Elise is grieving the loss of her first cousin in a grisly murder, while feeling frustrated that her family won't acknowledge her cousin's death in a constructive way. She's working on her PhD in psychology and wants to someday be a counselor to the vampire race to help those who might be going through similar situations as the one affecting her own family. Knowing that her father wouldn't approve, she's been studying in secret, but when he finds out, she's in danger of having the one thing that really matters taken away from her. It's not until another member of the glymera talks with Elise's father that he finally comes to his senses and offers the compromise of hiring a bodyguard for her. When she discovers that the male he's chosen is none other than one she'd met while out with another cousin and who stirred feelings within her body that she's never felt before, she fears he may be irresistible. But when she discovers he's hiding secrets, how can she trust him when she prizes honesty above all else?
Axe has proven himself to be a worthy fighter for the Brotherhood's new training program, but he's a warrior who lives in perpetual loneliness and emotional pain. He's spent the last few years trying to dull it with his vices, first drugs and now sex. His mother, who had ambitions of being mated to a member of the aristocracy, left him and his father when he was just a young. Not only did her abandonment leave Axe scarred, but it left his father a shell of his former self, a male who spent his days pining for a shellan who would never return. Then his father was killed in the raids when the aristocrats for whom he worked wouldn't allow him or the other servants and working class vampires into their safe room despite having the space to save them. Needless to say, there's no love lost between Axe and the glymera, but when an aristocratic female is in need of a bodyguard, Axe desperately needs the money and so applies for the job. The chemistry between him and Elise is combustible from the start, and she seems far different than he would have expected a member of the hated glymera to be. But can he really trust her not to just use him and then leave him a broken male like his father?
Blood Vow is the latest book in J. R. Ward's new Black Dagger Legacy series that runs parallel with her Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Two books into the BDL, I can now say that I really don't feel like you can read one series without the other, because the core group of characters are so closely intertwined that I don't think either series will make much sense to readers if they aren't read together. If you only read the BDB and not the BDL, you'll miss out on additional story lines involving the main Brotherhood characters. By the same token, if you only read the BDL and not the BDB, I think readers will feel like there's a whole lot missing in the story lines involving the main Brotherhood characters, undoubtedly leaving them wondering who certain characters are and how certain situations came to be. So, with that in mind, I highly recommend reading both series together in publication order. I know I'm certainly not complaining, because I love these guys so much. Now I get double the pleasure, double the fun, with two trips into the Brotherhood world each year, which is totally awesome.:-)
The main hero of Blood Vow is Axe, one of the six recruits who made it into the Brotherhood's newly reopened training program. Axe is a loner, who has no family and doesn't really mesh well with most of the other trainees. He comes from a family of working-class vampires and lives in a tiny cottage outside Caldwell that doesn't even have heat or electricity, because he can't afford it. His mahmen walked out on him and his father, when he was only ten, because she wanted a better life and had ambitions of becoming the shellan of a wealthy member of the glymera. After she left, Axe watched his father turn into a ghost of the male he used to be. His father provided for Axe and raised him, but he was always distant, focusing on his woodcarving, while pining for his female. Eventually he was killed in the raids when the glymera members he was working for wouldn't allow the lower class workmen or servants into their safe room despite have plenty of space to save them. As a result, Axe harbors a lot of resentment toward anyone of the upper classes. He saw the training program as a way out of his crappy life, so he's focused on being the best soldier he can be, while trying not to allow himself to be distracted by anyone or anything. His only indulgence is regular trips to The Keys, a sex club where he gets his fixes. After struggling with a drug addiction and finally giving that up, sex became his only outlet for the pain of his past, until he meets Elise. When he's offered a position as bodyguard to the aristocratic female, it's not exactly his idea of a dream job, but he needs the money and she stirred his desires in an irresistible way from the moment he first saw her. In that instant, every other female basically ceased to exist, which makes Axe worry that he might end up like his father if she ever decides to leave him, but he couldn't stop wanting her if he tried.
