Xhex is a vampire/symphath hybrid who has spent most of her life working as an assassin. Over the years, she has become as hardened as any warrior, but even warriors can be broken. When Xhex went on a mission to rescue her best friend from the hands of the symphaths, she herself was abducted by Lash, son of the evil Omega and head of the Lessening Society who have been at war with the vampires for centuries. Since it is not in her nature to give up, Xhex fights him tooth and nail, but after spending weeks in captivity being tortured, she is starting to become resigned to her imminent death.
John Matthew has loved Xhex from afar since the moment they met, and their relationship recently took a very complicated turn. However, when Xhex is kidnapped, the fierce bonded male in him comes to the surface, prepared to do anything he must to get her back, even though he's not certain she still lives. His tireless search finally pays off, but after the couple is reunited, Xhex keeps herself at a distance. A part of her wants John Matthew, but she already lost one lover in the past and doesn't know if she can bear that again. She also has an unquenchable thirst for revenge against her captor, and when it comes to her work, she's always been a loner. John Matthew must draw on the wisdom of two lifetimes to find the delicate balance between allowing Xhex her independence and his obligation to protect her as his bonded mate, but will it be enough to keep Xhex from breaking his heart once her vengeance has been exacted?
After reading the latest novel in The Black Dagger Brotherhood series, I'm not sure that J. R. Ward is capable of writing a bad book. Lover Mine was another great installment in the series which broke out of the box in a couple of different ways. It had the first alpha-female heroine who is also a commitment-phobe. This led to something of a role reversal from the earlier books with the hero essentially saving the heroine from herself and her demons, rather than the other way around. Lover Mine also had what appears to be shaping up as the first gay romance in the series between two secondary characters. I have to give the author kudos for doing something different even though both of these stories occasionally frustrated me in some ways. I really liked that John Matthew and Xhex were on the canvas more than the most recent heroes and heroines, albeit not always in each other's company, and the majority of the sub-plots directly connected to them in some way. All in all there was quite a lot to enjoy here.
I've adored John Matthew since the moment he first appeared way back in book #2 of the series, Lover Eternal, and have been hoping for great things for him. With his muteness (the only hero I've ever read who is), he has always been a unique character, but J. R. Ward does a great job with his communication skills even though he can't speak. He is a truly gentle soul with a nice mix of alpha and beta, but I think he leans a bit more beta than any of the other brotherhood heroes besides Phury. Except for one brief lapse of selfishness in the last book which didn't suit him well at all, John is always thinking of others, putting them first, and trying to do the right thing. I love what he did at the beginning of the story to show how completely devoted he was to Xhex even though they had never shared a real relationship and he believed she might dead, as well as his determination to find her, dead or alive, and bring her captor to justice. Once Xhex is found, John showers her with love and affection in little ways, by being tender and performing small tasks for her with great care, and then later by making the ultimate sacrifice for her. John is her steady rock, always just quietly there for her even when Xhex doesn't seem to want him to be. He does have his limits though, and when Xhex stubbornly pulls away from him, he retreats as well, but not before giving her an ultimatum which I really appreciated at that point. John isn't all sweetness though. When the bonded male in him comes out, we get to see a side of him that is as fierce as a hurricane, and quite different from the docile John of earlier books but still quite appealing. John's utter devotion to Xhex is amazing and to say that he's a fabulous guy would be an understatement. He has definitely taken a place as one of my all-time favorite brotherhood heroes.
Xhex was a character I wanted to love every bit as much as John did, but at times she frustrated me. I've never had an easy time relating to tough, kick-butt heroines, and that may have played into my mixed feelings as well. I admired her strength and determination in the face of Lash's torture and how she always kept her wits about her, doing whatever she needed to do to stay alive. I also love the way she fights out in the field. Her grit and independence worked to her advantage until she was reunited with John, and then I felt that it played against her. She waffles between being vulnerable with John without loosing her innate edginess and stubbornly keeping herself at arms length. I understood her need and desire for vengeance against Lash, but she definitely took it too far in my opinion, at which point, it seemed like she cared more about getting revenge than about John's feelings. I really sympathized with everything she had been through in the past and at Lash's hands and suppose all that she had suffered made her dysfunctional behavior understandable, but I still strongly disliked her acting in such a selfish manner. I realize that every person reacts differently to trauma, but one thing that didn't quite ring true to me was how Xhex had flashbacks and pulled away the first time she and John tried to make love after being reunited, but then mere hours later she was perfectly fine and had no further problems. Considering that she still had phobias associated with her other experience in captivity twenty years ago, it just didn't quite make sense that she would overcome her most recent tortures so easily. Otherwise, everything worked all right for me. I was so glad when Xhex finally came to her senses and realized how much John meant to her. She made up for everything she'd done to John in a very touching and emotional scene which put tears in my eyes. In my opinion, Xhex showed her willingness to change for John and as long as she treats him right from here on out (and I truly think she will), then she's OK in my book, even if she isn't my ideal heroine.
