For more than two centuries, Phury has always taken care of those around him, his parents, his twin, the Brotherhood, everyone but himself. In spite of his constant selflessness, Phury has felt like a failure to all his loved ones. To dull the pain of his perceived inadequacy, he uses red smoke, a drug to which he has become hopelessly addicted, and can now barely think of anything else except getting his next hit. In one of his more recent altruistic acts, Phury, as the the only remaining unmated member of the Brotherhood, accepted the responsibility of becoming the Primale of the vampire species in place of his brother, Vishous. As Primale, Phury has a "harem" of forty females known as the Chosen with whom he must mate to carry on the pure bloodlines of both the Brotherhood and the Chosen. Cormia is the Chosen who was selected to be his First Mate, but unable to follow through with the distasteful mating ritual, Phury "kidnapped" Cormia from her home on the Other Side and brought her to his home on the Far Side, where they have been living in limbo. At first Cormia was afraid of Phury, but as she spends time around him and sees him for the unselfish male that he is, she alone wants to belong to him. Unbeknownst to Cormia, Phury is beginning to have feelings for her as well, and finds himself wanting to mate her and only her. As Phury struggles with the promise he made as Primale, the voice of his addiction takes control of his life, making him feel unworthy of ever having his heart's desire.
In the meantime, the Brotherhood's most promising new trainees, John Matthew, Qhuinn and Blaylock are confronted with some surprising revelations that will test the limits of their friendship, while the attraction between John and Xhex continues to build. Rehvenge shows his mettle as an ally of the Brotherhood, while battling his own demons from the past from which there seem to be no escape. Zsadist and Bella endure the stress and worry over the potentially dangerous impending birth of their young. An old acquaintance of the Brotherhood returns bringing with him a valuable asset that they had lost. And all the while, the war between the vampires and the lessers escalates to new highs as the Omega creates a new breed of lesser that will wreak havoc on the entire vampire population, by completely turning their world upside down.
I had noticed that Lover Enshrined, like Lover Unbound, its predecessor in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, seemed to have quite a few low ratings, but unlike with Lover Unbound, this time I did not let the discontent of others influence my reading of the book. I am so glad that I didn't, because even though I cannot say that Lover Enshrined is one of my favorites in the series, it was still a very good story. It was also a very busy story with so much happening within its pages that I am still trying to process it all. After reading the last two books, I had predicted that big changes were afoot in the entire vampire world, and it looks like all of those changes came down in this one volume. In fact, so many things were altered, it is, in some ways, like J. R. Ward is reinventing the entire series, and at the very least, is moving it forward to the next generation, so to speak. Since so much is dumped on the reader at one time, I think it is going to take me a while to get used to it all, but overall, I feel that everything that happened made sense and has moved in a positive direction. I'm not sure how many more books Ms. Ward has planned for the series, but I am sensing a slow building of the story arc towards an epic culmination. While perhaps not quite as compelling as some of the other volumes in the series, Lover Enshrined is still a solid piece of storytelling that is packed cover-to-cover with a little bit of everything from creepy horror movie moments, to intense action-packed sequences, to emotion-laden scenes that brought tears to my eyes.
While I did enjoy the book as a whole, as well as lots of the little individual moments within it, the one thing I would have liked to see more of would have been Phury and Cormia together as a couple. Considering that theirs was supposed to be the core romantic relationship in the story, they just didn't have quite enough time on the canvas to suit me. In fact, they only have a major scene together about once every 100 pages or so. In addition, all of their interactions except for one scene where Cormia helps Phury though detox, were of a sexual nature, with no real getting-to-know you moments. Granted their relationship began in Lover Unbound, but didn't really progress very far. There was also about five months in between books during which the reader could perhaps surmise that they spent some time together, but there is no real indication of that in Lover Enshrined. They seem to still be virtual strangers to each other, yet they end up falling in love very easily, which didn't really work for me. I just didn't feel that all-consuming bond of passion between them that was present in all the other brothers' romances. I also had mixed feelings about Phury and Cormia's first real love scene which was rather rough compared to their previously gentle and utterly beautiful scenes together, and I felt like there wasn't enough pay-off to the scene considering that both characters had essentially lost their virginity. While I found Phury's uncertainties due to his near virginal state to be very endearing, I was also a little frustrated with him for letting his desires build up to the boiling point until his male bonding instinct took over, but looking at it objectively, having things happen the way they did set off a firestorm of other events which propelled the plot forward. Also in looking back to previous books in the series, it seems that none of the couples have had what I would term "ideal" first matings, so at least Ms. Ward is being consistent. However, in those other stories, she would always back-track to a more tender, romantic place, and while that did happen for Phury and Cormia to some extent, I didn't feel that it was rendered nearly as strongly as it could have been.
