Lydia Susi is a wolven who has been living amongst humans her entire life. As such, she was pretty much a loner until Daniel Joseph came along and gave her a love that not only chased away her loneliness but also gave her dreams for the future. Then those dreams came crashing down when Daniel was diagnosed with advanced-stage lung cancer. For the past six months, she's been nursing him as he undergoes treatment, but it isn't working in the way they'd hoped. His last option is an experimental treatment that hasn't yet been tried on humans. When Daniel decides not to move forward with it, Lydia is upset at first, but eventually she sees that it's his choice to make and supports him in his decision. But things get complicated when a mysterious new threat emerges that could place both their lives in danger.
After a stint in the military, Daniel has spent the last few years working for what he's always believed was a clandestine arm of the U. S. government, helping to destroy underground labs. It was when he came upon one of the last of these and met its owner that he finally became aware of just how sick he was. His new benefactor was hoping that he'd become her patient one in the experimental trials for a new treatment they've developed, but he instead opted for more traditional treatments. Having now exhausted all but that one possibility, he has mere weeks to live, but decides he'd rather spend that time helping Lydia find her wolven kin so that she won't be alone when he passes. However, when the lab's compound is attacked, Daniel believes his old boss may be out to get both him and Lydia, so he must marshal all his remaining strength to fight a new enemy one more time.
Forever is the second installment in J. R. Ward's Lair of the Wolven series, which takes place in the Black Dagger Brotherhood world. It continues the story of Daniel and Lydia that was started in the first book, Claimed, picking up about six months later. During that time, Daniel has been undergoing cancer treatments in C. P. Phalen's underground lab, but he's exhausted all traditional options and is still no better. The only choice left is to become patient one in the trials of her new experimental drug, Vita-12b, but after enduring six torturous months, he's ready to pack it in and trade quality of life for quantity. He and Lydia have some disagreements over this before finally getting on the same page. Not wanting Lydia to be left alone after he's gone, Daniel uses his contact information for Alex Hess (the pseudonym Xhex uses in the human world) in hopes that she can help him find the wolven pack. Xhex is initially reluctant to get involved, but after a scare with John Matthew, she understands how Daniel must feel and agrees to meet up with them. Xhex's brother, Blade, is also a player, secretly ahvenging his sister for the torture she was put through in the underground labs. C. P. Phalen's lab is the last one on his list, and after he breaches the compound, Daniel thinks it may be his old boss out to get them. But when Blade sees Lydia for the first time, he's instantly smitten and may not be able to follow through on his plans for her sake. But a new threat has arisen that places all of them in danger, which may necessitate an alliance between this motley group of individuals to neutralize it.
At the end of the previous book, Daniel was diagnosed with advanced-stage lung cancer and was offered an experimental drug to combat it. C. P. Phalen had hoped that he would agree to be her patient one in a planned trial, but we find out as this book opens that he's opted for traditional treatment instead. However, that treatment hasn't been working, leaving Vita-12b as his only option for a possible cure. He's spent so much time sick on chemo and immunotherapy drugs, though, that he's just exhausted and done with all of it, so he decides that he wants to live whatever time he has left with Lydia to the fullest rather than take a chance on another drug that might not even work. Initially Lydia isn't very happy about his choice, but eventually she comes to understand it. Once he's feeling a bit better, Daniel contacts Xhex, hoping she'll have some info on Lydia's wolven clan, so that she won't be alone after he dies, but it doesn't go quite as well as he'd hoped. Later C. P. Phalen's compound is attacked, leaving Daniel worried that his old boss at the Federal Bureau of Genetics might be after both him and Lydia, so he musters what strength he has left, trying to protect her. But then it becomes apparent that an entirely new threat has arisen and no one knows exactly who might be responsible for it. The opening chapters of the book are rather heavy, with Daniel very sick from the drugs he's been taking, and then him making the heartbreaking decision to not go forward with the experimental drug and let nature takes it's course. But once he's off the drugs and feeling a little better, he's more the old Daniel from book one, trying to protect Lydia, as well as C. P. Phalen and his doctor, Gus, who've done their level best to keep him alive. Even though the drugs have rendered him impotent, I adored Daniel for being a loving and giving guy who generously pleasures Lydia in other ways, so overall, he's a very admirable hero.