Lover Mine also gave me my first taste of a gay romance, something I've never read before. The dynamic between Qhuinn and Blaylock is quite interesting, that of best friends who deep down would like to be lovers, but stubbornness and tradition are keeping a wall between them. I thought it interesting that since Blay's "coming out" a few books ago, Qhuinn's voracious sexual appetite has led him down a path of experimentation and probable bi-sexuality. I've always liked him as a character, but not so much his man-slut ways. I was glad to see though that Qhuinn actually does have some scruples when it comes to his sex life which means that there is definite hope for him to change. Qhuinn obviously cares very deeply about Blay as more than just friends, but still clings to the glymera ideal of a "normal" mating. I've always liked Blay too, because he is a perfect gentleman in a warrior's body. Even though in some ways it seemed like he was giving up on Qhuinn a little too easily, I felt that he had every right to seek out other relationships when Qhuinn gave him the cold shoulder. I might have even liked Saxton, his new love interest, except that it's pretty obvious he's an unwanted third wheel, and I really don't care for love triangles much. I think Qhuinn and Blay definitely have a future together if Qhuinn would just stop being so stubborn and they could find their way back to communicating like they did when they were just best friends.
This being The Black Dagger Brotherhood, there were several other sub-plots too. I really enjoyed the historical flashbacks to the early brotherhood of the 1600's. Readers get to see some of the ancestors of the current brothers and learn the origins of Darius and Tohr's friendship. Since Darius died in Dark Lover, all that has been told about him was through the eyes of others, so it was nice to see him in some actual scenes. Not surprisingly, John Matthew is the complete embodiment of Darius. It was really neat to see the past and present converge, coming full circle in John and Xhex's destiny. There is another side-plot in the present involving a group of ghost hunters who are trying to host their TV show at a civil war mansion that is purportedly haunted by it's former owner. At first, I wanted to get through those parts as quickly as possible to get back to the rest of the story, until I realized that it had a connection to everything else too. I correctly guessed who the "ghost" was right before it was revealed, and I look forward to seeing how he may affect future plotlines. It was great to see John and Tohr finally rebuilding their relationship, and Tohr getting back in the game even though he is still grieving deeply. We also get to see more of Payne, Layla and No'One (I can't remember if she was introduced before or was new in this story), their interactions amongst themselves on The Other Side, and with other characters in the story. I sympathize with Payne's frustration over being locked away by the Scribe Virgin, and how she finally escaped that life was left as something of a cliffhanger. I can't wait to see her as the heroine of the next book, Lover Unleashed, and learn more about her background. Layla is one of my favorites among the Chosen. She has a definite crush on Qhuinn, so I hope she'll be able to find an HEA sometime in the future. The very first scene with No'One had me intrigued with her and when her true identity was revealed I was quite surprised. She is a character who truly deserves an HEA, and I find myself hoping that maybe it will be with Tohr. As usual, the stuff with Lash, the lessers and the Omega was pretty disturbing. Lash saying he "loved" Xhex turned my stomach, and even though I'm not typically the blood-thirsty sort, I couldn't help but enjoy how everything turned out for him. No one could have been more deserving.
For the most part, Lover Mine had all the things one would usually expect from a novel in The Black Dagger Brotherhood series. The action scenes played out in my head just like the best movies. There were lots of creepy horror moments. Although this book was pretty dark and it took a while to get to them, there was a little comic relief, mostly from Trez, iAm, Rhage and V. All of the brothers, some of the shellans, and several other characters from past books reemerged. The story has some very romantic moments, but it still wasn't quite as romantic as some of the other books for me. I think this may have been mainly owing to Xhex not being a hearts and flowers kind of girl like I am. The love scenes were steamy but in my opinion, not exactly pages-smokin'-burn-your-fingers hot like some of the earlier books. This probably was because I felt that John and Xhex had a great sexual connection but were somewhat lacking in the emotional connection, communication and relationship departments. In spite of a few frustrations, mainly with Xhex and to a lesser degree, Qhuinn, this was still a fabulous book that has earned a spot on my keeper shelf along with the others in the series. Sometimes the ending of a story can make or break it, and in this case, a spectacular ending really helped to make up for my earlier annoyances. Lover Mine is book #8 in The Black Dagger Brotherhood. For the first time since I started reading the series, I am caught up and eagerly awaiting the release of the next book, but rather sad that I won't get to visit with these characters again until next year (2011).
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook