Despite having everything he thought he wanted to make his life complete, Rhage is still plagued by feelings of panic and insecurity. He also senses a distance in his relationship with his shellan, Mary. On the night the Brotherhood stages a raid on the lessers' headquarters, he finally has an epiphany. Rhage's Brother, Vishous, tells him to go home, warning that he's had a vision of this battle and it's the night Rhage will die. Knowing that his bargain with the Scribe Virgin will allow his beloved Mary to come with him unto the Fade, he has no fear of death, and with his beast itching for a fight, he ignores Vishous's prophecy and runs headlong into the battle. It ends with him having a near-death experience that changes his whole outlook on life. After that, nothing is the same for him. Looking into the eyes of Wrath's infant son, Rhage realizes that he'll never have the kind of immortality that comes with passing on his DNA and his legacy to his offspring. He thought he'd made peace with Mary's barrenness when he made the deal for her life, but now it weighs on him and he doesn't know how to tell Mary without making her feel inadequate.
When Mary rushed to the battlefield as Rhage lay dying, she simply couldn't let him go despite the Scribe Virgin's bargain. In her work at Safe Place, she's been helping a young female who was traumatized by an abusive father and who just watched her mahmen die too. The little girl is all alone, and Mary's first thought upon fearing for Rhage's life is how can she leave this helpless orphaned young alone on Earth while she selfishly follows her mate unto the Fade. So Mary makes a desperate bid for Rhage's life. When it works, she has no idea how to tell her hellren that she didn't do it for him, or even for them, but for a young who has come to mean more to her than a mere patient. It's not until Rhage and Mary are able to clear the air between them over their guilty feelings that things finally begin to move forward in their relationship again and the rift begins to close. But as it does, they may find more joy and happiness than they ever thought possible and fill a hole in their lives they never realized was there.
After turning the last page of The Beast, I couldn't help thinking that J. R. Ward really made up for all the tears and heartache of the last book with an extra helping of joy and happiness in this one. Not that she didn't make me wonder a couple of times if things might go badly for a couple of characters, but in the end, there were positives all around. Rhage and Mary were back in the hot seat as the focus couple of this book, and while they were feeling some distance between them in their relationship early on, they started to close that gap pretty quickly and things just got better and better as the story progressed. Besides Rhage and Mary, there are lots of other POV characters and lots of things happening that made the book very hard to put down. More than anything, I really hated finishing it and knowing there's another year to go before I get another BDB story. At least I have the BDL to fill in the gap, but even that's going to be a long wait.:-(
In The Shadows, the previous book of the series, Rhage was suffering from panic attacks and a generally unsettled feeling. After having a near-death experience at the beginning of this book, which was caused by him not listening to Vishous's warning of his impending death and jumping the gun in their big battle with the lessers, Rhage finally realizes that it has to do with watching his Brothers with their young and knowing that he'll never have the kind of real immortality that comes from procreating and passing his legacy on to his offspring. He ends up longing for a child when he thought he'd made peace with all of that at the time he made his bargain with the Scribe Virgin for Mary's life. At first, he doesn't want to tell Mary any of this, because he doesn't want her to feel inadequate because of her barrenness. But once they're both able to open up about some things, they start to heal the rift between them in preparation for a blessing. Don't get me wrong, I love all the Brothers in different ways, but for some reason, Rhage has never quite been at the top of my list. After reading this book, though, I'm beginning to rethink that. Rhage has such a huge heart and he pretty much wears it on his sleeve, which is somewhat unusual for these guys. In much the same way that he fell in love at first sight (or I guess that would be first hear ;-)) with Mary, he also fell for little Bitty the moment he met her, and he's totally amazing with the kid. It's easy to see that he'll make an incredible father. The other thing I adore about Rhage is that he only has eyes for his Mary. As usual, there are lots of women trying to flirt with him and get his attention (He's so beautiful, they can't seem to help themselves around him.), but they barely even register on his radar. He more or less knows they're there and what they're doing, but he just simply doesn't care or pay them any mind. He also has a way of putting them in their place without completely putting them down, which is sweet. Rhage definitely recaptured my heart in this story, and I'm sure I'll be moving him up my favorite heroes list after this.
Mary has been feeling the distance too, and it only gets worse - for a while - after she goes to the battlefield where Rhage lays dying and makes a desperate bid to save his life. She feels guilty because she didn't try so hard to save Rhage for him or their relationship, because she knew she could simply choose to join him in the Fade if he passed. She did it because she couldn't bear the thought of leaving behind an orphaned and traumatized little female she'd been helping at Safe Place. Mary has been very close to Bitty since she and her mahmen came to live at Safe Place, and she sees a lot of herself in the girl. Now that Bitty's mother has passed on, Mary feels a deep connection with her, but she's afraid to allow herself to explore these feelings that have become more maternal than those of a patient and therapist relationship. Once she and Rhage clear the air about all this, things are set on a straight path to an HEA. I've always admired Mary for her calm demeanor and her extraordinary ability as a therapist. She's helped so many of the characters in this series both on and off canvas. One of the things I love most about her, though, is her ability to tame Rhage's beast. Whenever she's on the scene, the huge purple monster turns into a giant pussy cat, which is too cute.:-)
The third character in this part of the storyline is Bitty, a sweet female young, who's been through a terrible ordeal. I think I vaguely recall there being a mention in one of the previous books quite a long way back about the Brothers rescuing her and her mahmen from her abusive father. They've been living at Safe Place ever since. Her mahmen was pregnant at the time they came to live there, but she lost the young she was carrying and never recovered, dying at the beginning of this book. At that point, Bitty is very withdrawn, not really responding to anyone and holding out hope that an uncle no one has ever heard of or can find any record of is coming to "rescue" her. That all changes when Bitty makes a request that Mary take her to her old house to collect some of her things, and Mary insists that Rhage go with them for protection. It was so sweet how Rhage instantly connected with Bitty and was able to draw her out over their shared interest in his purple GTO. Every time these two are in a scene together, it's a heartwarming father/daughter bonding moment. Not long after Rhage gets through to Bitty, she begins to open up to Mary as well, and they share some deeply emotional scenes too. I think my favorite part of the entire book, though, was seeing how the beast responded to Bitty. That was absolutely priceless.
As I mentioned earlier, and as is typical for the BDB books, there are plenty of other POVs. I'll start with Assail, because I felt like there was a lot of forward progress in his storyline. Throughout the book, he's still battling - or perhaps more accurately giving in to - his cocaine addiction, but I could sense that it was gradually reaching a breaking point. His redemption began in the last book with him bringing the head of the forelesser to the Brothers, and at the beginning of this book, he joins them in raiding the lessers' latest headquarters. He then agrees to become a spy for the King in the household of the aristocrat who's harboring Throe, in an attempt to discover what nefarious things the glymera might be planning. Throughout the story, Assail struggles between his bad self and this newfound better side, while revealing a new side to his sexuality. I think it has more to do with his love of dominance and playing games than anything else, though, because he's still pining deeply for his beloved Marisol, whom he believes is far out of his reach. By the end, Assail gets the chance to become a real hero, and the emotions that are drawn out of him by that experience make me sense that there might be something deeper, perhaps in his past, fueling them. When he first appeared a couple of books ago, Assail didn't really catch my eye, but the events surrounding him in this book are making me change my mind.
Next are Xcor, Layla, Qhuinn, and Blay. Xcor spends nearly the entire book unconscious, a prisoner of the Brotherhood. Basically the Brothers are merely waiting for him to wake up, so that they can torture him for information and then execute him for attempted regicide. But of course, we all know that can't happen.;-) During his one moment of lucidity, Xcor's only thought is for Layla, so we know he's still in love with her and the feeling is mutual. She can sense his presence in the training center, but she's still afraid to tell the Brothers the extent of her involvement with him. She does, however, make a trip to the Other Side, where she digs up some surprising information about Xcor that will most likely be his saving grace, when these two become the hero and heroine of the next book, The Chosen, which will probably be released next spring (2017). In the meantime, Layla is still desperately trying to hold onto to her pregnancy and not give birth to the twin young too soon. She's doted upon in her convalescence by the loving daddies, Qhuinn and Blay. This threesome's part of the story ended up being a major nail-biter.
We also get to see quite a bit from Vishous's POV, which I loved since he's one of my favorite Brothers. At first, I thought it was just because his ability to predict the future and his position in the Brotherhood made him an obvious choice for certain scenes, but he also goes through some moments of deeper contemplation that are more about him and Jane and their future. He also deals with his mommy issues a little bit, and there's a shocking development regarding said maternal figure, the Scribe Virgin, that I didn't see coming, and that will likely have repercussions throughout the next few books of the series.
Last but not least, we're introduced to a couple of new characters. The danger of humans stumbling upon a vampire/lesser fight or something else vampire related and filming it with a camera phone is something that's been posited a few times in recent books, and now it looks like that may be starting to build a bit. In this one, a guy records a video of the big battle between the Brotherhood and the lessers in which Rhage beasts out and posts it on YouTube. He drags his roommate, Jo, a human woman, into what she initially thinks are his drug-induced hallucinations, but after doing some digging of her own, she starts to believe him. She teams up with an investigative journalist from the local newspaper and they begin to unearth some suspicious things, while he finds a surprising connection between Jo and another character who's been a part of the series for quite a while. The second new character is a vampire male named Markcus. He doesn't get his own POV, but he's a compelling character already. I can't say much about him without giving away spoilers, but he's already proving himself as a male of worth. His appearance is also having a profound affect on Assail and Zsadist, and I'm eager to see where things go with him in future books of the series.
All in all, The Beast was an absolutely perfect read. I loved all the storylines and wouldn't have changed a thing about any of them. The Brotherhood dealt the Omega a huge blow in this book, and for the first time in a long time, he physically put in an appearance. There's some talk about the Dhestroyer prophecy and how they might be able to rid themselves of the Omega and his lessers once and for all. It makes me wonder a bit if The Warden is starting to think about wrapping the series up, but if so, I hope it won't be for quite a while yet. As it usually does around this time every year, it feels like it's going to be a long wait until the next BDB book comes out. I'm really stoked for Xcor and Layla's story. I've been waiting for them to get together for a long time now and can't wait to see how Ms. Ward manages to fully redeem Xcor. For now, I'll have to console myself with Blood Vow, the next Black Dagger Legacy book, but as it doesn't come out until December (2016), even seven months is feeling like an eternity.
Note: There are a couple of scenes in which a secondary character plays voyeur at what amounts to an orgy and later sets up a M/F/M menage a trois between three supporting players. Since the POV character isn't actually involved in the sex, it's mostly in the background without a lot of details. The rest of the love scenes are typical of J. R. Ward's super-steamy but not quite erotic writing style.
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