In the Caldwell, New York underground, a war is raging between vampires and the Lessening Society, undead humans who have sold their souls to become lessers and whose singular purpose is to see the entire vampire race destroyed. The civilian vampire population's only line of defense is a group of six warriors know as the Black Dagger Brotherhood. They are the strongest of their race, and highly skilled at the combat in which they engage almost nightly with the lessers. The leader of the Brotherhood is Wrath, the last full-blooded vampire on the planet and the blind king of the vampire race. Wrath's entire family was slain by lessers centuries earlier, but unresolved guilt over their deaths has kept him from accepting his rightful place as heir to the throne. Instead he chooses to fight beside his brothers each night while his race is languishing without it's leader.
Beth Randall grew up in a series of foster homes. Her mother died in childbirth, and her father was listed as unknown on her birth certificate. She is now a reporter for the local newspaper, and friends with nearly every cop on the force. One night a cop friend gives her a tip on a car bomb that exploded outside a seedy nightclub killing one man. Little does she know that the murdered man was her father, Darius, and he was not a human, but a vampire. Darius has been watching over Beth since the day she was born, but fearing for her safety, chose not to bring her into his world. He had hoped that she might remain human, but it has recently become clear that she is very close to going through her transition. Darius had intended to go to Beth and fully explain her heritage before that happened, but his death has now left Beth in a precarious position. When the transition hits, she will need the blood of a male vampire to survive, yet she doesn't even know who she is much less that the transition is coming.
Before his untimely death, Darius had tried to enlist Wrath to help his daughter through her transition. Knowing that many vampires don't survive their transition and a half-breed is even more susceptible during this time, Darius had chosen Wrath for his strong, pure bloodline. Darius had previously lost his other children and couldn't bear the thought of losing Beth who is his only surviving child and the daughter of his one true love. Wrath initially refused to help, because he is not particularly fond of humans and felt that he was not nurturing enough to be a suitable candidate to help any female through her transition. With Darius's death though, Wrath knows that he cannot leave his friend's final wish unfulfilled or leave a helpless female to die. When Wrath visits Beth, they share an instant and powerful attraction that leads to a passionate encounter. Slowly Wrath builds Beth's trust in him, and introduces her into the vampire world, but he still intends only to see her through the transition and then find another suitable male to be her mate. It doesn't take Wrath long though to realize that letting Beth go would rip his heart out. His love for her brings him a new strength he's never know, but at the same time could also be his undoing. Their budding but potent love will face threats from forces outside their control as someone within the vampire community seeks vengeance on Wrath, and the lessers continue their relentless pursuit of vampire annihilation. In the meantime, Wrath must come to terms with the past and decide if he is ready to face a future as the leader his race so desperately needs.
Until now, I had only read a handful of paranormal romances, all of which involved time travel, and had never read a vampire romance at all. I really never thought I would be interested, but numerous enthusiastic recommendations by fellow romance readers finally convinced me to try J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood. I was pleasantly surprised to find the first book in the series, Dark Lover, to be a generally enjoyable read. Admittedly, the atmosphere of the book is a little darker than I tend to prefer, but Ms. Ward has managed to use humor, romance and a few other elements that are sure to make readers smile to lighten things up here and there. I certainly don't know much about vampire mythology, but what little I do know, coupled with things that I have heard from other readers, seems to indicate that the author has created a very unique vampire world that is for the most part, all her own. She has definitely made the vampires the “good guys”, by debunking all the usual and most frightening myths surrounding them. However, readers shouldn't expect warm, fuzzy vampires either, as all the members of the Brotherhood are extremely lethal, though typically only toward those who pose a threat to their species or anyone they love. Dark Lover was definitely a story unlike any other I had ever read before.
Though the general story behind Dark Lover was new and unique to me, I found the plot to be rather simplistic and fairly predictable. Unfortunately, I didn't find much in the way of surprises or plot twists, but in spite of this, I still found the story rather intriguing. I would have to credit this to some nail-biting action and some good old-fashioned romance, both of which help to keep the story moving and make things interesting. Ms. Ward also helps to make up for some of the plot deficiencies with great character development. Not only are the hero and heroine pretty well developed, but the secondary characters, including the bad guys, are as well. When creating a book series, most authors only introduce readers to one or perhaps two characters who play major roles in future stories, but in Dark Lover, Ms. Ward has introduced readers to all the members of the Brotherhood, as well as ex-cop, Butch, and female vampire, Marissa, all of whom will play major roles in other books in the series. In some ways the varied character palette was a positive thing, because it helped to add interest to the story. It will also probably help to peak readers interest in other books in the series, as it did mine. In other ways though, I felt that having so many characters on the canvas at once somewhat diluted the main love story between Wrath and Beth. While these two shared a very powerful love that was a pleasure to read, I felt that it could have been built a bit more slowly and with more attention to the details surrounding their emotions, especially regarding past hurts and conflicts. As it was written, I felt that the story just barely scratched the surface of these issues. I am hoping that these characters will continue to play secondary roles in future books in the series. Perhaps these issues will be further addressed later, though this may just be wishful thinking on my part.
In my opinion, Wrath and Beth are a very appealing and well-matched couple. Wrath is a generally dark, brooding hero, and is a rather dichotomous character. I enjoyed the contrast between his persona as a hardened and lethal warrior and that of a passionate, yet gentle and considerate lover. I love the idea of a tough guy being brought to his knees by his love for a woman and becoming completely and hopelessly devoted to her. In addition, having a guy be possessive and protective in a loving way can be very appealing. I also liked Wrath having no problems with expressing his affection for Beth in front of his fellow warriors. While many guys would fear that it might make him look weak, to the contrary, he became a positive role model to the brothers of what a loving relationship can be like, making some of them begin to consider their own futures. In this and other ways, he was not afraid to show his vulnerabilities, which I was thoroughly able to appreciate. His near blindness, a situation which thankfully was not magically fixed during the course of the story, made him even more mysterious and intriguing. Beth made a formidable mate for Wrath, because she was confident enough to stand up to him when he needed to be set straight, and she never let him boss her around like one of his warriors. In spite of not being raised in the best of circumstances, she had a tender, nurturing side which endeared her not only to Wrath, but to all of his brothers as well. She was also as fiercely protective of him as he was of her, and showed her strength and bravery in the face of danger, as well as through her utter devotion to him.
I found most of the secondary characters to be very likable as well. Each of the members of the Brotherhood seems to have a fascinating story that is just waiting to be told. Like their leader, all the members of the Brotherhood are pretty dark and brooding, with the possible exception of Tohrment, who is already happily mated. I enjoyed the sweet relationship between him and his shellan, Wellsie. It just helped to add to the romance of the story. Each of the other four brothers have some major burden to bear, while also possessing some magnificent gifts. Ex-homicide detective, Butch, is not unlike his vampire counterparts, but is surprised to feel a kinship with them and be welcomed as their only human ally. Butch's instant attraction to and budding relationship with female vampire, Marissa, will give readers something of a two-for-one deal on the romance aspect of the story. These two characters will also later star in their own story, Lover Revealed. Even the lessers, who are thoroughly evil and possess no redeeming qualities whatsoever, are painted in such a light that the reader can at least feel that this drastic choice for their lives makes some sense, as they all seemed to be sociopaths to begin with.
While Dark Lover had some weaknesses and could have had tighter plotting, the overall uniqueness of the story was sufficient to stimulate my interest, while the wonderfully drawn characters engaged me. It did start out a bit slow, possibly owing to the large number of characters that were being introduced and the action flipping back and forth between different characters, but ultimately about halfway through I was hooked. J. R. Ward has impressed me with her (and my) first foray into the world of paranormal vampire romance. I enjoyed the story enough that I will definitely continue with the series, and will likely seek out her contemporary titles written under the name of Jessica Bird. I should, however, warn sensitive readers that there is a good deal of strong language in the book as well as violence, though thankfully most of it is not played out in particularly explicit detail. The remaining books in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series are Lover Eternal, Lover Awakened, Lover Revealed, and Lover Unbound, with book six, Lover Enshrined due out next year.
Update: Lover Enshrined was released in June 2008, and The Black Dagger Brotherhood: An Insider's Guide, a companion book to the series will be released Oct. 7, 2008. Book seven, Lover Avenged, is due out next spring. (10/6/08)
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