Feb 22 2012 9:30am

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

Lover Unbound by J. R. WardBy the time we get to this, the fifth book in J. R. Ward’s h-laden paean of praise to male musculature known to we happy many as the BDB, we’re already quite familiar with our redoubtable hero, the vampire warrior Vishous. We know that he’s wicked smart. We know that he suffered a troubled childhood—which hardly makes him unique among this tortured brethren. We know he has precognitive visions, a “cursed” hand that can both kill and heal, and some intimidating facial ink. We even know his sexual proclivities: dude likes to be In. Charge. (And he’s kinda gay. It’s way hot.)

Previously, the fraught romantic escapades of his fellows Wrath, Rhage, Zsadist and Butch had delighted and amazed—well, perhaps not so much that of Butch; with every “baby” that comes out of his mouth, I die inside just a little bit more —and when it was then Vishous’s turn to find his “female of worth” and make her his own in couplings both varied and plentiful, I was understandably intrigued to see just what kind of woman would be conjured up to melt the cold, cold heart of the Brotherhood’s purportedly most intellectual, er, member. (No pun intended. I promise.)

The result? One Dr. Jane Whitcomb, a trauma surgeon with absolutely no doubt about her own doctorly awesomeness... although she is less secure in her womanhood, natch. But why even bother going too much into the specifics of Jane’s psyche? Sure, she’s a little bit kickass as our tale commences, and certainly her determination and dedication are admirable traits throughout, but—as with so many of these boys’ shellans—in the end she is overwhelmed by the him-ness of it all, and becomes nothing so much as an adjunct to the male who so handily conquers her a hundred pages in or so. (Yes, Xhex and Payne, even you do it, too.) Jane’s purpose, then, is merely to exist, thus to be claimed and worshipped desperately by the three-century-old vampire to whom all other women are mere playthings.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: I like Jane, I like Vishous, and I like them together. And I really like the BDB, in all of its nonsensical, maybe-takes-itself-a-bit-too-seriously glory. (I mean: ahvenged? Defined as, basically, avenged? Do we really need to have that explained to us in those over-helpful glossaries?) What we have here is a series of Redeemed by Love tales—ones that also happen to feature miles upon miles of Grade A, muscle-bound, text-bound beefcake and some pretty elaborate world-building that is, quite simply, deliciously disturbing. None of which, in my opinion (and, also, yet) so exemplifies Ward’s particular brand of compulsively toe-curling genius than Vishous’s bloodstained path to hellren-hood, Lover Unbound.

We kick off with a flashback, meeting the young Jane, oppressed by controlling parents and suddenly bereft of her loving younger sister—after, of course, she learns from a ouija board that she will one day marry a man named “Vishous.” (Oh, dear. Does this mean I’ll have to marry Luke Perry?) Then it’s back in present day Caldwell, New York, where the very same Vishous—we assume; how many of them could there possibly be?—is pining over his lost love and best-friend, Butch, recently made a vampire and mated to the aristocratic Marissa in Lover Revealed. But that is not the only awkwardness with which poor V—as he is fondly known—must thence contend. Because he soon learns not only that his mother is the inscrutable Scribe Virgin, creator of the vampire race and the most frustratingly opaque parent since the Cigarette Smoking Man, but also that he must now accept the mantle of Primale, whether he likes it or not. Of course, you’d think he would like it, since it means he pretty much just gets to go and have creative sex with the chaste, beautiful-to-a-one Chosen with whom the SV surrounds herself, in order to replenish the Brotherhood’s ranks. But, no, he doesn’t, and really, it’s hard to blame him: no one wants their Mom to suddenly become their pimp, after all. But, wait! There’s more. As if all of that wasn’t messed up enough for any one day, V has also been visited by a dream in which he gets shot—and then, he gets shot!

This, of course, is when Jane comes into his life; she saves it, and from almost the moment he hears her voice as he awakens in her hospital, he has one thought only: Mine. Er… but…a vampire in a human hospital? Can this be right? Surely the vagaries of vampiric biology, be they ever so subtle (depending on the mythology employed) would arouse at least some interest in even the most laissez-faire of doctors—which Jane assuredly is not? As it happens, Ward vamps have six-chambered hearts and blood that, (un-)naturally enough, cannot be identified, which has Doc Female Lead desperate to “study” V. Instead, his Brothers hit the hospital staff with their memory-erasing mojo, scrub the computers clean of their presence (and, one hopes, the security camera footage, too), and then kidnap Jane and take her with them back to their clubhouse, at V’s vehement behest.

