Sola Morte, a former thief and safecracker is living on the run from the dangerous drug lords for whom she used to work. After they kidnapped and tried to kill her, she left Caldwell for safer ground in Miami and hasn't looked back. Her only job now is to keep herself and the beloved grandmother who raised her out of harm's way. However, her heart has never been able to forget the only man who has ever been able to get through her defenses. When his cousins come calling with news that he is gravely ill and asking her to return to Caldwell in hopes that she can give him the will to live, Sola finds herself in a quandary. If she goes back, she risks putting herself and her grandmother in danger again. But how can she leave the man she loves to die?
Assail, son of Assail, was a dealer in drugs and also provided arms to the Black Dagger Brotherhood. After sampling far too much of his own product and losing Sola because of his profession, he finally realized that he needed to go straight and detox, but because his vampire physiology reacted badly to the drugs, the process has been excruciating. After Assail falls into a coma and is in grave danger of dying, his cousins seek out the only person they think may be able to pull him back from the brink. Sola coming to his bedside proves to be the magic elixir that he needs to recover, but since she has no idea he's a vampire, his cousins fed her a story about him having cancer. When she discovers the truth regarding not only the real reason he was in the hospital but also what he is, will she run in horror... or will she stand by him as they combat a new enemy who is gunning for both of them?
The Thief was another solid installment of J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series. There aren't nearly as many different POVs in this one as we usually see in these books. We have our "main" couple, Assail and Sola, then our central Brotherhood couple of Vishous and Jane, with just a sprinkling of scenes from other characters' perspectives. I felt the focus this time was mainly on the character and relationship development for both couples with some action coming into play every now and then. While I very much enjoyed the back to basics romance aspect, I sometime felt like a little something was missing. Although I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was, somehow the story didn't feel quite as exciting as it normally does. As a result, I waffled mightily on how to rate it. I enjoyed it a lot, like I have all of these books, and other than that one little glitch, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. I came close to marking it 4.5 stars, but after reading a friend's review that pointed out all the great secondary characters and reading the transcript of J. R. Ward's annual Q & A and realizing all the great little tidbits that she'd dropped into the story that will lead into other plot lines down the road, I couldn't help but give it the full five after all. It might not end up being my absolute favorite book of the series, but it was still a very strong entry, nonetheless.
Assail and Sola first appeared way back in book #11, Lover at Last. Assail was a drug lord and arms dealer who made some unholy alliances throughout the next few books, while Sola was a thief who worked for the Benloise brothers, who were Assail's suppliers. From the moment they met, despite her being a human, Sola was Assail's Achilles heel, and she felt pretty strongly about him as well. When the Benloise brothers kidnapped Sola, Assail was there to help free her from their clutches and avenge her. But then to protect herself and her beloved grandmother, Sola had to go on the run and ended up in hiding in Miami, while Assail was still back in Caldwell. By then he'd given in to his cocaine addition and spent a couple of books pining for his female, before going into detox at the end of The Beast. Ever since then, he's been heard throughout the halls of the Brotherhood's clinic, screaming in agony, as the process took a toll on his vampire anatomy that's quite a bit different than it would be for a normal human.
This is where The Thief picks up his story. Assail has slipped into a coma that appears to be irreversible, leaving him essentially brain-dead, and no one knows how to help him recover. Faced with the choice of having to euthanize him, which is the vampire way in cases like this, his cousins, Ehric and Evale, go to Miami to try to persuade Sola to return to Caldwell in hopes that Assail might fight to return to them if he knows she's there by his side. Although she still cares for Assail, Sola isn't eager to go back for fear of the danger she'd be putting her grandmother in, but when her grandmother gives her an ultimatum, they go anyway. The only problem is that Ehric was not entirely straightforward in telling her about Assail's condition. Even after he begins to recover, she thinks it's only a temporary reprieve and that he's dying of cancer. Not to mention, she has no idea he's actually a vampire, nor that the Benloises' sister has come to Caldwell and poses a threat as well. So needless to say, they have a few hurdles to jump on the way to their HEA.
