Officer Rio Hernandez-Guerrero has been working undercover, trying to bring down Mozart, Caldwell's cruel, sadistic drug lord. She's spent months trying to get close enough to ascertain his true identity, and has finally been asked to negotiate a deal with Luke, a shadowy supplier, a mission which, if successful, just might lead to an introduction to Mozart himself. However, no sooner does she meet up with Luke, than they find themselves in the midst of a firefight. He saves her life and then disappears into the night, without a deal being made. Before she can make arrangements to meet again, Rio's cover is blown and she finds herself held captive by Mozart's executioner until a huge vicious canine comes to her rescue. After that she awakens in a mysterious facility, which she figures out is housing the drug-processing operation, being watched over by Luke. She senses that he's far more than a mere drug dealer, and finds herself deeply attracted to him. But while recovering from her injuries, she plays things close to the vest in order to learn as much as she can, hoping to come back later with the cavalry. But when she discovers that the people in this facility aren't even human, she's out of her element.
Lucan was locked up in the prison camp by his own family decades ago for the "crime" of being a Wolven/vampire hybrid. The Command may be dead and the original camp destroyed, but a new despot known as the Executioner has risen to power, continuing the drug operation in an old abandoned asylum. Forced by the prison overlord to negotiate deals with their buyers, Lucan enjoys the small amount of freedom he has, while trying to figure out a way to take down the unjust prison system for good. Then he meets Rio. The human woman impresses the hell out of him almost from the start, but he knows that he's in no position to get involved with anyone. Still he can't seem to stop himself from saving her life more than once. After she's roughed up by Mozart's hired gun, he takes her to the prison camp's infirmary to recover, and begins to develop feelings for her. When Rio bravely offers to help alleviate his friend's suffering, they're caught by the guards and must use their wits to escape. But Mozart is still on Rio's trail and it seems he might have help from a mole amongst Caldwell's boys in blue.
The Wolf is the second book in J. R. Ward's BDB spin-off series, The Black Dagger Brotherhood: Prison Camp, that follows the inhabitants of a secret prison camp that was started by the glymera a very long time ago. Unfortunately it not only houses actual criminals but many innocents as well, whom the glymera wanted to get rid of. In the previous book, The Jackal, the original prison camp was destroyed by an explosion, and while we were let in on the fact that some of the prisoners got out alive, we were left with uncertainty as to the fates of some of the secondary characters. That's all revealed in this book, which stars Lucan, the first Wolven/vampire hybrid of the collective series, who had been one of those supporting characters. As it happens, the prison camp survived, too, having been moved to an old abandoned asylum. It's now being run by a ruthless individual known as the Executioner who is still using forced labor to produce mass quantities of drugs, which are then sold on the streets of Caldwell. Lucan has been given permission to leave the compound, but only for the purpose of making drug trades with a drug kingpin known only as Mozart. On one of these forays into the city, he meets Rio, a human undercover cop, who's determined to discover Mozart's identity and take him down, although Lucan doesn't know this at the time. He ends up saving Rio's life more than once, and after she's badly injured in one of the attacks, he takes her to what passes for an infirmary at the prison camp, trying to conceal her identity until she's recovered enough to leave. While trying to help a friend, the two of them accidentally spark the beginnings of a revolution, but while Lucan would love to take the camp down for good, he doesn't have enough allies to overpower the guards. Instead, he and Rio escape the camp and end up on the run from both Mozart and the dirty cop who's been helping him and who has blown Rio's cover.
Lucan has unjustly spent decades in the prison camp, sent there by his own family who believe he's an abomination for being a Wolven/vampire hybrid. When the original camp was destroyed, he had nowhere else to go except with the other survivors to the new location. There, he's earned a small measure of freedom to travel into Caldwell, making drug deals, but he's kept on a short leash by the Executioner who is using threats against another to keep him in line. When he meets Rio, who is his contact on one of these deals, an attraction sparks, but knowing there could never be anything between someone like him and a human, especially in their complicated circumstances, he tries to ignore it. But when her life is endangered, he can't stop himself from saving her, not once, but three times. The last time she's pretty badly injured, but since he can't take her to a human hospital without raising all sorts of alarms, he instead chances taking her to the prison camp's infirmary. As he helps care for her, they begin to grow closer, but when the truth comes out about where they actually are and what's really going on, he may lose her for good. I liked Lucan and thought he was a good hero, but at the same time, I couldn't help feeling that his character was pretty underdeveloped, especially when compared with other heroes in the BDB world. We learn precious little about how he came to be in the prison camp and nothing of his actual family dynamics leading up to that. All we know is that there's certainly no love lost between him and his family. I think that because of his past and the time spent in the camp, he could have been a classic tortured hero, but he doesn't really come off that way, because we aren't let in on his feelings regarding all of that.