Lydia has spent the last six months mainly nursing Daniel and hoping against hope that he won't die on her. She has also continued her work at the Wolf Study Project, or so she's been telling Daniel. When Daniel makes his decision to not move forward with Vita-12b, she's initially resistant to the idea, understandably not wanting to lose him, but I admired the strength she showed in finally respecting his decision. Where the first book focused more on Lydia, I think this second one focuses more on Daniel, so we don't get to see a lot of Lydia except in her role of supporting him through all the ups and downs of treatment. She also goes with him to the meet-up with Xhex, which still leaves her with a lot of questions about her purpose in life. It's revealed late in the story that she hasn't been entirely honest with Daniel about where she's been going during the day and that it's been going on for a few months. It's also mentioned that she has met some of the other wolven, including Callum, but it wasn't entirely clear to me whether this was before or after their meeting with Xhex. If it was before, I'm not certain what the point of that meeting was beyond learning about Xhex's mysterious vision that somehow pertains to Lydia. Also it was a bit disappointing that we didn't get to see Lydia's meeting with the other wolven since finding and connecting with them has been a rather significant part of the story. But regardless of plot weaknesses surrounding her character, I did like Lydia for the way that she sticks by Daniel no matter what.
In addition to Lydia and Daniel, there are several other characters who get their own POV scenes throughout. Wealthy businesswoman C. P. Phalen is of course the driving force behind Vita-12b, but she's been contemplating selling the drug. However, since her experiments have all been done in secret, without FDA oversight, her options are limited. She also gets some interesting news that changes everything for her. Lead researcher and oncologist, Gus, is the one who's been administering Daniel's treatments for all these months. He has just as big a stake in Vita-12b as C. P. does, but for different reasons. He's also fallen in love with her, which complicates matters. Unfortunately his part in the story is left on a cliffhanger. Xhex is the focus Brotherhood character, and although she initially kind of blows Daniel off, she changes her mind after John Matthew is mortally wounded in the field. After that, she does what she can to help, but it isn't as much as they'd hoped she would be able to tell them. Then there's Xhex's brother, Blade, who we learn has been behind the series of lab explosions. He ends up being a rather intriguing character. Although he gives in to his sociopathic symphath side more so than Xhex or Rehv, he has an unusual code of honor and becomes enamored with Lydia, which leads him to become more involved in her life. Lastly we have Rehv, who I was excited to see in a more important role again. He senses the breakdown in Xhex's mental grid, which I'm eager to learn more about, and he also tries to keep Blade under control in his capacity as king of the symphaths.
Overall, Forever was a pretty good sequel that I liked slightly better than the first book. With the drama surrounding Daniel's illness and John Matthew's life in danger, the story got off to an emotional start that I thought hearkened back to some of the early BDB books. While I wouldn't have wanted the heaviness to permeate the entire narrative, those things were put aside fairly quickly. Obviously Daniel's health is still an issue, but after stopping treatment, he does improve a bit, at least enough to start doing some "normal" things. The plot does progress after that, but at a rather languid pace. It's mostly character driven as they all discover things and make decisions about their futures. The action is limited to brief bursts here and there. As with the first book, when I reached the end, I was once again left with perhaps more questions than answers. Some of this, I'm sure, was intentional on the part of the author to whet readers' appetites for the next installment, but there were other things that I wasn't as sure about. For example, a dead vampire is found with his eyes missing, leading Rehv to believe that Xhex is killing again, even though she adamantly says she's not. Then we learn of other characters who've taken the eyes of victims, so I wasn't sure if this is some sort of mystery that will be solved later or what. I'm also still pretty confused by the connections between Lydia, Xhex, and Blade, and Xhex's strange vision on Deer Mountain from the first book.
As I mentioned before, for a series that's titled Lair of the Wolven, I'm a little disappointed that the other wolven, like Lucan and Callum, haven't shown up yet. Some of them do appear briefly in their wolf form to help when Lydia is in trouble but that's it. One other little beef I have is that the book is titled Forever, making me think that this was going to be Daniel and Lydia's HEA, but by the end, they still seem pretty far from a "forever" and there's clearly more story to tell. Last but not least, I have mixed feelings about the new threat that has cropped up. It's intriguing because it's different and I'm curious who's behind it, but at the same time, I'm not sure if this new sci-fi element mingles well with the long-established supernatural elements of this world. I'm willing to reserve judgment, though, to see how it plays out. As you can probably tell from my critique, Forever didn't end up being a J. R. Ward favorite, but as with all of her work to date, I did enjoy it for the most part and look forward to seeing what unfolds in the next installment.
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