While I may not have been fully satisfied with Phury and Cormia's relationship development, I did like both of them as individuals. Based on her appearance in Lover Unbound, Cormia was pretty much everything I expected her to be. She is gentle and meek, but not a doormat, as she tends to question her faith and heritage, as well as stand up to the Primale. Being one of the Chosen and having been raised in a very traditional sense, she is much like the women of historical romances who may long for more, but have few options open to them. I really liked her child-like innocence in the beginning and how she takes such joy and pleasure in the feast for the senses that she finds on the Far Side. I also enjoyed her guilty fantasies of having Phury all to herself and not having to share him with her Sisters, and her gradually finding herself as an individual instead of just a part of the collective Chosen. Even though Cormia was rather reserved and may not have had the most sparkling personality I've ever read, I still thought that she was just the type of gentle soul Phury needed to help him heal his past wounds, and I liked her pretty well. I guess I never would have expected that a drug addict would make a compelling hero, but Phury did in a very unique and non-traditional way. Like Cormia he also has a tender heart, and has taken the weight of responsibility for everyone around him onto his own shoulders, always being the selfless one, while loosing his own identity in the process. Except for when his warrior instincts or male bonding instincts kick in, he is far more of a beta hero than any of the other members of the Brotherhood, which in my opinion made his position as Primale an apt place for him to be. Phury's drug addiction could be both frustrating and heartbreaking to read, but in spite of that, it was, in my opinion, a rather ingenious way to write it. I imagined that what I was feeling while reading these parts is not unlike what the loved ones of addicts feel while watching that person destroy their lives. I found Phury's wake-up call and two subsequent major revelations to be very poignant. I suppose that Ms. Ward could have given Phury some kind of miraculous happy ending, but the way she chose to write his battle with the addiction and recovery process, though not always easy to read, was very realistic.
With Phury and Cormia's romance taking up less space than usual, I thought this book really had more of an ensemble cast rather than primary and secondary characters. Quite a bit of new information is revealed about Rehvenge, and his character is interwoven in several plot lines, probably in preparation for him becoming the hero of the next book, Lover Avenged. Readers also learn a few new things about Xhex, while the sexual tension between her and John Matthew ratchets up a notch. Based on her appearance in previous books, I wasn't sure that I was going to like Xhex, but I started to warm up to her a little more in this story. I continued to enjoy the deep friendship between John Matthew, Qhuinn, and Blaylock, but the surprising confession of one of the friends nearly causes a huge rift in the trio while the rash actions of another, unwittingly leads to an escalation in the war between the vampires and the lessers. The full measure of Lash's evil nature is revealed when he does the unthinkable to John, and his actions also contribute in a big way to the expansion of the war. All the brothers and their shellans with the exception of Mary and Marissa, make appearances (though some are no more than cameos) in Lover Enshrined, but not surprisingly, Zsadist and Bella play the biggest roles. There is some contention in Zsadist and Phury's relationship that was difficult to read, but a joyous event at the end helps to heal the rift between the twins. The Chosen, Layla and Amalya, put in another appearance as well. I like them both, especially Layla, and hope that they find happy endings in future installments. I'm thinking perhaps one or both would make good mates for Rehv and/or Qhuinn, but I'll just be patient and see what happens. There are several new Chosen introduced as well, and a brief scene with them near the end had me laughing, which is something of a rarity for this dark series. Readers are also introduced to a new character, Lassiter, a fallen angel and apparent frenemy of the Brotherhood, who arrives bearing an unexpected "gift" for them. There is also a brief appearance by the Scribe Virgin, and plenty of action from the Omega's side with a new fore-lesser, Mr. D, a good ol' country boy (but still a royal psycho), which I couldn't help but find rather funny. With the canvas jam-packed with so many characters, most of which played fairly major roles, I'm sure it's easy to see why this book was so busy.
Lover Enshrined is book #6 in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, and is preceded by Dark Lover, Lover Eternal, Lover Awakened, Lover Revealed, and Lover Unbound. Book #7, Lover Avenged is due to be released this spring, and there is also a new companion book to the series, The Black Dagger Brotherhood: An Insider's Guide. There were some things about Lover Enshrined that I thought could have been better, in particular the romance aspect and the fact that Phury was not really the main focus of what should have been his own story. I also thought that there was a little too much plot crammed into one book that perhaps, if spread out, could have created a couple of even richer stories, but I still enjoyed reading it. I do hope that Ms. Ward returns to the strong core relationship stories in future volumes, but no matter what, the overall story arc is one that has become so addictive and engaging, I can't imagine myself not eagerly awaiting each new book as it is released. J. R. Ward also writes contemporary romance as Jessica Bird.
Note: Sensitive readers should be forewarned that this book contains very strong language, as well as explicit violence and sexual content including one brief M/M kiss which may offend some readers.
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