Rio credits the drug trade with destroying her entire family and leaving her alone in life. She's channeled her anger about that into becoming a cop and is determined to take down Mozart and his entire operation. She's been working deep undercover for quite a while, trying to earn her way into learning Mozart's identity, but she hasn't quite made it yet. Then while meeting with Lucan, she nearly gets killed twice with him saving her both times. She experiences the blooming of a physical attraction, not to mention the delicious allure of his "cologne," but given that he's a drug dealer, she tries to keep her distance. However, when her cover is blown and she finds herself at the mercy of Mozart's hired killer, Lucan once again comes to her rescue. As she recovers, the two share a closeness that's hard to deny, but still determined in her mission, Rio uses the opportunity to try to learn all she can about the drug operation with the hopes of eventually ending it. When her decision to help one of Lucan's friends who's suffering leads to unexpected consequences, she'll be lucky to escape with her life, but with her cover blown, the real world may be even more dangerous. Rio is something of a tortured heroine, but she's also strong and resolute. At least we learn a little more of her losses and what makes her tick. In spite of her pain and the dark world she's lived in working undercover, she still cares about other people to the point of risking her life for someone she barely knows and at her heart has remained a genuinely good cop.
The Wolf also has some great supporting characters from both the previous Prison Camp book and the greater BDB world. Vishous has his own POV sub-plot woven into the story in which another meet-up between Butch and his former partner, Jose de la Cruz, sparks off feelings of jealousy that V has to deal with. The way in which he does so is uber-sexy and I enjoyed this moment of vulnerability for him. In addition to Butch and Jane having roles in this part of the story, Vishous plays off of Rhage as they go out in the field hunting for clues to Mozart's identity that they hope will somehow lead them to the prison camp, which Wrath wants found so that he can shut it down for good. We get a little update on what's going on in The Jackal's life as he, too, feels a responsibility to find and end the camp. Jose de la Cruz gets the human POV as he investigates multiple murders tied to Mozart's operation and ultimately solves the case. Then there are Apex and Mayhem, Lucan's allies within the prison camp. I'm extremely curious about the big, tough Apex's attachment to a certain character I thought was dead. I'll be interested to see if this character actually does survive, and if so, what's really going on between them.
Overall, I enjoyed The Wolf and would say that it's probably my favorite of the new J. R. Ward book releases this year. However, I still couldn't help noticing some weaknesses. I've already mentioned the lack of character development for Lucan, which left me feeling somewhat disconnected from him. I liked him, but at the same time, I didn't fall head-over-heels for him like I have for many of the other BDB heroes. I felt a little more connected to Rio. She's been through a lot but has turned her pain into becoming a bad-ass cop who's determined to make a difference. The time over which these two fall for one another is on the short side, which isn't all that uncommon for the series. However, they spend a lot of time caught up in action and adventure but don't share a whole lot of romantic scenes. They're also both playing it close to the vest when it comes to revealing the truth about themselves. She doesn't tell him about being a cop, nor does he tell her about being a Wolven/vampire until very late in the story. I understood their reasons, but it did leave some distance between them, because it's hard to trust and genuinely fall in love with someone when you don't really know who they are. I liked how everything wrapped up, but at the same time, it was perhaps just a tad bit rushed. Rio making the decision she did after only knowing the truth for a matter of hours was maybe a little too much to believe. But I have to admit that I like where the story appears to be headed next. I also liked the little nod that connects this book with the Lair of the Wolven series. I just wish there was a bit more about the Wolven so that I could better understand their dynamics. In spite of the few things I hoped might be different, all in all, this was a good addition to the series as well as one that held my attention well and makes me look forward to seeing what happens next.
Note: This book contains a scene of explicit sexual content involving BDSM that may make some readers uncomfortable.
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