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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Christina Dodd Falls for LOVER ETERNAL

Some readers say the vampire fantasy doesn’t work for them. They say stuff like — a vampire is a demon. He doesn’t adhere to the rules of civilization. He chases his mate relentlessly and forces pleasure on her time and again. Worst of all, he’s dead.

I say — picky, picky. What other kind of man is going to stay stiff for hours and hours on end?

Last fall, I heard the on-line buzz about book one of The Black Dagger Brotherhood, DARK LOVER by J. R. Ward, and raced around town looking for the book. You know — small town, not many bookstores … I found and consumed book one and fell in love. DARK LOVER is set in the modern world in a town called Caldwell, NY, and contains complex characters — a warrior-hero who is dreadfully damaged and truly reprehensible, a heroine moving from one reality to another and infuriated by her change, and a whole group of tormented vampire warriors, The Black Dagger Brotherhood, intent on saving their race from a creepy gang of soulless things called the Lessening Society. When I closed the book, I remembered each scene so vividly I felt as if I’d lived it, and I stood in awe of the author who created such a complex world peopled with so many characters and dominated by a deepening sense of dread.

The second book, LOVER ETERNAL, wasn’t scheduled for publication until this month, March 2006. How could I stand to wait?

I looked at DARK LOVER and realized my editor was in the acknowledgements. In fact, my editor was J. R. Ward’s editor! Muahahahahaha! I called our editor and subtly suggested I would like an advanced reading copy (“Please send me a copy. Please, please, I can’t stand to wait, it’s such a good book, wow, you’re a genius, J. R. Ward is a genius, please …") After a sufficient amount of whining and sucking up, I scored my copy.

You probably know there’s an unspoken rule in publishing that says the second book in a series can’t be as good as the first.

J. R. Ward proves that’s a myth. In LOVER ETERNAL, she introduces us to heroine Mary Luce. Right away I realized Mary is more alone than any one person should ever be. She had suffered through the long, arduous death of her mother. She’d dealt with a life-threatening illness of her own on her own. She had lost her faith in God and lived on the ragged edge of desperation. And when the story opens, her doctor had called her in for a follow-up — and Mary knows what that means. Her disease has returned. Mary scared me because she could be me.

Then J. R. Ward mated Mary with a kind gentleman … heh, heh.

Of course, I’m pulling your leg. J. R. mates Mary with Rhage, the bad boy of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. When they meet, Rhage is instantaneously captivated by Mary’s voice and her body. He wants her because she satisfies the savage beast within him. The thing is — he really, really has a savage beast within him. He’s been cursed; whenever he loses his temper, the beast within him comes out. I mean — it comes OUT. He’s transformed into a monster, ripping, tearing, eating his enemies and, if they’re not careful, his friends. The transformation leaves him with an awful hangover and the fear that if he allows himself to get passionate and wild with Mary, he’ll destroy her — and himself. How these two tormented souls manage to fight and, well, mostly fight their way to a happy ending kept me riveted.

Yet LOVER ETERNAL is so much more than a love story. The romance between Rhage and Mary dominated the action, yet at the same time J. R. built the characters of the other brothers, set the stage for the next book, and thoroughly frightened me with the overarching and eternal struggle between The Black Dagger Brotherhood and the Lessening Society. I’m a squeamish reader, and the Lessening Society’s use of torture and violence made me want to hide my eyes. But I couldn’t stop reading, and I can’t wait for Book Three, LOVE AWAKENED. I am in awe of the way J. R. Ward keeps so many balls in the air, the way she creates a paranormal world set within the real world — a world of horrible vendetta set on contemporary city streets, of vampire-warriors doomed by their determination to fight for the future of their people, and of eternal love between a woman cursed by disease and a man cursed by his own sins.

Have you read DARK LOVER and LOVER ETERNAL? What do you think sets The Black Dagger Brotherhood apart from so many other paranormals flooding the market? Is it fair to call J. R. Ward a less erotic, more multifaceted Laurell K. Hamilton?
Christina Dodd, 3:58 AM