda was right in the WARDen matching them up well. I met the WARDen last month at a signing and she was AMAZING! So funny. She had the entire place in tears, including herself after one question. BDB is my absolute favorite series.
Knosha McKinney
26. mistressvengeance
As someone who can understand the entire series of the BDB (and wishes that JRW would continue with it as she introduced a few more characters in the last book about Vishous's sister, Payne, Xhex's ex-lover, and the Renegade Warriors from Vishous's father's clan) I have tabulated who was my most favorite of both the Sisters of BDB and their mates.

1. Vishous (Dominant Male with a BDSM fetish) & Payne (his sister yet with a Female Dominant/Goddess complexity)
2. Zsadist (well, duh, He's just sooo sexy and submissive) & Bella (she broke thru to him when his nightmares kept him like a caged animal.)
3. Someone commented about Beth and Wrath... Well, she was right.
4. Rhage (what can I say... speechless)
5. John aka Therror and Xhex, match made in re-incarnation heaven.

If I missed any of the other characters, it's because they all left me speechelss and craving more!! The men of BDB and the Women who love them... I want more!!
Amanda Bonilla
27. Mrs. Petrie
I am a big fan of Mary! Rhage is one lucky vamp.
28. Trillium
From the moment I picked up "Dark Lover" I was hooked on the BDB. My personal favorite will always be Vishous - gotta love a guy with mad computer skills, hunky warrior moves and a bit of kink. Wrath and Z are right up there too. You've hit the proverbial nail on the head about their women being an integral part of why we adore the brothers.
Amanda Bonilla
29. theblackrose
I agree with you about Marrisa. I also love Z the most and the Wrath. I was thinking that the next book would be about Tor but my dauhter said since it's Lover Reborn, it maybe about Blay and Quinn. I also want to know if Manny will ever become a brother.
April Cabrera
30. Squeaks1977
Ok I have to agree with you all about Marissa. She is by far I think a weak heroine to Butch. I really wanted more for Butch. Beth, Bella and Jane take the lead with the powerful women in the house but I have to admit Mary impressed me when she told everyone to back of when Rhage was in his beastly state! :-) She man not be as strong as the others but she can hold her own.

@ Chelsea I agree pretty much. Zsadist, V, and Rhage are my top favs. But I have to admit even without Bella I still adored Zsadist from the very first book. Even if he never found his mate I would still love Z. :-) I also feel the same about V. I have to admit I like Jane and V's book actually made me cry. It was really hard getting used to Jane's new role at the end of the book. I don't want to give it away for those that haven't read it yet but I had a hard time adjusting to her new form. Even when I read the other books and she appears in them I just find it hard to imgine her. But as long as V is happy I'm happy. It's funny Laurell K. Hamilton was my favorite author for paranormal but now J.R. Ward has taken first place. I look forward to the next book in the series. :-)
Amanda Bonilla
31. Juicy-Lucy
I always get excited when I see other people as obsessed with the Brothers as I am. I LOVE ZSADIST! There is no other brother for me. From the moment that he scared Beth in her father's room, I was in love with him. He is a special male and deserved a special shellan. The pairing is just perfect. I am also a huge fan of the Mary and Rhage pairing. I am really indifferent about the Marissa thing. I don't have feelings strong enough to like or dislike her. Really suffering from withdrawal until Tohr's book comes out. Counting the days. Lastly, Qhuinn and Blay belong together. I guess that will be a case of the male making the male.
Josie Ratana
32. JosieRatana
I absolutely love the BDB and of course the stronges women behind her man is Xhex. This is my favourite book but I am waiting for the Quinn/Blay book to come out (and I could be waiting a while) doesnt have to be a woman behind the man.
Jonetta Allen
33. Jonetta/Ejaygirl
I am such a Butch fan, so much that I've found a way to live with his choice of a Shellan. His relationship with Vishous provides the layers and complexity that might be an issue with a stronger heroine. And, V and Doc Jane's story was brilliantly told in Lover Unleashed.

Some of the Brother's stories have been weaker than others and it does seem to hinge on the strength of the related heroine (haven't talked to anyone who likes Phury's story or Marissa). I'm wondering if J. R. Ward has any intention of expanding the roles of the women in future books. I think we are ready for that.
Amanda Bonilla
34. MoonLight
I agree completely. I have found that whenever I read a book when the woman doesn't come across as strong or personality, I move on to the next book on my stack. I don't like whinny girls who lack everything. If the woman isn't strong and at least someone who I can relate to I don't bother with the book at all.
Amanda Bonilla
35. Rose In RoseBear
Oh, it's great to see other people as obsessed with this series as I am! Six months ago I would have laughed out loud if anyone had suggested I would willingly read paranormal romance!

I think my favorite BDB shellan is Mary, and that, along with Butch/Marissa, Wrath/Beth, and Manny/Payne, are probably my favorite pairs. (I love V and Jane, but their first story is so durn sad...!) I adore Mary, and, of all the shellans, she is the one who holds the house together emotionally. Who's the only one who tells Wrath the bare-knuckle truth? Who tamed the wildest Brother and his beast? Who does Z go to --- repeatedly --- for help? Who pulled John Matthew out of himself enough to make contact with another living being? Yeah, Mary deserves lots of good things in her (hopefully) long life.

It's definitely a minority opinion here, but I like Marissa, and her Rule Number One. I was amused by the way she kept Butch on a short leash --- no matter what he tried to sneak past her, she was aware! I laughed out loud when she banged on Wrath's door just before the regression. For a thirty-seven-year-old man with a hero complex who's cared too much and never been cared about, that kind of focused attention must be addictive. And Marissa had figured out the problem, and the solution, just before she was interrupted.

The BDB shellan I can't stand is Cormia! I mean, five months sitting in a room playing with toothpicks and peas??? Five months before you try food that isn't white??? Beth, Mary, Bella, Marissa, Jane, all of them got out and schmoozed with Fritz, made friends with the other Brothers --- they didn't hide in a room. And then there's that scene in the pool with the boys and Phury ... none of the other love interests ever did that, including Saxton. Feh.

At the end of Lover Enshrined, I was just done with Phury and Cormia, and it took me two tries before I could re-read it without skipping over chunks. I'm just as glad they spend most of their time up at the Great Camp!
Jonetta Allen
36. Jonetta/Ejaygirl
@Rose You may be in the minority about Marissa but you make some great points, which are making me have second thoughts about her.

I agree with you about Cormia. Phury will languish in the Great Camp until Ward does something to transform Cormia and that's a shame. He deserves some points (as well as a great storyline) for rising above his addiction.
Amanda Bonilla
37. Rose In RoseBear
@TheBlackRose --- The next BDB novel, Lover Reborn, is Tohr's book, and will be out in March 2012. Paragraph-long excerpts are now being posted on J. R. Ward's FB page, and, boy-howdy, the latest one (seems to) give away a whole lot! (Talk about cathedral bells ...!)

Ward has previously said that Qhuinn and Blay will have a novella, but just yesterday someone posted that their story will now be a full-on book. I just hope Saxton gets a HEA too!
Sherrill Craig
38. Squirrel
Marissa- Beyond Annoying
Beth- Big thumbs up--Woman is pure GOLD
Jane- Ghosty, but that isn't her fault. She gets V, the lucky little wench
Bella- Tamed Z, gotta give her props
Mary- I have respect for her. Like me, she survived cancer, can't have kids

Fave Brother? Rhage
Least Fave: Phury--Somewhere in that cabin, Cormia has hidden his testicles. She really should give them back. Send a brother out without his boys is just wrong.


~~Squirreling Dervish
Amanda Bonilla
39. keero30
It would be nice if there was a plus sized heroine.. no??? what does everyone think about that one?? I love the books, but id love to see one of the ladies with more than a size 4 waist.. other than mary I mean.. is a size 12 too much to ask?? lol
Amanda Bonilla
40. keero30
oh yeah I forgot... plus the whole Quay thing....drool...
41. ChelseaMueller
@Rose - I'm still firmly anti-Marissa, but you definitely make some good points!

@keero30 & @Rose - Oh, bring on Qhuay.
Amanda Bonilla
42. Taria
@Keero30 - You'll get your plus sized heroine when I get a minority heroine. For some reason some authors just don't think past the size 4 petite caucasian woman with flowing silky hair.
Amanda Bonilla
43. Rose In RoseBear
@Taria and @Keero30 --- Well, Ehlena isn't precisely skinny, at least to her eyes, and Rhev seems to like it. Rhev also disses the glymera's weight prejudices several times. There's not a minority heroine, but Detective De La Cruz is a memorable recurring character in both the BDB and the Fallen Angels series, and the Moors --- the beautiful Trez and the quiet iAm --- will be getting their own book, according to Ward.

And I do give Ward praise for six-foot-tall warriors Xhex and Payne, who are atypical heroines --- I mean, Xhex is an assassin, and the very first words we ever hear Payne say are "F**k you," to her mother(!). Payne does have long silky hair, true, but you gotta admit, that's about as close as she gets to the stereotype !
Amanda Bonilla
44. jsmom2
I don't know that I will ever be able to completely forgive the WARDen for so completely screwing over Phury and Cormia. Honestly, that brother is a class act and they deserved so much better.
Amanda Bonilla
45. Rose In RoseBear
@ChelseaMueller: Oh, Marissa has her moments! "Sex. Arson. Pants" being only one.