You know what I like about Jane? Well, I like her sharp wits and her feistiness in the face of abduction by vampires, but more than that I like that she’s not your glamour girl heroine type, all pouty lips and enormous assets, etc. V looks at her with the eyes of imprinted, predestined love, and even he accedes that she’s not exactly model-perfect. She’s all sharp angles and mannishness, and yet he’s crazy enough for her that he rejects his King’s reasonable request that she be returned to her life, already in progress, and instead insists she be the one to care for him in his wounded state. Before long, she’s come to terms with her imprisonment, has delivered unto him some apparently quite skilled hand relief, and all he wants is to do is suck her blood, which we are to believe is, like, a compliment:

Typically he bit females only because he had to, and when he did, he didn’t particularly like it.

With her? He couldn’t wait to pierce a vein and suck what ran through her heart right down into his gut.

Oh, honey. You just say the sweetest things.

Then, more sex, but in her dreams, guided by V’s vamp mind tricks—because, wow, that’s not creepy at all. (No means yes, ladies. No means yes.) Then, actual sex, because she wants it, and why wouldn’t she? These BDB boys know their stuff, and for all that her head is telling her she should resist it, Stockholm Syndrome has a firm hold on Jane’s lady parts, and refuses to let go. There may even be a ball gag involved at one point. Just sayin’.

Elsewhere, of course, other stuff is happening that is not strictly V/Jane related, which is one of the strengths of the BDB books, in a big picture kind of way: our boys are battling the vampire-hunting, soulless lessers left and right; Zsadist’s mate Bella is pregnant, with complications; we spend lots of time with Phury, who we already know will be the next Brother to find his fate—and we have an inkling of that fate’s identity, what with the introduction of the beauteous and recalcitrant Chosen, Cormia. Plus, we hang out some with the young ’uns of the vamp lands: Blaylock, Qhuinn and the also-has-a-troubled-childhood John Matthew, with all of whom we will become way more familiar in later books (and if one of these days Blay and Qhuinn don’t sort themselves out, I will be most displeased). So, general mischief and mischance beset Team Hotness, there’s self-sacrifice and death and bizarre reanimation and the Scribe Virgin actually acting like a vaguely decent person/entity for a change. It is all utterly gripping from beginning to end, and when Lover Unbound comes to a close, as atheists become believers and the laws of the universe are bent with consummate skill, all you’ll be thinking is damn, can’t wait for the next one.

And then, of course, it’s Phury and Cormia and women’s rights in vampire heaven and you’re all like… huh. Right. Okay then.

Well, at least he doesn’t call her “baby.”


Rachel Hyland is the Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.

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Megan Frampton
1. MFrampton
I really liked how Jane wasn't all glamorous and such either, and how committed she is--and remains--to her job throughout the rest of the series. I didn't like the ghostliness (who does?!?), but I am okay with whatever Ward flings my way as long as I get my fix.
Synde Korman
2. SyndeKorman
Yeah I agree with Megan... no likee the ghost, love Jane, love V... and just want my fix.. of course they are ridiculous.. ALL PARANORMAL ROMANCE IS least this is funny...
Barbara Prevo
3. QueenB
V's love for Butch is one of my favorite things about this series.
4. Rose In RoseBear
Now, see, I like the "baby" thing ... none of the others do that. Lets Butch hang onto a bit of his humanity.

Lover Unbound is one of Ward's better efforts, for a whole host of reasons.

First off, the author has a way with medical scenes. The notion of an undead doctor healing living vampires is a jumble of contradictions that tickles me. V in St. Francis, Jane working on the so-self-destructive Phury ... fantastic stuff, full of detail and emotion and a basic caring that's a great expression of agape.

And this novel has lots of eros, too! In the sorta-sequel, Lover Unleashed, Jane tells V that he does some of his best work at sinks, and she's right! The pages of Lover Unbound flat-out sizzle!

I **love** the V/Butch pairing. I **love** the fact that it doesn't bother Butch, and I **love** the fact that it bothers V all-to-be-damned. I also **love** the fact that the rest of the Brothers think they're done the deed, and don't seem to be disturbed by that. The whole leathers-and-daggers scene in this book is so very, very sexy. And every time Butch talks about their dating, I laugh out loud!

And I do like Jane, a whole lot. She's a great shellan, in the tradition of the humans who come to live with the Brothers. The human women who come to the Brothers seem to have more ginger than the traditional vampire females (no, not counting Xhex).

Lover Unbound contains another great Ward description, where in two paragraphs the SV so succinctly describes her place vis-a-vis the pantheon of this world:[quote]There was naught she could do. She, who had power beyond measure over so many, was in this moment impotent because fate and the consequence of free will were her Father's sole domain. He alone knew the absolute map of eternity, the compendium of all choices taken and untaken, of paths known and unknown. He was the Book and the Page and the indelible Ink. [i]

She was not.I was devastated by the ending of this book, despite the quirky HEA. It just felt like V was getting hosed once more --- kinda the flip side of what JM felt.

On the other hand, Jane's exposure to a Higher Power --- the SV's Father --- gladdens my heart. Living vampires, souless undead humans, ghosts with souls, and the explicit rejection of atheism in a paranormal romance ... oh, my stars and garters!

Gotta love this book!
5. KateNagy
Great write-up, although I have to admit I find V's Constant Overwhelming Psychic Pain just the weensiest bit tedious. I had forgotten, though -- or maybe it had escaped me altogether -- that Vishous was supposed to be Primale. Wasn't Zsadist supposed to be Primale, too? And only then did it pass on to Phury, who also didn't really want the job? I just find it a little bit odd that none of these big testosteronis are at all interested in a position that basically entails spending all their free time making love to beautiful women in vampire heaven. Just saying...

Also, I'm completely with you on Qhuinn and Blay -- Qwhine in particular. I find it hard to work up much sympathy for a guy whose problems would all go away if he would only SACK UP AND OPEN HIS MOUTH AND SPEAK. But that, I suppose, is a rant for another day.
6. Helyce
You have an awesome way with words! I loved this article! Doing a re-read myself, but only up to Butch's book at the moment. V's is one of my favorite books in this series, but I'll never get over what happened to Jane. V got jipped, totally. For a race that claims their numbers are dwindling, I find it irritating that V (and Rhage) got stuck with shellan's that can't reproduce.
7. Darlynne
Your recap is as enjoyable as the books, thanks for starting my morning on a good note. Lover Unbound is probably my favorite, even with the abrupt and WTF ending. My hope is one day Ms. Ward will re-write or amplify those last pages.
8. Lege Artis
Oh, Vishous... beautiful mess of angst, black leather and diamond eyes... I liked Jane, love how V was turned on by her brain and I was sad when V had to erase her memory of him and in the morning she wanted to cry but didn't know why.... Ghost story was unnecessary, but I kind of got over it, until there was one scene in the end:
"Across the mansion's kitchen he (V) saw Rhage standing halfway inside of Jane, as if she were a pool he'd waded into." - That was just over the top ridiculos for me. My I-will-read-anything-because-of-BDB-hottness boundary was crossed. I love Vishous, he is my precious, but Ward put him through lot of misery already, so I think that guy deserved a break or at least girl through whom he can't see TV!
9. Rose In RoseBear
@Lege: "beautiful mess of angst, black leather, and diamond eyes ..." Nail on the head!
Estela Martinez
10. EstelaMartinez
I love the book and I like Jane as a shellan but I am not happy with the ghost thing. V deserves someone he can mate with completely by drinking from her and eventually having children. Plus I am not happy that Wellsie couldn't come back also. I like Jane don't get me wrong but I think V deserves more.
11. Saga
At last! Someone who's addicted to BDG but doesn't take it seriously and sees all of the yawning (yahwning?) cracks in logic, romance, character etc., big enough to sink ships. And yet, despite all that no means yes, woman as trophy (put her away and take her out for sex) business, the sheer muscularity of it all gets me every time. Most definitely, a very very guilty pleasure.
12. cduenas
I'm pissed off that V had been through so much in his life and can't end up with a real person. Just a ghost. He derserves better. I'm so upset. I know this is a book but damn I'm mad that he can't catch a break. Come on, Mary had cancer and was saved why can't Jane. Hello J.R. use your imagination. Make another book with a happier ending for V.
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