Okay, I admit it. I'm addicted to these books. I know they're not perfect, but they're very readable, the characters are over-the-top but compelling and I just love going along for the ride.
There have been complaints about Ward's world building, and I have to agree with those. It's like she keeps having "better ideas" (TM) and immediately has to use them, even though the world didn't previously have a place for them. Some authors (I'm especially thinking of Marjorie Liu here) can expand their universe organically and it all feels like it always fit. Ward doesn't manage this. Instead, there's a lot of clunking and ripping and tearing. I can look past this and enjoy the story, but I know there are readers for whom this is a breaking point. In fact, with the exception of the Jane-as-a-ghost thing, that was bad world building and bad plotting, I think the world is better now. The problem is that it is no longer totally consistent with what it was in the first books.
The other complaint I've seen is that there isn't enough love story. If you are looking for a book totally focussed on Phury and Cormia, then this is true. This book takes the world and all the characters and their various plot-strands as the priority. It is Phury and Cormia's story - Phury's more than hers - but it is also about the other brothers, about Rhevenge, about John Matthew and his friends and others I'm not going to mention to avoid spoilers. Personally, I love this. I like romances, but I'm a fantasy/SF reader first and a romance reader second, so an emotionally staisfying plot that includes a good love story is perfect for me. This book gave me those things and I'm a happy camper.
Phury and Cormia's love story is lovely. Surprisingly gentle (and also not particularly explicit, especially considering some books in the genre; all the same don't go into this expecting lily-white because you won't get that) and well told. It isn't just about them falling in love, something they're already doing as the book begins since their story began in Lover Unbound, but in finding a way to reconcile themselves to what they feel and how they can possibly fit it into the situation they find themselves in. I found it very touching for all that it wasn't centre stage and hot, hot, hot.
But this is Phury's book too. Ward's talent is definitely in the Brothers she has created above and beyond that of describing their love lives. Phury, the perfect one, is perfectly screwed up and it is in the course of this novel that he finds himself facing up to this and finding a way to begin healing. I liked that everything isn't fixed at the end; instead Phury, with Cormia and his side, is finding a place to begin healing and that is so much more realistic (if you can say that about as over-the-top a series as this one). I'd never been that fussed about Phury, being more attracted to the other brothers, but I loved him to bits by the end of the book. I was desperately sad for him as the story progressed and warmed by the light at the end of his tunnel. I think Ward did much better by him than she did by V in Lover Unbound which, after reading this one, I look back on as being a disappointment.
John Matthew's story continues, and since I love him all over too, that worked beautifully for me. He's finding his place in the world (even if he's screwed up too like the rest of them), finding his own brotherhood and clearly we are moving towards a book that will focus on him.
Ward has taken to doing a lot of setup in each book for the next one, and this is true here. We see very much more about Rhevenge in this book, who is to be the hero of the next one, Lover Avenged. Like every one of Ward's heroes, he's totally messed up and in this book we begin to see just how much so. He's also caught in a very nasty situation - between a rock and a hard place describing it perfectly - and I find myself hanging out for his book just so I can find out how it is going to be resolved. I'm loving the story-telling and don't mind the reduction in the romance storyline this causes, but I can see die-hard romance fans being very frustrated by it.
There's also a bunch of new characters and/or revelations about old characters that look to make future books very interesting. If Ward can just keep her world building at the place she's got it now and avoid the temptation to add any further major shakeups that require extensive retconning, we can concentrate with getting on with more great stories. Damn it, I think I'm going to be buying the next book in hardcover after all.
J. R. Ward
Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 6
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