Oct 3 2011 2:45pm

My First Time on Crahck: Reading Dark Lover

Dark Lover by J. R. WardSome people might not find the drug allusions (“My First Time on Crahck”) humorous, but if you’re a Black Dagger Brotherhood aficionado, you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.

Dark Lover, the first book in J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, comes out in hardback on October 4. Now, we all know that when a paranormal romance author is published in hardback, it means the author has already had massive paperback sales. For a paranormal romance author to have a six-year-old paperback reissued in hardback means she’s in the big leagues, and not just the genre big leagues. The BDB series is a genuine phenomenon. Whatever else one might say about Ward’s series, one thing’s indisputable—it’s not like any other vampire story.

At some point a couple of years ago, I started seeing comments about the series on romance blogs I frequent. No one ever described the books in detail— they just went on and on (and on) about how completely hooked they were and how it was the Best Vampire Series Ever. Even though I’d been burned out on vampire books for years (plus there’s my whole anti-necrophilia thing), I was intrigued. And because I’m compulsive about reading a series in order, I went out and bought Dark Lover.

Sigh. Where to begin?

Okay, first, all the criticisms you’ve ever heard about the books? They’re all true: The endless brand name dropping, the six-hundred-year-old vampires (and later, thirty-something Ivy League-educated surgeons) who talk in hip hop slang, the narrative tics (in the book that came before the latest book, all characters’ internal monologues were conducted in rhetorical question format), the thin world building, the over-the-top dialog, the shitkickers and leathers and ’you feel me’s and indefensible overuse of the letter “H”—it’s all valid.
And it was all evident in Dark Lover. But still I devoured that book and every one since. And frequently I’ve asked myself—why? Why am I so hooked on this?

Three reasons: the characters, the storytelling, and the sheer originality of the whole thing.

Last two first. It is really, really, really hard to come up with an original take on vampires. Think about all the bloodsucker romances you’ve read, and then tell me which ones were truly different. None? Very few?

The world that Ward has built in Caldwell, NY, isn’t like any other. These vampires aren’t dead, they’re just a difference species. They live for hundreds of years, but they’re not immortal. They eat, drink, shag, marry, raise kids. The only vampire tropes that apply here are blood and sun; these vampires only drink blood from each other, and exposure to sunlight is lethal.

Six badass, hypermasculine vampires, a fierce band of brothers, devote their lives to defending their race from the minions of a psychopathic semi-divine being. The origins of the vampire race is a complicated, fully developed tale which, while as over-the-top-veering-on-camp as the rest of the story, is unique.

Ward knows how to tell a story, knows how to suck you in and keep you reading past your bedtime. The dryer will buzz, the dogs will bark to go out, the phone will ring and your kids will cry piteously for food, but you’ll ignore it all. Even as you’re muttering “What the hell is it with these names?” and “This war has been going on for years and no one in town’s noticed the pale, baby-powdered scented guys, ever? Really?” and “If Darius was so rich, and loved Beth so much, why didn’t he find some way to support her financially even though he couldn’t let her know who he was? He watched her grow up in state foster care? That’s just messed up,” you’re still turning the page.

Originality and a gripping, if outlandish (but then again, this is vampires we’re talking about, so is outlandish really a valid criticism?) plot are two of the things that sucked me into Dark Lover and kept me reading. But they weren’t the main thing.

The main thing is the characters. Ward’s world building is thin, sometimes annoyingly so. But her characters tend to get up off the page and walk around. And don’t ask me how she makes such three-dimensional—yes, I said three-dimensional, mock me as you will—characters out of such exaggerated romance stereotypes (the Brothers are lethal with their enemies, tender with their women, smart, funny, great in bed, and even when they’re assholes, they’re sexy assholes) because I have no idea.

We meet all six brothers in Dark Lover, although this is the story of Wrath, the Blind King. He’s dark and dangerous and a bit of a dick until he meets Beth, the half-human, half-vampire woman who’ll be his mate. Once he and Beth get together—he intends to just see her through her Transformation, but he falls long before that—Beth meets the boys: Rhage, the beautiful and happy one; Zsdaist, the tortured one; Phury, the melancholy one; and Vishous, the psychic bisexual genius Dom whose demons are as bad as Zsdaist’s. (I love V.) The sixth brother is Butch, but in Dark Lover he’s still a human, a miserable alcoholic cop whose life is crap until he meets the Brothers and finally finds a place he belongs. You don’t see a lot of male bonding in vampire romance, but it’s the basis of the BDB.

As he stared at the empty plates and the half-full wineglasses, he realized he had nowhere to go. Nowhere he wanted to be. The isolation had never bothered him before. Actually, it had made him feel safer somehow. So it was kind of funny that being on his own didn’t seem like such a great thing now.

“Yo, cop. We’re heading for Screamer’s. You wanna come?”

Butch looked up at the doorway. Vishous was in the hall with Rhage and Phury behind him. The vampires had expectant looks on their faces, like they honestly wanted to hang with him.

Butch found himself grinning like the new kid who didn’t have to sit alone at lunch after all.

“Yeah, I could do with a bar crawl.”

As he stood up, he wondered if he should get casual. The brothers had changed into leathers, but he was loath to let the suit go. He loved the thing.

Screw it. He liked the threads; he was going to wear the threads. Even if they weren’t really him.

Butch buttoned the jacket, smoothing it down over his chest. He checked to make sure the handkerchief was still in a perfect fold.

“Come on, cop, you’re fabulous,” Rhage said with a burning smile.

The relationship between Butch and V is one of the best-loved and most mythic in fanficdom, and it’s set up at the end of Dark Lover. This is what I mean by original:

At that point, the rest of the gang members filed into the room. Their cold stares made Butch feel like a bug under glass. Or a roast beef about to be carved up.

Mr. Normal stepped forward and offered him a Scotch bottle. “You look like you could use some.”

Yeah, you think? Butch took a swig. “Thanks.”

“So can we kill him now?” said the one with the goatee and the baseball hat.

Beth’s man spoke harshly. “Back off, V.”

“Why? He’s just a human.”

“And my shellan is half-human. The man doesn’t die just because he’s not one of us.”

“Jesus, you’ve changed your tune.”

“So you need to catch up, brother.”

Butch got to his feet. If his death was going to be debated, he wanted in on the discussion. “I appreciate the support,” he said to Beth’s boy. “But I don’t need it.”

He went over to the guy with the hat, discreetly switching his grip on the bottle’s neck in case he had to crack the damn thing over a head. He moved in tight, so their noses were almost touching. He could feel the vampire heating up, priming for a fight.

“I’m happy to take you on, asshole,” Butch said. “I’ll probably end up losing, but I fight dirty, so I’ll make you hurt while you kill me.” Then he eyed the guy’s hat. “Though I hate clocking the shit out of another Red Sox fan.”

There was a shout of laughter from behind him. Someone said, “This is gonna be fun to watch.”

The guy in front of Butch narrowed his eyes into slits. “You true about the Sox?”

“Born and raised in Southie. Haven’t stopped grinning since ’04.”

There was a long pause. The vampire snorted. “I don’t like humans.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not too crazy about you bloodsuckers.”

Another stretch of silence. The guy stroked his goatee. “What do you call twenty guys watching the World Series?”

“The New York Yankees,” Butch replied.

The vampire laughed in a loud burst, whipped the baseball cap off his head, and slapped it on his thigh. Just like that, the tension was broken.

Butch let out a long breath, feeling like he’d just been missed by an eighteen-wheeler. As he took another swig from the bottle, he decided it had been one weird fucking night.

It’s the relationships among the Brothers that pack the most wallop in this series. The love stories are great, and Ward writes some awesomely hot sex, but once a heroine has had her book she sort of fades out and drifts through the background of subsequent books. Watching the Brothers interact is what keeps the reader coming back. Part of the reason Wrath falls in love with Beth is because she immediately takes to the Brothers, and she to them.

She gently lifted Rhage’s head and put the edge of the glass to his beautifully shaped lips. It took him five minutes to sip the liquid down. When he was finished, she started to get off the bed. She didn’t get far. With a great lurch, he pitched over onto his side and put his head in her lap, throwing one muscular arm around behind her.

He was seeking comfort.

Beth didn’t know what she could really do for him, but she put the glass aside and stroked his back, running her hand over his fearsome tattoo. She murmured things she wished someone had whispered to her when she felt ill. Hummed a little for him.

After a while, the tension left his skin and bones. He began breathing deeply.

When she was sure he was out cold, she carefully extracted herself from his grasp. As she turned to meet Wrath’s gaze, she braced herself. Surely he’d know there was nothing—

Shock stilled her. Wrath wasn’t mad. Far from it.

“Thank you,” he said hoarsely. The bow of his head was almost humble. “Thank you for caring for my brother.”

He took his sunglasses off.

And looked at her with total adoration.

Who wouldn’t love a big tough vampire who adores his mate?

Who wouldn’t love a series full of hot sex and true love and deep, deep bromance?

On some level, I think the BDB is like cocaine or heroin: You’re either predisposed to become hooked or you’re not. (Research has concluded that heroin is not universally addictive. Not everyone who tries it becomes addicted immediately, and some people never become addicted at all. It’s a matter of biochemistry.) (The same is true of Jane Austen novels.)

Would you be susceptible to the Brothers? Tomorrow’s your chance to find out.


Kinsey W. Holley can be found at her own website, is published with, is at twitter @kinseyholley and blogs at

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Melanie Thomas
1. missmelthomas
I agree with everything you said. The BDB is like crahck and I was hooked from the first page of Dark Lover. The character development in these books is what gets me; the buildup of relationships. Granted sometimes that buildup drives me insane (Blay and Quinn) but in the case of John Matthew and Xhex I think it was all beautifully written and I was itching to get to their story. There is just something insanely special about this series. I'm a BDB addict and waiting for the next book is pure thorture. Maybe we should form a support group. *evil grin*
2. ChelseaMueller
Kinsey, you're absolutely right about the characters leaping off the page. There's something to be said for drawing so many women into a series focused on male solidarity. Plus, the element of the women driving these men is entrancing.

Also, your headline kills me. The overuse of the "h" is hilarious at this point.

Though, I wouldn't say the world-building is weak in the least. I think building a unique mythology is part of world-building -- setting up a unique type of vampire and its varied world (glymeria, sympaths, etc.). The world-building and development of a unique vampire mythology was one of the things I was most impressed by when I first read Dark Lover.
Pamela Webb-Elliott
3. Spaz
Great post!! I am with Chelsea on this too, the headline using Crahck kills me! And Butch and V's relationship is awesome.
I was enamored with this book from start to finish, and though there were 1 or 2 stinkers for me (in the series) this continues to be one of my most favorite auto-buy series ever. :)
April Cabrera
4. Squeaks1977
I admit I was addicted from the very first book. I agree completely as this is the first series of vampire novels where I actually wished this world was real!

@ KINSEY you said you never seen a world like Wards and that is true. She changed the vampire romance genre. But if you haven't already you should also check out Christine Feehan's Dark series. She is another author that has changed the view and put a spin on vampires. In her world the Carpathians are another species as well and only become vampires if they kill while feeding and haven't found their lifemate. Feehan and Ward are my two favorite authors along with Laurell K. Hamilton. But Ward and Feehan have both changed the way we look at vamps and I love it better than the constant "vampires are evil".

I just got the Black Dagger Brotherhood Insiders Guide and I love it. It's nice to get the behind the scenes of the author's mind. These two women, Ward and Feehan, have inspired me to write myself my own vampire world. Of course I have likes and dislikes of all the authors I have read but I still keep coming back for more. I'm looking forward to March 2012 when Lover Reborn hits the stores. I will be there at midnight if I can! :-)
5. Lucky4
I will admit that I came late to the vampire party. I could read almost any kind of romance but I held out on the principle that there was nothing sexy about a vampire...BOY WAS I WRONG!!!!!

I was bored with the same-old thing so I read a lot of reviews here and that lead me to try a few different authors. I love series so I started with LOTU and then IAD and from there it was on to Sookie and then JR Ward. I must say my eyes have been opened to a whole new world.

I LOVE the BDB's -- my only regret is that I read them slightly out of order so it led to some spoilers. Now I'm hooked on these and many others. My TBR list is growing and growing based on the postings and recommendations of your posters.
Donna Cummings
6. Donna Cummings
I just read this book, for the first time, a couple months ago. I know, I know. I can't believe I waited this long. But I have this contrarian streak, and the way everyone was raving, I wasn't sure I would feel the same way. Boy was I wrong. LOL There is something wildly addictive about these books, and I've only read the first two. (I'm pacing myself, telling myself I can quit any time. LOL) I'm glad I've finally gotten on the BDB bandwagon.
Tara B
7. box5angel
I tried to get into this series but I just can't. And I find the guys names extremely ridiculous.
8. The Obscured Vixen
I love your BDB articles! Because I'm just as obsessed and as addicted to the crahck as you are : ) Everything you've said in this post is 100% true, and I agree completely. There is just no other series that can stand up to the BDB. I read Dark Lover in two days, I could not put it down! Now I take off work when the books come out because I know I would be up late and not make it to work LOL Great article!
9. youcantbuylove
So, I would completly agree with you about this series. I read the first three in like a matter of a week, and the next three as soon as available. However, after Phury's story I got burned out. Sadly, I didn't like Lover Enshrined...... at all really.

This happened with the Dark Hunter series too. After a while the stories aren't about the characters and their mates but about telling the back ground story. Should I try again? Are the other books different?
10. Rose In RoseBear
@Kinsey: Oh, "Crahck" is soooo cool! And soooo accurate!

As I've said before, I disdained any sort of paranormal romance until I read about Rhev and his barb right here on H&H. I bought Lover Avenged while on the opposite end of the country, read it backwards in 50-page chunks, and by the time I got home, I was completely addicted, and my captive-audience husband was thoroughly sick of hearing choice bits of dialog as he drove us back home. (He's a male of worth, true?) (laughing!)

I've reread the whole series at least three times by now, and I still don't know why I fell so hard for a series so full of stuff I don't get. I'm no fashionista --- I had to Wiki brand names like Zegna and Aquascutum. I listen to country, not rap. I haven't been drunk since 1981, and, as I recall, the culprit was plain Everclear, nothing as exotic as Herradura or the Goose or the Lag.

The hook is, I believe, the males. I was fascinated by Lover Avenged as I read it back to front, but I melted when Rhev took off Ehlena's plain old Keds and told her that, for him, she walked on diamonds. When I got back home and was able to hunt down Dark Lover, I found the same kind of man in Wrath, and, for that matter, in Butch --- damaged until they find their woman, and then transformed. It's true for all of them --- all of them save Phury.

And I think that's why I did not like Phury or his book, Lover Enshrined --- Cormia, who spent five whole months hiding in her room playing with peas and toothpicks, had nothing to do with transforming Phury.

Right now, I've managed to avoid rereading the books for a fourth time ... but March 2012 is not that far away, and I'll have to reread them to get ready for Lover Reborn!
11. Rose In RoseBear
@YouCantBuyLove --- yes, I know exactly what you mean about Lover Enshrined. Pick up the short story "Father Mine," and then read Lover Avenged. Lots of character development in both of those. Lover Mine isn't too bad, and I really liked Lover Unleashed --- the back story rocked!
12. Rose In RoseBear
@box5angel --- I liked Dark Lover, but it's written in a more spare style than the later books of the series. The second book, Lover Eternal, is more typical of the rest of the series, IMHO.

(grin) And you get kinda used to the names ...
Carmen Pinzon
13. bungluna
I fell out of love with this series around V's book. However, every time a new one comes out, I find myself helplessly drawn to read it. The first four books of the series were the best, imo, though I'm still pissed that Butch and V didn't end up in a threesome. All the books after that haven't been as enthralling for me, but I still keep coming back to find out what's going on.
Elisha Turner
14. BookLover1128
I completely agree ! I love this book series. I love how cherished the women are by the men in the books and how the men transform from battle hardened warriors into loving mates. The way that J.R. Ward creates her characters is so unique its like they could almost walk off the pages. I also like how there is a perfect balance between romance and violence, there is just enough of both that you stay completely focused on the story.
rachel sternberg
15. rae70
I guess I'm just just a "stihckler" for spelling. The play on BDB words annoys me completely!! The constant references to rap music and psuedo-biker-rap slang dialogue seems so out of place for 600 yr old vampires. I understand they are on the bad boy protectors of the vampire society, but come on!! I see them in my head as steroid looking, no neck, veins bulging, Doc Martens/Ed Hardy/Affliction posers. BUT!! I still really like and read the books!)
16. leebran
You wrote exactly how I feel about his series! They are like a drug; they just draw you in and you can't get out. And why would you want to?? This series is my first parlay into paranormal/vampires and I am now hooked! I hope to start the Demonica series next. I hear great things about those as well.
romance reader
17. bookstorecat
Ok. I just checked it out of the library. Let's go see if I'm prone to addiction.
evelyn wedin
18. evie73
That was a great post and very true. I was instantly hooked on the series after reading Dark Lover and yes, it was due to the males. They jumped out anb grabbed me and haven't let go yet. I'm having to reread the series (again) to help with the withdrawls while waiting for Lover Reborn. I absolutely love V and Butch but am dying to know how Blay and Quinn are going to play out.....we will have answers soon I hope :)
Norma Stamp
19. Norma Stamp
This is one of the very few series on my permanent keeper shelf. Every time a new book comes out, I re-read the whole thing from beginning to current. I never get tired of these guys! This is a unique series and I just can't say anything bad about JR Wards books, any of them.
20. Jenny Q
Great post! This series is fantastic, flaws and all! Welcome to BDB Anonymous! Vishous is my boy, too :)
Elizabeth Halliday
21. Ibbitts
I heard about this book about five years ago from a librarian friend who knows my preferances. J. R. Ward had me hooked in three paragraphs. I was delighted to discover it was to be a series of books, and I reread the entire series from the beginning every year in anticipation of the new release. This is a great series of books, but even more, there is something very special about the first one, "Dark Lover".
Toni Horton
22. Tonidh69
I love this topic. It's hard to explain to people around me who don't read much just why this series is sooo addictive. I turned my sister and my mother onto the series and anyone else I can manage. Sure, there are books in the series that I like more than some others (Phury's and Rhev's), but not so much that I would quit the series. This last book I loooved! Manny and Payne were nice and sweet, but the gutwrenching angst of it all belonged to V along with Jane and Butch, not to mention Blay and Quihnn. I read all the posts and several have mentioned the new book coming out. &%^%$#%#*!!!!!! How come I never hear about these things? I signed up for the newsletter. Her website never seems to post "coming up" info. Where are you all finding this info? And who is the next one about?? yes,yes,yes.....need my fix! crahck!
Elizabeth Halliday
23. Ibbitts
Tonidh69: The next book in the series is titled "Lover Reborn", due out in April 2012. It's Tohrment's book.
Kinsey Holley
24. KinseyHolley
Oh God, y'all - gut wrenching angst for Jane and V and Butch??? I haven't read it yet...
25. Rose In RoseBear
@Tonidh69: J. R. Ward's Facebook page is a fair source ... she's been known to post one- or two-paragraph excerpts from her about-to-be-published books on her wall. There's a juicy one up there now from Lover Reborn which highlights a secondary storyline --- or two, possibly three.

It seems that the best way to determine what's coming up with the BDB is to catch J. R. Ward being straightforward at her signings. And, if you can't catch her in person, you can always find writeups on the web. This from the Cincy signing a month ago, and there's also good information here.
Cristina P
26. krissapl
Okay. I completely agree with your article. After I read Dark Lover, I read the next 6 (I think there were 5 or 6, not sure) books in the same week, one after the other, no breaks. After that (there were only those books out), I can't get back in the series. I started Lover Avenged 3 times. Don't know what's wrong, maybe I went through withdrawal and now I'm cured :) . I also don't like her new series.
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