Feb 29 2012 9:30am

The Great BDB Reread: J.R. Ward’s Lover Awakened

Lover Awakened by J.R. WardWe could argue over which Black Dagger Brotherhood member is the most lusted after. We have argued over which of the series’ females are truly of worth (still hate you, Marissa). But each time I read J.R. Ward’s Lover Awakened—and, yes, I adore the book enough to have read it more than once or twice—I’m struck by the overwhelming rightness of Zsadist and Bella together.

Whether your most obsessive points with the series lie with other brothers or even the Scribe Virgin, I don’t think anyone can deny the power of Lover Awakened’s story.

Like all the brothers, we met Zsadist in Dark Lover. However, he was the only member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood that could scare the reader. The other members didn’t completely trust him. Rhage may turn into a beast, literally, but the rumors about Z had the other brothers on edge. Word was he took what he wanted from human females: blood, sex, and life.

So when Bella sets her sights on him in Lover Eternal, everyone wants to jump in and say, “Oh, you’re too good for him.” They suggest she needs someone gentler.

The thing here is, Bella sees Zsadist. She sees past the slave band tattoos on his wrists and neck. She doesn’t notice or care about the vicious scar dividing his face. She isn’t about to heed rumors. She knows there is more.

Zsadist was so sure Bella was just looking from some strange. She just wanted the guy who would piss off high society the most. He was sure of it. When she went missing, though, he had to find her. He cleaned her house, fed her fish and interrogated every Lesser he could find. Because, honestly, Bella was the first person to see him, and he wanted to save her, even if he didn’t believe he could redeem himself.

Bella was kidnapped by a Lesser. Instead of using her for information, he pretends she’s his wife. He emotionally and physically abuses her, leaving her in a pipe while he’s gone. She spends every day wishing Zsadist would come for her.

And he does.

The other Brothers don’t get it. Hell, Zsadist especially doesn’t understand, but Bella wants no one but him to be near her. She feels safest in his room, near him. She won’t take blood from anyone else, and when her needing comes she will accept none other than Zsadist. (J.R. Ward makes Zsadist’s first kiss romantic, despite the revelations surrounding it.)

The difference is everyone else wants Bella to forget, to pretend none of it happened. Zsadist knows better. His past as a blood and sex slave has twisted his interactions with everyone, the way he sees himself and his outlook on sex. In order to help her cope with the trauma, he opens up to her. Explains his hesitation with sex, tells her secrets no one else knows.

That’s the beauty of Zsadist and Bella’s story. These two push each other forward. He may have saved her from the Lesser and aided her in coping, but she brought him back to life. She gave him a reason to live, a reason to care about his health and encouraged him to see some worth within himself.

No one had done that before.

There’s often a special bond among those with shared traumatic experiences. There are certain things one can’t understand if they haven’t been through it. Bella and Zsadist’s shared survivorship brings them closer, allows them to become truly united and elevates their relationship from lust to love to soul-deep connection.

The journey in Lover Awakened is heartbreaking, harrowing and complete with chest-gripping love.


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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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
I'm not a BDB fan, but if any book tempted me to try again, it'd probably be this one, based on your description of the relationship between Zsadist and Bella. This line, especially, intrigues me: "The thing here is, Bella sees Zsadist." Great post, Chels!
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
I love Zsadist. I mean, not as much as I love Rehv, but Zsadist is just so thoroughly, completely fucked-up, and Bella is more than a match for him (more than I can say for some of the other ladies *cough*Marissa*cough). Thanks for the tribute, Chelsea.
3. ChelseaMueller
@redline_ - This is by far my favorite of the BDB books. If you were only ever going to read one, this is it.

@MFrampton - Rehv is a close second for me, but watching Zsadist come to life around Bella? Swoon.
4. Jdgardner
I have re-read every BDB novel at the very least 25 times. No joke. I have a feeling it's probably triple that number but to be on the safe side I will start with 25. During my pregnancy with my twins I read the books back to back to back - wash, rinse, repeat, again and again. Yet in all this time I have only been able to read Lover Awakened a total of 3 times- the third time concluded just yesterday. This book is so overwhelming and Zsadist is so hurt and tortured that I find it nearly impossible to subject myself to such pain repeatedly; it's similar to a thousand needles piercing my skin over and over. I also don't want to be anesthetized through overuse, which I am sure would happen if I let it. I LIKE that each time I brave the beautiful, heartwrenching words, I sob uncontrollably and numerous amounts of times.