I think Marissa was given awfully short shrift in Dark Lover, when her transforming showdown with Wrath was cruelly minimized to three sentences, witnessed by us readers through the eyes of a bemused and ignorant Butch. I mean, really ... who else, besides Beth and the Scribe Virgin, has reduced Wrath to "nodding a lot" whilst being chewed a new one?

And, come on ... didn't it do your heart good to see Marissa's and Butch's sweet getting-t0-know-you pas de deux in the drawing room? All that helpless attraction expressed while they just sat and talked and stared in fascination at one another? Romantic to the max!

Marissa's transformation from her timid glymera worm to her confident BDB shellan butterfly also suffered from her absence in the second and third books. We saw almost everything from Butch's viewpoint, and nothing from hers until the big party at the beginning of Lover Revealed. Her disappearance made her seem --- well, a tad insubstantial.

Given Ward's tendency in recent books to tweak existing relationships in the back story, I do hope she revisits Butch and Marissa soon, maybe during a "Search For Wayward Baby Daddy, M.D." storyline.
Jonetta Allen
46. Jonetta/Ejaygirl
@Rose You really do Marissa a great service by reminding us of her better moments in the series. I forget where this poor woman has come from and how far she really has progressed.

The scenes you recall were very romantic and "awww" evoking. I'm going to ease up off of her and give Marissa a break. The woman was a Chosen, meaning she lived a cloistered life until she met Butch. She deserves some time to grow.
Amanda Bonilla
47. Rose In RoseBear
@jsmom2 --- I dunno if Phury can be fixed! I got soooo peeved over the dithering --- will he choose Cormia, or Layla, or Serena, or just doodle ivy all over everything for another five months?

Okay, that was harsh. But I am glad to know I'm not the only one who has issues with the Phury/Cormia pair.

I am almost certain Cormia is a bust, unless she goes to night school for an architecture degree! Although, if she designed the Iron Mask for Rhev, as was implied, I am slightly impressed.

Maybe they need kids up at the Great Camp ...
erin plaice
48. ErinLoveforever
Which Heroines are virgins in this series? Weird question i know-but i like them that way more romantic :)
Amanda Bonilla
49. Ejaygirl
Marissa, Cormia and Payne were virgins before they found their mates. I don't recall any of others, though most didn't have a lot of past sexual experience.
Amanda Bonilla
50. Lilian (WickedLeel)
Great post and I agree with you (almost) totally. I don't love Marissa, but I don't hate her either. But I'd like to see her breaking the rules she was upon because of Glymera AND helping Butch to make his journey. It would be way more interesting. Don't like weak females too. She had a reason to live the way she lived... but when she had the chance to change everything, she did nothing but bitching around Butch. LOL
51. ChelseaMueller
She had a reason to live the way she lived... but when she had the
chance to change everything, she did nothing but bitching around Butch.
@Lilian - I think that's the big sticking point for me. She has this chance at transformation and just stays fundamentally weak.
Amanda Bonilla
52. sanamana@
my fav couple is Rhage and Mary .i just love them too much and their chemistry is too good , they faced their problems and still together for eternity they are the best and then, the second one is phury and cormia yes they deserved more but its fine and others are also good looking forward for next books of the series specially the ones with trez,iam and qhuinn..............all the best WARDen,,,,,,,,,,,
Amanda Bonilla
53. electrecs
When Marissa slapped Butch before the regression I nearly lost my mind. I thought, she slapped V's boy, he needs to take her out. Then later when she threw Butch's dead sister in his face I was like who does she think she is. She constantly treated Butch like he was inferior to her. She wanted everything her way and to hell with what Butch wanted. I accept the fact that Butch loves her but still long for him to be with V. I'm glad we don't see much of Marissa in the books since Lover Revealed.
Amanda Bonilla
54. Katie West
Honestly, Marissa does lack some qualities that Beth, Jane and Bella have. But she is still a great female. Butch and Marissa are perfect for eachother. As for my favorite couples it would have to be Beth and Wrath, Bella and Zadist and Jane and Vishous. I loved how Beth helped Wrath become a great king. I loved how Bella helped peel the layers off of Zadist and made him a daddy. GO NALLA! I love how perfect Jane and Vishous are for eachother. They are both smart as hell and hard headed. Even though Wrath doesn't want any youngs, I still think Beth should have her needing and get pregnant. I think how Zadist was at first with Nalla, Wrath would be too. But he would soon realize(like Zadist) that he loves the young and there was nothing to be afraid of. The Black Dagger Brotherhood books are amazing and I am always finding myself rereading them. J.R. Ward is unbelievably amazing. I am currently reading The Fallen Angel Series. Love it.
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