Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward

loverawakened.jpgWendy: It isn’t often that an author or book emerges from the vast ocean of yearly romance releases and stands outs as a talent or story that must be given attention. In any genre, talent is at a premium, and the argument that more books are released than there are capable writers to pen them is an easy one. That is an especially easy criticism of romance where there are so many books and so few authors offering originality. When J.R. Ward hit romance shelves a year ago with Dark Lover the impact was immediate. There she was, that fabled romance author with the skill to build an epic world of her own and the writing chops to lure readers into it. Then, six months later with the release of Lover Eternal it became clear that not only could Ward lure readers in, she could keep them in the palm of her hand as well. Perhaps then, it shouldn’t be surprising that a mere year after the first of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series came out, the third, Lover Awakened has Ward bound for New York Times bestseller list glory and a place among the upper echelon of genre writers.

The success of the series is balanced between Ward’s ability to write a story that envelopes and an imagination fertile enough to give birth to the six warrior vampires who make up the Brotherhood: Phury; Vishous; Zsadist; Rhage; Wrath; and Tohrment. They are over-the-top males who make standard issue alphas look like cotton candy. Their world, where the Brotherhood is pledged to protect the civilian population (non-warrior vampires) from lessers (slayers), like their names, seems ripe for the preposterous to come into play. And yet, it never does. Ward balances the deadly serious business of eliminating lessers with the levity of the Brothers’ love of hip-hop, rap, shitkickers, and designer clothes.

As a connected series, with each new book focusing on a different Brother and the female destined to become his shellan (like a wife, but more intense), it wasn’t much of a surprise that the series’ second book, Lover Eternal, set up the newest release, Lover Awakened. What was a surprise was which of Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood vampires emerged as the hero: Zsadist. As the mangled and broken twin to Phury, Zsadist has been a dark, fearsome element in the Brotherhood, the sort of character scary enough to menace a band of killers. Even still his tormented past as a sexually abused blood slave brought a humanity, however tortured, to Zsadist and a hope for his redemption.

Fate and the ruptured mechanisms of his own mind dealt Zsadist heavy blows and perhaps that’s why Ward didn’t wait to tell Zsadist’s tale and give him a path out of hell. Or, perhaps Zsadist’s story couldn’t wait because there is so much to tell, so much twisted past to unravel, so much wrapped in the Yin Yang relationship he shares with his twin. And then there’s Bella. Bella who is beautiful, and a member of the vampire aristocracy. Bella who is unblemished, unmarred, a female of worth, perfect to Zsadist’s way of thinking; so perfect, in fact, that only his antithesis, Phury, could be good enough for her. Bella who, inexplicably, doesn’t want the Yang, she wants the Yin.

It’s when Bella is kidnapped by a lesser that Zsadist begins to thaw emotionally. As Lover Awakened opens, Bella has been missing for six weeks and Zsadist has spent that time in a frenzy bordering on mania looking for Bella, vowing vengeance and bringing death to all the lessers he comes across. Oddly, Bella’s rescue doesn’t happen forthwith. The lesser who captured Bella, O, has come to “love” her, and takes great pains to assure the captive he calls “wife” stays with him and information about her stays out of the Brotherhood’s hands. Bella’s time in captivity is horrible to say the least and when Zsadist does rescue her, Bella has been beaten, the lesser has carved his human name, David, into her stomach, and stitched her eyelids shut. She’s endured the sort of physical and emotional trauma that it would likely take years to recover from. What is odd about Bella’s extended time with the lesser is that Ward doesn’t employ its aftermath to the fullest extent.

Like the two previous Black Dagger Brotherhood books, Lover Awakened is the hero’s story often at the expense of the heroine. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Zsadist’s salvation comes at the exclusion of Bella’s recovery. Her physical scars heal, she conveniently cannot remember the emotional trauma, and other than Zsadist’s repeated vows to avenge her, Bella’s ordeal seems of no impact. The downside to any series is a lot like the down side of a poorly ordered short story collection: it becomes too easy to see the author’s tricks, crutches, and weaknesses. Ward has a tendency to short change her heroines – it’s understandable when the larger-than-life heroes are hogging all the attention – and this third installment of the series shines a bright light on Ward’s discount on her female characters.

Nonetheless, Zsadist and Bella’s romance plays out in emotional starts and fits, continually running into the ghosts of brutality Zsadist endured as a blood slave. Bella’s love for Zsadist, her dependence on him are immediate, but his journey out of the misery that left him both mentally and sexually crippled is a long, slow one. At times Zsadist progress is imperceptible, the greatest thrust of changing coming in the last pages of the book.

A book of some four hundred and thirty pages should provide enough space to tell a story. Lover Awakened doesn’t quite accomplish that, perhaps because Ward gives her characters story in abundance. Or, maybe the book’s focus isn’t quite tight enough. Lover Awakened is heavy with both characters and their points of view. Much time is spent with Phury as he deals with his own feelings for Bella and how those feeling create yet another avenue for him to scarifice his wants and needs to those of this stricken brother. O, the lesser who kidnapped Bella, has always had his own story arcs, but here, his continued obsession over Bella, even after her rescue, seems a misstep. O, and all lessers, raison d’etra in this series is to be an opponent of the Brotherhood, and here O doesn’t fulfill that role. The orphan boy John, a vampire who has yet to go through the change, gets a lot of page time as he negotiates his way through training for Brotherhood and finds his place in a vampire family. Then there is Rehvenge, Bella’s brother, who turns out to have a few secrets, the least of which isn’t well kept at all.

What makes this world – and by extension, the series – so fantastic is the breadth and depth of what Ward puts on the page. It’s those same qualities, however, that detract from the romance, too much time and attention are spent elsewhere. And yet, Lover Awakened is an enveloping, captivating read. The third installment doesn’t misstep so much as it creates a slight catch in the series’ stride. Ward’s ability to draw the reader in and keep them with there with every turn of the page is undiminished. Lover Awakened might be lesser to its processors, but it’s still better than everything else on the new release table.

HelenKay: The wounded hero. His presence looms in romance novels, sometimes as the actual hero and sometimes as a secondary player who shouts “future hero” every time he walks on the page. Rough and aloof on the outside, broken by a devastating event in his past that stifles his future, he wanders through life just existing. Under the hard exterior and attitude decency and honor remain, but the idea of love and true emotion is all but dead. In fiction, the idea of redeeming this lost soul is the ultimate romantic fantasy. If only the hero could find the right woman, he could then break through his shell, enjoy true love and live the life he truly deserves.
Enter Zsadist. Zsadist or Z, the most haunted and raw of the vampire warriors in J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, lives a spare and dark existence. He kills without remorse, refuses affection and physical contact, shuns intimacy in every form, deprives himself of all comforts and walks the thin line between sanity and insanity. In sum, he appears irredeemable, his humanity lost forever. Kidnapped from his family when very young and separated from his twin, fellow warrior vampire Phury, Zsadist was sold first into slavery. Then his life took an even more horrific turn. His mistress, the woman who owned him, made him a blood slave – sexual slave – keeping him bound and forcing him to serve her and the various men she brought down to the dungeon to meet Zsadist. As a result, Zsadist isn’t just wounded, he’s an empty shell.

Somehow Zsadist retains a tenuous bond with the Brotherhood, the group of vampires charged with protecting other vampires. He is loyal but detached. The only person for whom he feels a spark of real feeling outside of the Brotherhood is Bella, a member of the vampire aristocracy. At the end of Ward’s previous novel, Lover Eternal, Bella is kidnapped by a Lesser. The Lessers are a society of soulless vampire hunters. Bella’s kidnapper imprisons her, worships her, beats her and calls her wife. Zsadist rescues her.

The attraction between Bella and Zsadist is not a secret. Tension radiates off the page when they appear together. There is a pulse that underlies all of their interaction. They share a bond he refuses to recognize and she refuses to ignore. Despite Zsadist’s many attempts to push Bella’s affection toward Phury, Bella remains steadfast in her devotion to Zsadist despite his scars, both physical and emotional.

