Payne has the heart of a warrior, but lives as one of the Scribe Virgin's Chosen. For nearly the entire three centuries of her life, she has been a virtual prisoner in the Sanctuary, but now a cruel twist of fate has finally granted her the freedom she has so long sought, but at a terrible price. An accident during a sparring match with the king has left her with a broken back and paralyzed from the waist down. Payne feels more trapped than ever, but this time in her own body. Knowing that she doesn't have the expertise to treat such an injury, the Brotherhood's Doc Jane calls upon her old boss and human friend, Manny Manello, a brilliant orthopedic surgeon.
Manny can scarcely fathom that Jane, who he had believed dead for a year, is now asking him to perform surgery on a vampire female, a creature he had thought was naught but a myth. The moment Manny lays eyes on Payne though, he feels a burning need not only to help her but to possess her. Manny does everything he can for Payne from a medical standpoint, but when she requires his talented surgeon's hands in a more personal capacity to ensure her recovery, the healer in him cannot resist giving her whatever she needs. Manny fully expects this to be only a temporary arrangement, for how can a vampire and a human enjoy a full and happy life together when his lifespan is so much shorter? Still, every interaction with Payne connects Manny more deeply with her until he knows that he is madly in love and does not want to let her go, but an old nemesis of Payne's with revenge on his mind may steal any chance they have of being together before they can even figure out how to make it happen.
When J. R. Ward first began the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, she had planned for a ten book story arc. Now that the series has gained a huge fan following which only seems to grow larger every day, Ms. Ward has made a commitment to take the Brothers' story beyond her original outline. With this in mind and considering that Lover Unleashed is book #9 of the series, it was not too surprising that it has become something of another transition book with several new characters and secondary plotlines being added as well as some others being built upon which could eventually become the main narrative in future books. Also, the Black Dagger Brotherhood has always been an extremely sexy and sensual series, but Ms. Ward, without a doubt, decided to take a walk on the wild side of romance with the inclusion of some pretty erotic content in Lover Unleashed that goes a bit beyond anything she has written before. She is consistently known for taking chances though, so I can't say that any of this truly shocked me. In fact, there didn't seem to be a lot of surprises in this book in general, like there have been in previous ones of the series. Even one of the big reveals, I saw coming very early in the book. The supposed main hero and heroine didn't quite capture my heart in the same way that many of the other couples have either, but as usual, there was enough going on to hold my attention and keep even a finicky reader like myself engrossed and in the end, satisfied.
Payne is Vishous' twin sister who was introduced in previous books. She is an extremely dichotomous character in that she has the heart and will of a warrior housed in the beautifully ethereal body of a Chosen. She has committed patricide and yet is a demure, innocent virgin who has never even been kissed. In spite of her innocence, she is still quite curious about sex and just a little on the seductive side. She even growls like one of the Brothers at the thought of "her male" being with another woman which I thought was adorable. I love that Payne is so accepting and loving toward her brother, V, and her act from the past is proof that she is every bit as protective of him as he is of her. At the end of Lover Mine, Payne was seriously injured in a sparring match with Wrath on the Other Side, and was brought over to seek medical treatment. Oddly enough, this accident was the catalyst for her finally finding the freedom she had sought for three centuries. Payne was something of a tortured heroine considering that she had been driven to murder her own father and as a result was held captive by the Scribe Virgin (her mother) ever since, but I didn't feel like that part of her was brought out sufficiently. In the beginning, I thought she showed shades of being a lot like V, and while there are some characteristics they shared, overall, she was a very different person. I felt like the promise she extracted from Vishous was rather extreme, and her later wishes surrounding that as well, but I suppose I can give her some leeway considering that she felt as much a prisoner in her own body as she had in the Scribe Virgin's Sanctuary, and because of being so sheltered she was unaware of the things she might be able to do. Overall, I liked Payne, but I couldn't help feeling like she could have been a little better developed as a heroine.
I actually felt much the same way about Manny as the hero. I liked him, but he just didn't have a very compelling backstory. The most interesting piece of information about him isn't revealed until the end, and unfortunately, it was the thing I predicted. He's a brilliant but workaholic surgeon who doesn't have much of a life outside the hospital except for the racehorse he recently purchased. I was a little worried when it seemed that he was still carrying a torch for Jane a year after her "death," but of course the moment he lays eyes on Payne, it pretty much became a case of "Jane who?". Manny can be a bit cocky about his doctoring skills, but talk about his beside manner. Whew! That's some hot stuff.;-) I did love how he was so sweet with Payne, always trying to take his time even thought she made his blood rage with a desire he'd never known before, but she could completely undo him with a word, a touch, or the slightest little thing. I also liked that at 45 in human years, he was a more mature hero which is a rarity in romance.
The way Manny goes about helping Payne heal was certainly a unique and different element which alone made me like it, but at the same time I couldn't help but crave a little deeper relationship development. A couple of times, I did zone out just a bit while waiting for them to really get to know each other, but since it seems there wasn't a lot to know, I can't say that I ever fully got my wish. There is also a lot of holding at arms length especially on Manny's part, because he truly believes whatever is happening between them is, and should be, just a temporary thing. Unfortunately, distance like this in a romance rarely works for me, and even though things did slowly progress, I just never felt an intense love connection between them like I did for many of the other couples in the series. Ultimately, I liked Payne and Manny, and think I could have loved them if there had been a little more substance in their relationship, but in my opinion, it never quite got there.
On the other hand, I was thrilled to see so much of my favorite BDB couple, Vishous and Jane. In an ongoing series like this, it's always nice to revisit some of the characters and see that they are still completely committed to one another, but have problems like any married couple does. It's just that V and Jane's are a bit more extreme than average, and I have to say that it darn near killed me to see them having trust issues which put so much distance between them. It wasn't too surprising though, considering V's past which the reader was privy to in Lover Unbound, but I had forgotten that he hadn't shared much of it with Jane. Now finding out he has a sister is really messing with his head in a big way and stirring up stuff he thought he'd put to rest. I was a little disappointed in Jane for doubting Vishous and for being so quick to help with Payne's "plan," but I also understood her reasons. When it came to her doubts, the issue was very complex and I could see it both ways, and when it came to Payne, she was quite simply scared out of her mind over what Payne's request might do to V's already precarious mental state. In the end, Jane was very intuitive of V's needs and I admire how she has always been so loving and accepting of who he is. For his part, V may be a male of few words, but he knows how to make them count. He also has a difficult time expressing his emotions, but is still able to do a respectable job though his actions, and after a miraculous breakthrough, he only became more lovable to me. Just like in Lover Revealed, Vishous (along with Butch) pretty much stole the show in my mind. Then, his reconciliation with Jane was so deeply touching it left me in tears (just like their book) and with no doubts whatsoever about their staying power and rightness for one another.
As ever, Butch is V's loyal best friend who proved that he was willing to do literally anything for him. I have to admit that initially I was more than a little skeptical about where things seemed to be heading for this pair, because it felt like it could really mess things up both between them as friends and between them and their respective shellans. I was also a little disconcerted by Jane's easy acceptance and wondering why she wasn't getting more involved, until I realized that what V needed went way beyond her comfort level. It was like she'd been playing in the shallow end of the pool and then asked to go off the diving board. I was getting all sorts of weirded out by what I thought was coming, but once again, J.R. Ward amazed me by taking something for which the anticipation had me literally squirming in my seat and then made me totally OK with it in the end. What Butch did to help V face his demons and let go of his bottled-up emotions was thoroughly beautiful and not at all what I was expecting. Rather than giving V what he thought he wanted, Butch intuitively gave him what he needed most, even though it just about killed him to do it. These two share a love that is so inexplicable and deeply complex that to my way of thinking, it cannot be defined and utterly defies categorization. It's not just Eros (even though there has occasionally been a sexual undercurrent present), it's not just Agape (brotherly love), and it's not just Philia (friendship). It's like all three rolled into one with a dash of more ingredients added to make it their own special brand of love and yet somehow it avoids threatening their relationships with their shellans so that I can still easily believe in those HEAs. For an author to be able to express something complicated and intangible like this in a way that I can understand is truly some masterful writing. In spite of Butch's assertions of being fine, however, I can't help wondering if this act and the shocker he got at the end, might not lead to a future post-HEA crisis for him like some of the other Brothers have had.
In addition to the Manny/Payne and Butch/Vishous/Jane storylines, there were some other secondary plots which introduced new characters and built on existing ones. The potential romance for Qhuinn and Blaylock progressed just a little. Blay is still lovers with Saxton even though his heart lies with Qhuinn who made some major changes in this book. Qhuinn still isn't ready to publicly declare his love for Blay, but he did finally admit it to someone. His relationship with Layla also changes and he had a surprise vision of a possible future which left both him and me confused and wanting to know more. Readers are also introduced to a new group of vampires from the Old World, "The Band of Bastards" who are former followers of the Bloodletter. Their leader, Xcor, looks like he may be shaping up to cause some major complications for Wrath. Throe, who appears to be Xcor's second in command, was pretty fascinating and has the potential for great hero material. He, along with Veck, a homicide detective and new partner for Detective Jose de la Cruz, seem to be two different sides of the same coin with their avenging angel personas. I really look forward to seeing more of these two.
Lover Unleashed turned out to be yet another good read in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Even though Manny and Payne didn't fully capture my attention as a main couple, some of the other supporting characters helped to pick up the slack. There could have been a little more action too. As written, there were only a couple of lesser encounters. Although many fans will probably be pleased to know that there were no lesser point-of-view scenes, I thought the lack of their presence or any other major physical conflicts made the story a bit slow-paced at times. However, a lot can be said for emotional conflicts of which there were quite a few. As always it was a pleasure to visit with the Brotherhood. Now that I'm finished with Lover Unleashed, I'm sad that I'll have to wait another year before I get to do it again, but if J. R. Ward sticks to her original plan of making Tohr hero #10, that ought to be a book well worth waiting for.
Note: This book contains quite a bit of strong language, explicit violence which includes a string of grisly serial killings, and explicit sexual content including the use of BDSM devices (though not for sexual pleasure), menage a trois, and some male/male action, all of which some readers may find offensive.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook