For years, Trez Latimer and his twin iAm have been on the run from their people, the s'Hisbe, a sub-species of vampires also known as Shadows, who live their lives by the stars. On the day of Trez's birth, the chief astrologer declared him the Anointed One who would one day become the royal consort, fathering the children of the Princess. His parent's sold him into sexual servitude, and while he awaited the day when the Princess would be ready for him, he was held prisoner, with iAm being used as leverage to keep him in line. Wanting nothing to do with a destiny that he didn't choose, Trez, along with his brother, finally made his escape. Since then, the twins have been living with one foot in the human world and the other in the vampire world. The brothers have become esteemed businessmen to the humans, but have also earned the trust and respect of the Brotherhood who have taken them in as one of their own.
Despite no longer living among the s'Hisbe, the destiny they forced upon him still dogs Trez's every move. He knows that the time is drawing near when he will have no choice but to go back and fulfill the demands they have placed upon him. Knowing how much his people prize purity, he has defiled himself with hundreds of women, while iAm stayed by his side, trying to keep him from completely self-destructing. From the moment he met Selena, the beautiful Chosen, at the Brotherhood mansion, he has thought of no one else, but he fears that his attempts to make himself undesirable to the s'Hisbe have also made him unsuitable for a pure and perfect female like her. Though Trez would like nothing more than to be with her, he has kept his distance, never guessing that she has a serious disease that has always been fatal to everyone who contracted it. When fate brings him to her side in the midst of an attack, he finally realizes just how sick she is but refuses to give up on finding a cure. As the medical professionals and others frantically search for a way to heal her, Trez vows to make whatever time she has left the most memorable of her life.
Unable to sit idly by and watch his brother suffer when there might be something he can do, iAm willingly walks back into the lion's den, thinking the s'Hisbe healers may have record of Selena's illness in their medical books. His trip to the Shadow palace if fraught with danger, and also changes his life in ways he never could have predicted. When a terrible tragedy strikes, Trez also makes a selfless decision to keep his friends safe and prevent needless bloodshed, but the toughest choice of his life will come when he hovers at death's door.
Wow! I just finished this book, and I'm still trying to process exactly how it all went down. As I began reading it, I wasn't worried in the least, and even as the pages started flying by and there was less and less space in which to resolve things, I still kept telling myself, "This is a romance, so everything is going to be OK. It has to have an HEA. J. R. Ward has made me think all was lost before and always came through for me in the end, leaving me with a smile on my face and my heart soaring." Well, I kept up that mantra until the last fifteen pages or so, when I finally realized I was going to have to face facts, and the fact was, it wasn't going to end the way I wanted it to. Now let me be clear here: There is an HEA, but it isn't exactly the HEA that I and apparently most other readers were expecting. Not to mention, there is an abundance of sadness, leading up to said HEA, that IMHO really overshadowed it. (No pun intended.) Annnnnd... I'm not really sure how to feel about that. On the one hand, I mostly understand why Ms. Ward wrote it this way, and based on what I've read, the events in this book are definitely going to fuel the main part of the story in the next book. I also have mad respect for Ms. Ward as a writer and completely understand her wanting to stay true to her vision, so it's very hard for me to criticize the choices she made here. But... that doesn't mean I have to like it, and despite there being some happiness, my heart is still broken.
The main part of this book definitely belongs to Trez and Selena. Poor Trez carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Throughout the last several books, we've known that he is the Anointed One of his race, the s'Hisbe. For years, he's been running from them and his destiny that was written in the stars, but he knows the time when they will expect him to return and do his duty as the prize stud of s'Hisbe royalty is drawing to a close. Knowing how much his people value purity, Trez became a man whore in an attempt to defile his body to the point where they wouldn't want him back. The thing that finally put a stop to his self-destructive behavior was an encounter with Selena. He fell in love with her the moment he saw her, and after finally making love to her in the last book, she spoiled him for any other woman. He still, however, doesn't feel he's worthy of a Chosen and has been keeping his distance from her for months. We also know from the last couple of books that Selena is suffering from a rare disease that has only affected The Chosen and has always been fatal. She's been keeping this from Trez, but when she has another attack and he is brought to her side, he finally realizes just how sick she really is. Then he has to face the fact that the female whom he calls his queen and whom he loves more than life itself, has very little time to live, while still hoping for a miracle.
Trez is caught between a rock and a hard place. He has this responsibility to his people which he doesn't want and didn't ask for. It was forced upon him. It's pretty obvious early on that if Selena dies, Trez has every intention of taking his own life, but even if she lives, he doesn't know how he's going to get out of the deal his parents struck with the s'Hisbe queen the day he was born to be with Selena. I had to admire him though for trying very hard not to even think about it, instead focusing solely on taking care of Selena and making what he believes will be her final days the most memorable of her life. I think he succeeded beautifully. I loved the dates Trez and Selena go on, and how Trez even faced his fear of heights to show her an unbelievably awesome time. They definitely had some lovely romantic moments and madcap adventures, including a wild ride through the streets of downtown Caldwell with Fritz behind the wheel (Who knew the proper butler was a crazy stunt driver?) that totally had me cracking up. It was equally amusing that a proper Chosen like Selena was loving every minute of it, while Trez was a little freaked out. I think Trez allowed her to do more living during these dates than she'd probably done in her centuries-old life. As always, I'm head over heels for the intensity of the bonded males. The thought of having all that ardent emotion directed at one female is a heady brew. Also, Trez's willingness and determination to stay by Selena's side, no matter what happens, was incredibly touching.
This book is titled, The Shadows (plural) though, so of course Trez's twin, iAm, has a story of his own too. I've always thought the brotherly love and devotion between these two is very reminiscent of Zsadist and Phury. iAm has basically sacrificed his whole life for Trez. First he was the leverage the s'Hisbe used to keep Trez in the palace, then after they both escaped, it was iAm who watched over Trez and tried to keep him from self-destructing. He really hasn't lived a life of his own, separate from his brother, until this book. He's still a centuries old virgin who has been so focused on his brother's well-being that he hasn't even been interested in any female, but that all changes when he risks his life, going back to the s'Hisbe Territory and sneaking into the palace, looking for a cure for Selena's illness. There he meets a simple hand-maiden, going by the name maichen, who completely changes his life. They share an instant attraction that leads to so much more than iAm ever could've dreamed of. The relationship between these two is very sweet and heartfelt, but in some ways, I felt like they got the short end of the stick. Their scenes are fewer and shorter, and IMHO, their romance is somewhat dimmed by the intensity of what's happening with Trez and Selena. I really would've loved if iAm and maichen's scenes had been at least equal to Trez and Selena's, but I still enjoyed them, even though they were probably the most predictable part of the plot for me.
This being the BDB, there are lots of secondary POVs and side plots. First, I'll say it was great seeing so many of the original brothers involved in this story, none more so than Rhage though. He gets lots of his own POV scenes, observing what's going on with everyone else. I think this is the first time he and Mary have had any significant page time since their own book. As Rhage watches Trez and Selena, he has a major struggle with why he and Mary were blessed with their HEA. Needless to say, he's having "lots of feels," some of which lead to panic attacks for him. By the end of the book, he still hasn't reached any resolution on the things that are bothering him, and now I know why. After I finished the book, I went online and discovered that like with Wrath and Beth in the last book, Rhage and Mary are going to be in the hot seat again, when the next book, The Beast, comes out next spring (2016).
The next most prominent supporting characters were probably Xcor and Layla. Layla is still sneaking out to see Xcor, ostensibly to keep him quiet about the location of the Brotherhood's mansion, but the more time she spends with him, the harder time she has convincing herself that that's the only reason. As she watches what her sister, Selena is going through, Layla finds herself wanting to live in the moment and throw caution to the wind. This makes her a bit more bold with Xcor than she's ever been before. Although Xcor has made it clear in the past that he expects sex from Layla at some point in return for his silence, he hasn't touched her yet out of respect for her pregnant condition. Even though he's finally admitting to himself that he's bonded with her, deep down, he doesn't feel worthy of a Chosen, both because of his deformed face and his time with the Bloodletter. When Layla starts coming on to him, it's more than he can bear. He wants to treat her with gentleness and respect, but her innocent overtures stir an animalistic passion within him, causing him to send her away for her own safety. The more time Xcor spends with Layla though, the more his priorities start to shift. He wants more than anything to keep Layla safe and happy, and he knows that further attacks on the Brotherhood will do neither. This leads to dissension in the ranks of the Band of Bastards, and a not-too-surprising split amongst them.
In this book, we learn a lot more about the s'Hisbe as a race, and I must say that they are as bad if not worse than the symphaths. Their stalwart insistence upon following the stars to the exclusion of any kind of personal choice, cannibalism, infanticide, and ritual cleansings which many don't survive show a definite need for a revolution much like the symphaths had when Rehvenge took over as their leader. I can't say much more about this without giving away spoilers, but this is definitely where a lot of the exciting action occurs. I can't say that I had any particular liking for s'Ex, the queen's executioner, in the previous books, probably because he never seemed to be doing much except dogging poor Trez and iAm with threats of taking Trez back to the Territory. I can't deny though that he often cut them some slack, although usually only because they paid him well with women and booze. That all changed here as Ms. Ward took s'Ex down an unexpected path that makes it pretty obvious that she's setting him up to get his own story at some point.
We get to see more of Abalone in his role as advisor to the King, and his loyalty to Wrath is, as always, quite commendable. He really sticks his neck out for Wrath while trying to keep their enemy close. Readers are also introduced to Abalone's daughter, Paradise. She has been raised as a pampered glymera princess who is expected to merely mate and have young, but much to her sire's chagrin, she begins to test the waters with her independent spirit when she hears that the Brotherhood will be reopening the training center. In the meantime, she works for Wrath under her father's tutelage. Paradise has several conversations with her best friend, Peyton, who has apparently been one of the young glymera males in the running to be her mate. From what I could tell so far, he seems like a pretty upstanding guy except for his streak of chauvinism. However, Paradise doesn't appear to be meant for him. Instead she meets Craeg, another young male who comes to the audience house looking for an application for the training center. The one scene these two shared was electric, and I think they have awesome potential as the first couple in the new spin-off Black Dagger Legacy series. The first book, Blood Kiss, is due for release in December (2015).
Last but not least, we get to see a little bit of Assail, who is still pining for Sola. He remains Caldwell's drug lord, but his unholy alliance with the lessers, who have been dealing his product, comes to a head when the forelesser, Mr. C, starts using the money to buy guns, which are then in turn used on the Brotherhood. Assail finds himself at a critical crossroad and makes some surprising choices in order to maintain his position of power, but which also show him to be redeemable. And finally, we get a couple of scenes with Qhuinn's brother, Luchas, who is still suffering a great deal of ill-effects, both physical and psychological, from his time as a prisoner of the lessers. He's unfortunately throwing a pity party for himself and is determined to die. He's not listening to anyone, but help comes from an unexpected source.
Until now, I would have named Lover Awakened or maybe Lover Unbound as the most difficult book of the series for me to read, but The Shadows has now, without question, far surpassed those stories in emotional intensity. As always, I loved my visit to the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, but this time, as I leave, my heart hurts, which is something that has never happened before and which I hope will never happen again. In time, I'm sure it will heal, as long as J. R. Ward doesn't pull any more stunts like this again. Other than the way everything turned out in the end, the only small complaint I have is that, to me, the love scenes didn't seem as hot this time around. I wouldn't have even noticed except that Ms. Ward is an author who can write scorching, erotic-level love scenes, but most of the ones in this book seemed shorter and, in general, less descriptive than usual. A couple were even fade to black. Otherwise the writing and storytelling is solid and engrossing, so I didn't feel I could mark off any more than a half star without penalizing the author for simply doing what she felt was right and who am I to judge? Every time I read one of these books, I'm awestruck by this world that she's created and how much I love the characters within it. The Brotherhood and everyone they take under their protection is a family by choice, though not always by blood, and it constantly amazes me how when one of them is hurting or in need or their life is on the line, they're all there to lend their love and support, no matter what it costs them. These characters have become a family of a sort to me, which I'm certain is why I feel so sad. But if the cost of remaining in their world a while longer is a temporarily broken heart, that's a price I'll gladly pay. I may have to grieve along with Brothers, but I'll live to fight alongside them another day.
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