However, after my re read yesterday I finally had to admit that I had a problem with Zsadist and Bella's courtship. Bella, though her intentions were pure and true, was using Zsadist for selfish reasons (quite akin to his sick bitch mistress). I know she loved him and wanted him and that he desperately needed to be pushed beyond the horrors of his past, but ultimately (to me) in came down to the fact that she was going to get what she wanted and damn the toll it took on him in the meantime. Now, I don't think she was malicious and methodical about it; she obviously recognized her faults and felt intense remorse but she went ahead and did it anyway! Just because she realized she was wrong doesn't make the transgression right. She pushed and coerced a victim of repeated sexual assault into something he clearly wasn't comfortable with. He had obviously never dealt with the effects of being a blood slave and needed time and patience.
Having said that, I do really believe that Bella saved him and that he wouldn't be where he is now if it hadn't been for her. Bella gave him the push he needed, at the time he needed it. I just wish she had been a little less self-motivated and more in tune with what his circumstance called for.
C Hunter
5. huntece
@JDgardner -when i reread the book I feel the same way. I love them together but it kinda feals like the way she helps him to heal is motivated by her own needs instead of wanting to help him heal. Understandable with what she went through but still a bit offputting.
6. Trained Professional
Were we reading the same story here? Their relationship was completely two sided. Zsadist did resist everything because that's all he knew how to do. He wanted to keep everyone away. I think Bella thought that she could just break through to him and everything would be ok. I dont think she every once thought about how hard it was going to be to break down the walls he had built around himself. Yeah she tried using her body as her first weapon... but who hasnt? You have to give Bella mad props for not giving up immediately. She saw something in him that nobody else saw. I seriously cried when i was reading the Insider's Guide. When Zsadist is at the store with the "author" being interviewed. He is walking around the store buying everything for everyone else. I mean i knew how much he loved Bella, but to see him caring for everyone else so openly without even realizing it was simply amazing. I think the Zsadist is the most solid character in all of the books. His story just punches you in the gut and doesnt stop until your an emotional sobbing wreck. This is my favorite book of the whole series and Zsadist is not my favorite brother. My favorite is Rhev. But there is something about Zsadist story that i can just go back to and think that, no matter where you go in life or where you have been, there is ALWAYS hope. Zsadist might not have had any hope but sometimes it just takes someone else having it for you that matters.
Synde Korman
7. SyndeKorman
I love V it's no secret, but Zadist is my second fave...(sorry Rehv) and I totally agree with Chelsea.. Bella sees him for him.. sigh
Mandi Schreiner
8. smexybooks
Yeah -Z is not my fav brother (OH HI John Matthew!) but...I did really like his book - I think because Bella is a fab heroine (and sorry, but it is sometimes hard to find JR Ward's heroines appealing)

I love the mix of Bella's recent degrading experience combined with Z's immense inner-torture. Oh so good. I now want to reread again :)

And ps - please let No'One be one of the better Ward heroines. Pleeeaasssseee! :)
9. Rose In RoseBear
Oddly enough, I started my re-read of Lover Awakened just last night, after I finished Lover Eternal.

This is probably my fifth or sixth re-read of the series, and, until this go-round, I saw Bella as a prototypical glymera bimbo --- drop-dead gorgeous, bone-idle rich, expert shopper, looking for a thrill lay to spice up her empty days.

But she's not just that classic bimbo with more hair than wit, is she? She's Mary's friend --- and not just a casual neighborly acquaintance, but close enough for the tight-lipped Mary to have told Bella about her previous bout with leukemia. The minute she realized what John Matthew was, Bella immediately went to considerable trouble to get the boy the help he needed. She could have waited until the next night, but she excused herself and made the necessary calls within minutes.

I, too, was put off by Bella's behavior at the party in Lover Eternal; when she wasn't staring at Z, she was sniffing Phury's hair and fantasizing about having V's babies. (eye roll) And when she cornered Z in his room, all I could think of was a lioness hunting down some poor water buffalo.

However, this time through I got a sense of helplessness from Bella as she's pursuing Z. I think she was experiencing the female version of the male vampire's Mine.

And, as I type this, I'm wondering if she was also suffering from symptoms of her upcoming needing --- PNS, if you will. The party in Lover Eternal takes place six weeks before the beginning of Lover Awakened; considering the overwhelming intensity of the needing, it would make sense for a woman to need to secure a partner prior to the big day.

From Lover Eternal, Chapter 40:
Bella was staring, and it had to stop.

Except she couldn't help herself. Zsadist was the only thing she could see.
Of course, after Bella is rescued, I totally get her need to hang onto Z. And I felt her helpless anger at Z's varied expressions of self-hatred. And, wow, when the time came, she took care of business!

Yeah, Bella's got more depth than you first expect, and she's exactly what Z needed. Only Bella could have lured Z into that great chase-me-till-I-catch-you scene in Lover Revealed, and they're the only couple who would have done such a thing in the mansion, in front of an audience.

I'm enjoying this series of re-reads. Can't wait till you get to Lover Enshrined (shudder)!
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