Elise is the cousin of Allishon, the female vampire who was murdered in the first BDL book, Blood Kiss. Elise's uncle is polite but distant, her aunt won't leave her room, and her father won't speak of her cousin or what happened to the other female, leaving Elise to deal with the loss on her own. She's also trying to make sense of her own life and why her family acts the way they do, while putting Allishon's memory to rest. One of the ways she's working on figuring these things out is by studying psychology. She's very close to earning her PhD, and wants to someday be a counselor to the race to help vampires like her family deal better with these types of issues. However, in order to go to school, she must go behind her father's back, as females of the glymera aren't allowed to do much of anything besides find a mate and look good on his arm. When her father catches her sneaking in, he considers requesting that she be placed in sehclusion, which would take away all her rights, but he's persuaded by another male of his class not to take such drastic measures. Instead, he insists she have a bodyguard with her at all times, which is where Axe comes into the picture. Elise had met him once when she sneaked out to see her cousin, Peyton, who is also a trainee, and the attraction between them was combustible. So she's not at all averse to the idea of having Axe around all the time. I love that Elise wasn't judgmental toward Axe for his low-born station. She actually finds his home charming despite the lack of amenities. However, Elise values honesty above all else, so she does have a moment where she loses faith in Axe when she finds out he lied to her about one thing and then starts thinking he may be lying about others as well. But I have to give her props for being open-minded when faced with the truth and for her apology.
Each one of the BDL books features one of our beloved Brotherhood couples, and the focus couple for Blood Vow is Rhage and Mary. It picks up their story exactly where it left off in the most recent BDB release, The Beast. (Now you see why it's imperative to read the two series together. :-)) In this one, they're settling in to being Bitty's parents, while waiting for the adoption process to go through. In the meantime, Bitty faces a medical crisis brought on by her biological father's abuse, which was utterly heartbreaking but really showed what awesome parents Rhage and Mary are. Not to mention, the appearance of The Beast was absolutely priceless. Then a stranger shows up, putting their new little family in jeopardy, which was equally tense and kept me on the edge of my seat. Throughout it all, Lassiter is there by this family's side and I have to say that the things he did for Bitty just warmed my heart through and through. Lassiter may sometimes act like a loon, and he knows how to annoy the crap out of the Brothers. But when the chips are down, this guy can really step up to the plate, and I totally loved him for it. I hope that someday The Warden will give him his own book. He so deserves a happy ending too.
In addition to these characters, I think all the other Brothers and most of their shellans at least put in appearances with V at the forefront a lot. The trainees get a little action in the field, fighting lessers, which had some tense moments too, and there was a hint that the Omega might be regrouping for something big. Craeg and Paradise (Blood Kiss) are pretty much in the background, as is Boone, who we still don't know much about. But Peyton and Novo are front and center, and their attraction continues to burn pretty hot. However, despite wanting Novo, Peyton spends most of the story pining for Paradise and being a jerk, but by the end, he's starting to turn things around, showing me that he's redeemable. Novo kind of reminds me of Xhex, because she has that tough, bad girl vibe going on. I really thought these two were going to be the hero and heroine of this book, so I'll really be surprised if the next book of the series isn't about them. Then there's the addition of a new character, Ruhn. I don't want to give away any spoilers, so all I'll say is that he turns out to be a pretty sweet guy, who's definitely piqued my interest. There's one scene where he meets Saxton and I thought I felt something passing between them. I'm not sure. But I could definitely vibe this pairing. At any rate, I hope we'll learn more about Ruhn in future books of this series or the BDB.
Overall, Blood Vow was another enjoyable read from The Warden. I wavered just a little on how to rate it. I really liked Axe and Elise and thought they made a great couple, but their part of the story perhaps wasn't as strong as it could have been. I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was, but it didn't feel like they had as much to do. Maybe it's because all their conflicts were internal, so there just wasn't a lot of action in their parts of the story, except of course, when the lessers got involved. But I can't really complain, because they had a few problems, overcame them, and got their HEA, which is about all I can ask for in a romance. What really sparked my imagination, though, was the Rhage/Mary/Bitty story line. These guys and all the peripheral characters surrounding them were awesome. And having the Brothers celebrate Christmas (a first for this series, I think) was just the icing on the cake for my holiday reading. So in the end, I decided to award it the full five. Now I can't wait for the next BDB book to come out in the spring (2017).
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