I have to admit that when these two were first introduced, they were my least favorite couple in that book. I don't know why, but for some reason, they didn't exactly stand out to me. That all started to change in the next book when Assail rescued Sola and exacted his revenge against the Benloise brothers. Ever since then, he's been gradually getting better and better until I just knew he had to get an HEA. He may have started his stint in this series as a bad guy, but he's slowly been working his way toward hero status. I think the thing I love most about him is his care and concern for Sola's grandmother. Even when he was a coke head, dealing in all sorts of illegal stuff, he always had a soft-spot for Mrs. Carvahlo, and of course for Sola as well. I was so happy to see him recover and turn over a new leaf in this book. For her part, Sola is a very strong heroine, which was obvious from the first couple of books she was seen in. I love how devoted she is to her grandmother. She's not afraid to do whatever it takes to ensure the ones she loves are safe and that includes Assail. When Assail finally reveals the truth to her, she reacts pretty much how you might expect a human who's just found out that vampires are real would, but I liked how that all turned out in the end. These two had a very sweet and tender, but sexy, relationship that worked perfectly for me.
The other primary POVs in this book are Vishous and Jane. When we left Vishous in the previous book of the series, he was feeling neglected by his overworked shellan and was looking up some of his old contacts from the BDSM world, while contemplating the unthinkable. I don't want to give anything away, but I will say that I was on pins and needles for a while and screaming, "No, don't do it," in my head. All I'll say is that I was very happy about how things worked out for this couple who are one of my favorites of the series. Both Vishous and Jane get much-needed wake up calls to help them see the error of the their ways, and not too surprisingly they begin to reconnect via the intellectual pursuit of answers regarding the new shadow entities. V must also come to terms with the loss of his mahmen, the Scribe Virgin. And I enjoyed the part that Jane played in helping Sola come to terms with the reality of vampires. I also loved how the author used their relationship to illustrate that trust equates to love, something I've always believed in.
The other fairly significant POV character is Vitoria Benloise who has traveled from her native home in Colombia to Caldwell to find out what happened to her brothers who'd disappeared a year earlier and also in hopes of taking over their business interests. With her gunning for her brothers' presumed killer and the only connection to both Assail and Sola's checkered pasts, she is one of the primary villains and a very formidable one at that. A few other characters got just a few of their own POV scenes. Throe is seen a few times as he tests out his new shadow army, and I must say that his relationship to the spell book has become full-on creepy. I'm sure he's going to be stirring up lots more trouble for the Brotherhood in the future. Jo Early was finally brought back for a scene to show that she's about to transition. Vishous has been watching her with an eagle eye, and I'll predict that we're probably going to see the resolution to what's happening with her in the next book. The Warden also says that Jo is going to become the heroine of a future story paired with Syn, one of the members of the Band of Bastards. We also get a few scenes from Ehric's perspective. I very much enjoyed him and his twin brother, Evale, and their devotion, not only to Assail, but also to his mate and her grandmother. I think they'd make great future heroes and it sounds like Ms. Ward is definitely thinking on that as a strong possibility.
A large part of the reason I gave The Thief five stars was many of the secondary characters, some of whom didn't have POV scenes. Mrs. Carvahlo is priceless and a classic feisty Latina grandmother. She's seen a lot in her lifetime, and I wouldn't be surprised if she already suspects that her granddaughter's love and those around him are vampires. Lassiter has actually calmed down just a bit in his new role as the deity of the race. I absolutely loved the scenes he was in and can't wait for his new status to be revealed to everyone. I also can't wait for him to get a book of his own. We also got to see Boo in a new and interesting role, and I enjoyed seeing Markcus in a couple of scenes again, too, and look forward to finding out where Ms. Ward goes with his character in the future. Also Butch's old partner, Jose de la Cruz, put in an appearance investigating some things in which Vitoria is involved. And last but not least, we finally got to see Muhrder again briefly, and guess what? The next book, The Savior, is his. His character is such a mystery, so I really can't wait to find out more about him.
Another thing that pushed The Thief up the incline was all the little things that added intrigue. First and foremost on my mind is who stole the book of spells and gave it to Throe. That's a mystery I can't wait to unravel. Then there's these new shadow creatures that are even more dangerous than the lessers. And zombies? OMG, yaaasss! So cool! Can't wait to see the Brothers fighting more of these threats with their new secret weapon. I'm also eager to see how the stuff with Jo pans out as well as the humans starting to become aware of the vampires. And one final thing I loved about the book is how The Warden never seems to fail to make me smile at some point. The scenes with the ghost peppers and the My Little Pony pajamas were priceless and had me grinning from ear to ear. In her Q & A, J. R. Ward seemed a little uncertain as to whether she'd be doing more Black Dagger Legacy books out of concern that her fans were having to spend too much money on two hardcovers per year. I'll be a little sad if she doesn't and that also means that since I don't know if we'll get a new BDL book, I may be back to waiting another year before the next book comes out. Oh well, in any case, I'm still all in and can't wait for the next story in this world no matter which one it might be.
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