Mels Carmichael is a reporter for the Caldwell Courier Journal. One night, on her way home, she accidentally hits a man with her car when he stumbles into the road in front of her. Distressed over this turn of events, when she discovers that he now has amnesia, the journalist in her wants to solve the puzzle of who this mysterious stranger is. The only thing she knows is that his name is Matthias, and as she starts digging into his past, strange things that defy logic begin happening around her, including ritualistic murders, a supposed "dead" man turning up alive, and the body of a man who was trying to kill Matthias disappearing. Mels has no idea, though, that she's stumbled into a supernatural war in which Matthias is a pawn. And even though she's drawn to him with a passion she's never felt before, when she finds out just how bad of a man he was in his past life, she can't allow their affair to continue.
After spending a seeming eternity in Devina's Well of Souls, Matthias Hault awakens in a cemetery on the grave of his old friend Jim Heron. As a covert operative, he immediately makes plans to disappear, but then he's hit by a car and loses all memory of who he is and where he's been. After meeting Mels, the woman who was driving the car, he finds himself enthralled by her. When he's having difficulty figuring out who he really is, he accepts her help with investigating his past, but it takes them down a winding road, where each new revelation makes him wonder just what type of man he was in his former life. Matthias also has no idea that he's the prize in a literal battle between Heaven and Hell, and when Mels turns her back on him after discovering that he was a stone cold killer, taking away the only person who's ever truly mattered to him, Matthias may have a hard time making the right decision when the all-important crossroads looms before him. But luckily he'll have newly minted angel, Jim Heron, to guide him and help him find the way.
Rapture is the fourth novel in J. R. Ward's Fallen Angels series, which is set in the same general world as her Black Dagger Brotherhood series. At this point in the Fallen Angels, the two series haven't yet converged, but we do get a couple of fun Brotherhood sightings. This series is all about a supernatural battle between the fallen angels, led by Jim Heron, on the side of good, and the demon, Devina, on the side of evil. It's a game in which the two vie for the souls of certain individuals, each of whom are at a crossroads in life, which will determine whether they end up in heaven or hell. In this particular book, we have Matthias, the leader of the covert assassin's organization, XOPs, who worked with Jim in his mortal life and also with Isaac Rothe, the hero of Crave, who he tried to kill, a crime for which he ended up in Devina's Well of Souls. But because Devina cheated in the last round, Matthias has been restored to life and given a second chance to turn over a new leaf. After awakening in a cemetery on Jim's grave, he stumbles into the road, where he's hit by a car driven by Mels Carmichael, a reporter for the Caldwell Courier Journal, and his injuries result in temporary amnesia. Feeling guilty, Mels sets out to help Matthias recover his memories, during which time they grow close and begin a passionate affair, but the more he remembers, the more he doesn't like the person he was. In the end, though, there is a question of whether he will return to that life or make a different choice this time around. Not to mention, when Mels finds out the truth of who he really was, she may not be able to forgive him for all the bad things that he's done. Overall, it was a very good story and one that I enjoyed, but it also had few weaknesses which kept it from being a perfect read for me.
It's been quite a while since I read Crave, but I seem to recall that Matthias was a character I didn't care for much. As the assassin head of XOPs, he was out to kill Isaac for trying to leave the organization, making him the human villain of the story. He did some pretty terrible things, both in that book and in his prior life, which landed him in Devina's Well of Souls when he was killed. Now he has a second chance but gets sidelined when he's accidentally hit by Mels and loses his memory. This actually works in his favor, because it gives him a clean slate with which to start and build something brand new, which he does with Mels. But every memory that returns is a blow that makes him wonder just how bad of a person he truly was. When Mels finds out the truth about him and leaves him, taking away the one light in his life, the angels are uncertain whether he can make the correct choice when the all-important crossroads that will determine his ultimate fate presents itself. I really struggled between wanting to like Matthias and being troubled by all the terrible things he'd done in his life. I suppose when it comes down to it, he did pay for his sins, first by spending time in hell and then by his actions at the end of the story. Although I can't recall the particulars, I also know that when Jim was still alive, Matthias tried to commit suicide, an act that left him badly disfigured and impotent, things that do carry over into his new life. We also find out about past childhood abuse as well. As far as backstories, I don't think that Ms. Ward could have done much more to make him a sympathetic character, and I can't deny that he treats Mels extremely well, something I was very happy to see. However, I still couldn't seem to fully shake the black cloud that hung over him from his previous actions, making it difficult for me fall for him as the hero, but I freely admit that's probably more my issue than any fault of the author's.
Mels is a reporter who would rather be working in New York City than Caldwell, but she moved back home after the untimely death of her police officer father to look after her mother. She keeps her head about her and does her job, but she struggles to get ahead in her career. Then she accidentally hits Matthias with her car, and he presents not only an intriguing puzzle to solve, but also a passionate temptation. As they work together to figure out who he really is, strange things keep happening. Odd, ritualistic murders, a dead man who appears to work for some high-level government agency whose body disappears, another "dead" man who's actually alive, and a healing that is nothing short of miraculous are all things that defy logic and which Mels has an increasingly difficult time brushing off as having an ordinary explanation. However, when she discovers Matthias's connection to the dead operative, she can no longer ignore the fact that he was obviously one too and a stone-cold killer at that. Mels's father treated her like the son he never had, so she's a tough cookie who can take care of herself. I didn't necessarily relate to her on a deep level like I have some of J. R. Ward's other heroines, but I did respect her for her intelligence, shrewdness, and fearlessness. At the same time, she's pretty compassionate toward Matthias, at least while he's recovering his memory. Even after she discovers the truth, it's hard for her to let go. While she might not make it to the top of my favorite heroines list, she was a good character who I liked.
The other key players in this installment are Jim, Adrian, and Devina. Jim is still tasked with saving humanity by winning the game for the souls of his charges. However, he's finding it increasingly difficult to stay focused when his mind is almost constantly on Sissy, the one soul he wasn't able to save from Devina's clutches. He's determined to find a way to free this innocent from the Well of Souls and takes a surprising action toward that goal at the end of this book that was a bit cliff-hangery. I think he's struggling with the question of whether the game is still worth playing or if the stakes have been too high, and because of all that's happened, he might also be slowly drifting further toward the "bad" side of himself. I'll look forward to seeing where this all goes in the next two installments. Adrian is having struggles of his own in the wake of Eddie's death. Ad seems pretty lost, because Eddie was kind of his moral compass. But he manages to pull off a pretty heroic action on Matthias's behalf that could have permanent repercussions for him in the future. Ad is a good guy who deserves some happiness, and I'm nothing if not hopeful that they'll find a way to bring Eddie back so that he can reunite with his best friend. Devina is still the demon I love to hate for all the tortures she puts the souls and our intrepid angel boys through. She's really getting to Jim in this one and steering him in the wrong direction. I think that he's the ultimate soul she'd like to possess. Of course, I can't ignore Dog, the cute mutt who follows Jim around. It's been hinted in previous installments that he might be more than just a dog, and some things about him are pretty explicitly spelled out at the end of this book.
Overall, Rapture was a very good addition to the series. I waffled a bit on how to rate it. It's well-written and a value-add to the greater series story arc. As an urban fantasy story it's top-notch, but where I thought it faltered just a little was in the development of the romantic relationship. It ramps up pretty quickly with Matthias and Mels falling in love within just a few days. I'm usually totally OK with that when it's paranormal creatures like the vampires in Ms. Ward's BDB series, but when it's ordinary humans, even when there's some supernatural mojo on the side, it's just not quite as believable to me. Then there was Matthias's past which became a big issue that separated them, right when things were getting good for them, which didn't help matters. I just didn't feel as strong a spark of connection between them as I wanted to. Otherwise, though, I did enjoy it and came close to rating it 4.5 stars, but after giving it some thought, I didn't think it quite warranted it when compared with the others in the series that I gave that rating to. But it was a very strong four stars that has whetted my appetite for continuing the series.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook