Rehvenge is the most successful drug lord and pimp in Caldwell, New York. The illegal nature of his business is part of why he has been tapped to assassinate Wrath, the king of the vampires. Half-vampire, half-symphath, Rehv's two sides are constantly at war with each other, and because of things he did in the past, Rehv is also being blackmailed by the symphath princess who is sexually obsessed with him. To keep his inherently evil symphath nature in check, he regularly shoots up with high doses of dopamine which leaves him with other medical issues too. With his supply of dopamine running low, Rehv makes a trip to the vampire medical clinic, where he has been admiring one of the nurses for quite some time. Ehlena doesn't seem to be as afraid of him as all the other nurses are, and that along with her sweet innocence and caring nature make her all the more appealing to him. Rehv wants nothing more than to start a real relationship with her, but doesn't feel worthy of a kind female like her and knows that if she ever found out the truth about him, she would be repulsed.
Ehlena has been working hard at the clinic to make ends meet ever since her father lost everything when he was betrayed by his business partners. Since then, he has suffered from severe schizophrenia too, so Ehlena's off-hours are spent caring for him in their tiny run-down house, the only thing she can afford. When Ehlena meets Rehv, she feels an instant attraction to him, but sensing that the male is trouble, she rebuffs his advances. However, when she realizes that he didn't receive treatment for an infection in his arm, the dedicated nurse in her can't let it go, and she decides to contact him to see if she can help. Once they begin talking to each other on a more personal level, Ehlena can't resist Rehv's charms, and they slowly begin to fall in love. Rehv knew that it couldn't last though, and when the demons of the past rear their ugly heads, he must make the ultimate sacrifice to keep the ones he loves safe from harm. Even though she is stunned by the revelations of Rehv's past, Ehlena can't stop thinking about him, and as the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together, she will have to draw on the full measure of her love for him to forgive and redeem the male that she knows in her heart is the only one for her.
J. R. Ward has done it again with another spectacular installment in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Lover Avenged has pretty much everything I've come to expect from her writing: Swoon-worthy romance that harkens back to some of the earlier books in the series like Lover Eternal; hot love scenes, this time between more than just the main couple; lots of obstacles to overcome for true love to be victorious; an intelligently written fantasy story arc; lots of action and subplots; and a little black humor. All of the brothers and their shellans, except Cormia, put in an appearance, and Wrath and Beth have some front-and-center action which I'll address shortly. Also returning were the villainous, Lash, who's on a major power trip; the fallen angel, Lassiter, who's good for some great comic relief; Butch's ex-partner, Detective Jose de la Cruz; Rehv's bodyguards, Trez and iAm; and there was even a brief siting of Jane's former co-worker, Manuel "Manny" Manello, who I've heard has been tapped as the hero for book #9 that is coming out next year (2011). Also, the heroine of book #9, Payne, had her first scene. As always, the story was full of unexpected surprises. J.R. Ward definitely has a knack for the unpredictable, which is part of what makes these books so good for me.
Rehvenge is another great hero that I fell for almost immediately. There were times in previous books that it was hard to like Rehv as his business choices were distasteful to me, but J. R. Ward has always been great at redeeming the seemingly irredeemable. She gave Rehv good reasons for doing the things he's done over the years, put him through the ringer as atonement for his sins, and showed in spades what a beautiful heart he has underneath the hard outer shell of the drug lord/pimp. His vampire and symphath sides war against each other, making him a complete enigma for most of the book. One minute, he would do something seemingly unconscionable, but the next minute, something would happen or be revealed about him that made it impossible for me not to sympathize. Once the reader finds out about Rehv's origins and all the things he's been through over the years, it's truly not a stretch to understand why he's so confused and psychologically messed up. One thing I really loved about Rehv was how he treats all the females in his life (well, at least those who deserve it) with kindness, care, and respect, from Ehlena, Bella and his mother to the "girls" in his employ. I've heard it said that the measure of a man can be taken by how he treats his mother, and if that is the case, then Rehv is a saint.
Ehlena is a wonderful heroine too. She is a nurse and a truly caring soul who is completely devoted to her profession and patients, so much so that she was willing to take a big risk to help Rehv even though she barely knew him. I could very much relate to Ehlena's devotion to her ill father and her deep feelings of loneliness because caring for him has left her without much of a life to call her own. She is completely exhausted by the ordeal and trying to make ends meet the best she can after loosing everything years ago through no fault of her own. In fact, this part hit almost a little too close to home for me, and I admired her for her strength and fortitude. I loved that Ehlena wasn't afraid of Rehv in the same way that all the other nurses at the clinic were. She was a little nervous around him, but I think it had more to do with her attraction to him than truly fearing him. I also enjoyed how she was able to keep him in line even when he was hitting on her. Ehlena had a big heart and in the end, got to show the depth of love and forgiveness that she possessed, as well as a huge measure of courage.
Together as a couple, Rehv and Ehlena were amazing. I liked that Rehv had been admiring Ehlena from afar whenever he visited the clinic. When they finally come together, they both feel completely unworthy of each other and try to hold back their feelings, but the magnetic pull of their attraction just can't be denied. The bulk of the book takes place within a few days, and while I 'm not usually a fan of love-at-first-sight romances, I have to say that J. R. Ward totally sold me on Rehv and Ehlena falling in love so quickly. In the beginning, they have a lot of phone conversations that built their friendship and conveyed a fathomless longing for one another, which reminded me a lot of the hours I spent on the phone with my hubby when we were falling in love. Rehv and Ehlena's first "date" was incredibly beautiful and romantic. I loved how Rehv was so gentle with Ehlena and thoroughly focused on doing things to please her, and how both of them gave themselves so freely and lovingly to one another. In fact, all of their interactions in the early parts of the book were so breathtakingly intense, I had to take a deep breath after each scene to get some air back in my lungs and keep from swooning. J. R. Ward just has a way of caressing the reader's senses with words that can make the character's relationships utterly erotic without them actually engaging in sex. The only complaint I have about Rehv and Ehlena's romance is the length of time that they were apart after she discovered the truth about him. I understood that it needed to happen in order to redeem Rehv and to progress the overall story arc, but it was absolutely killing me. I couldn't help wondering for the last 100 pages or so, how Ms. Ward was going to wrap everything up and give them an HEA in such a short time frame. Of course, she did, but I would have preferred a little more of those swoon-worthy moments after they were reunited. Their scenes at the end were just too brief.
As I mentioned earlier, Wrath and Beth have significant roles in Lover Avenged. I remember that when I finished Dark Lover, I hoped to see more of them, and here they were, back with new challenges to face in their lives and relationship. While I don't like to see a couple unhappy, disagreements and other difficulties are par for the course in any marriage, and in this case they only served to strengthen Wrath and Beth's love for one another. Wrath struggles with not being out fighting the lessers with his brothers and the day-to-day stresses of being king, which lead him to make some choices that really strain his marriage. Then a major and unexpected event completely changes his life, but with Beth's help, he once again shows his strength and determination to overcome adversity.
John Matthew and Xhex, who become the hero and heroine of the next book, Lover Mine, are also in the thick of things in Lover Avenged. Xhex is much like Rehv in that she struggles between her vampire and symphath natures, and one moment can be utterly scary, doing some pretty terrible things, but the next moment I'm feeling sympathy for her. Readers learn a few new things about Xhex in this book, but I suspect that the bulk of her story is being saved for the next one. Still, I couldn't help but sense that there is a lot of unexplored depths in her character that drive her to do the things she does. John Matthew begins to feel that all his hopes and dreams are shattered and that he will never experience the things he wants and needs from life. His disillusionment makes him retreat inwardly and shut himself away from the world, eventually turning into someone who is nothing like the sweet, gentle John we've seen up to this point. John and Xhex's relationship takes some surprising turns, but most are not in a good way. Sadly, they end up profoundly hurting each other, showing just how terribly wounded they both are. Even though I was disappointed in both their actions, I did, nonetheless, understand them. This couple is going to have to learn to communicate and overcome a lot of emotional baggage, as well as outside forces over which they have no control, in order find their HEA.
Tohr and Lassiter are two more characters who have some important scenes. In the beginning, Tohr is still suicidal and in so much pain over Wellsie's death, that it brought tears to my eyes. Lassiter, for his part, is trying to bring Tohr back to the land of the living. Readers get to find out exactly why Lassiter is there, and why he won't go away even though Tohr feels like killing him if he had the strength. This pair form a very odd-couple type friendship and their banter was absolutely hilarious. Tohr is literally as depressed and low as a person can get, while Lassiter is all perky and annoying the crap out of him. His smart mouth reminds me a lot of Butch, but at the same time it's obvious that he really cares what happens to Tohr.
Other than the ending feeling a bit rushed, and Rehv and Ehlena not getting more extensive romantic scenes after their reunion, there were a couple of other things that kind of bugged me a little. One is that I wish that Ehlena's thoughts and feelings after she found out the truth about Rehv, and especially after she put all the pieces together and realized the sacrifice he had made, had been explored a little more deeply. I knew that she loved him and why she risked everything for him in the end, but I just didn't feel like it was spelled out in as much detail as it could have been and almost seemed like more of an afterthought. Also, one thing I love about J. R. Ward is that she has never been an author to leave loose ends, but I felt like she left a few here. First, the symphath colony's decision regarding Rehv was really not explained. Even though he had the right bloodlines for it, it seemed that half-breeds were detested by them, so it didn't entirely make sense. Another thing is that the why, when and how of one of the two murders Rehv had committed years ago was never explained either, and lastly, his dopamine usage wasn't resolved with complete certainty, at least not in my mind. Perhaps since Rehv and Xhex are close, these uncharacteristic small plot holes will be wrapped up in the next book, but I guess I'll just have to wait and see. Overall though, my issues were relatively minor and didn't significantly detract from my enjoyment of the novel. J. R. Ward is still an amazing writer and storyteller whose work far surpasses that of most authors I've read. I found myself genuinely enthralled throughout nearly the entire book, and very much look forward to continuing the series soon. Lover Avenged is book #7 in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series.
Note: Sensitive readers should know that this book contains quite a bit of strong language, explicit violence that includes torture and two gory ritualistic assassinations, and explicit sexual content that includes incest (though a good reason is given) and generally non-descriptive mentions of BDSM and menage a trois (not involving the hero and heroine). There are also a couple of creepy scenes involving spiders and scorpions which arachnophobics may want to avoid.
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