Many times the tortured hero can only connect with a woman through sex. He lacks emotion and functions only on physical need. Part of the brilliance of Zsadist’s relationship with Bella is that the level of disconnect stems from Zsadist’s warped view of sexuality. He doesn’t jump into bed with her and then insist that’s all they can ever have together – a standard romance novel claim. Instead, Zsadist wants Bella but fears sexual excitement to the point of being repelled by it. He fights his natural urges and even refers to his sexual organ as “it” as a way of separating himself from the twisted sexual violations of his past. This layering of fears and dysfunction adds depth to the relationship and an honesty that is often missing in the fix-the-tortured-hero scenario.
Lover Awakened continues the fight between the Lessers and the Brotherhood started in earlier series books. The ongoing battle serves as the background for everything else that takes place. This aspect of the plot remains just that – ongoing. The battle does not end or find its completion here. Instead, the focus is on Zsadist’s re-connection with life and the unfolding romance between Zsadist and Bella. Other members of the Brotherhood play major roles here as their motivations and personalities become clearer and, in some cases, less clear. The reader is dragged deeper into the world of the Brotherhood, with a peek into the workings of the Lessers and glimpses of future heroes and books in the series.
By the end of Lover Awakened, one romance blossoms just as the world of the Brotherhood is blown apart by a shocking death. The move is a risky one by Ward, but one that fits well with the other choices she makes and with the overall mood of the series. Also, the young warrior trainee John plays a larger role here, with his murky background hinting at a significant future. This wordlbuilding is handled with an expertise and subtle hand that makes the idea of warrior vampires, drug-dealing vampires and all vampires easy to believe.

In a book that’s part buddy movie in the same vein as Band Of Brothers with vampires in the lead roles, part romance and part paranormal, Ward shapes distinct, damaged and compelling characters. The fast pace and true character growth combine with the dark overlay of the existing world to create a novel that works on all levels . The relationships unfold with the difficulties and pain felt in real-life relationships. Zsadist’s bonds with his brother, with the Brotherhood and with Bella are explored with a richness and intimacy that takes Ward’s storytelling to an inspiring level.

Wendy’s Question: What is the orphan boy John’s role in these books? Is he another avenue for Ward to world and story build? Or, is Ward employing a very long set-up for John to be the series’ hero of heroes?

HK’s Answer: At first Ward seemed to use the existence of John to show not only the humanity of the Brotherhood but also the promise of its future. Now, as his past unfolds, it is clear John will play a major role in the Brotherhood series. My guess is he is both a future hero – probably the last hero in the series in light of his current age – and either an answer to, or source of, a huge future unveiling in terms of worldbuilding. But, that’s just a guess. The good news is that while in some books the younger side characters tend to annoy because their presence appears superfluous, John is different. His role hints at a much grander scheme. Just one more reason to keep reading this series…

HK’s Final Thoughts: A unique twist on the damaged hero theme in a series that grows and improves with each book.
You can visit J.R. here and purchase this book here or here.

26 thoughts on “Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward

  1. Me too. I will be standing in line tomorrow for this one. The series is fantastic and I am so looking forward to reading this story.

  2. *sigh* Maybe I should finally read the first book. I just keep thinking that it can’t possibly live up to all the hype and I’ll be sorely disappointed. And so it sits on the shelf.

  3. Nicole, don’t make me come over there.
    Seriously – I’m as jaded as they come, and I absolutely loved the first two books.
    Go. Get the book. Read the book.
    Note: I am not employed by J.R. Ward. I don’t know J.R. Ward. I receive no compensation from J. R. Ward for being a Fangirl. I’m just a chick who loves really, REALLY good romance, and she’s a really, REALLY great romance writer.

  4. I have yet to read a JR Ward book *ducks head in shame and in fear of being hit with a flying object* (Grin) I really want to though. They are on my wishlist.

  5. Stephanie — congratulations on the RITA! After you’ve spent five or six hours –in a row– devouring this title, come back and tell us your thoughts. I’m especially interested in what you think of the hero and heroine for the next book. Gotta say, I was stunned by Ward’s choice.
    Nicole, Nicole! — you read everything. How can you not have read these. Go, now, read.

  6. I’m ambivalent about this series. I’m hooked but I remain irritated by the uber alphaness of the heros who sometimes comes across as very teenagerish. And I agree that the heroines get short shrift. That said, I’ll buy it and probably not be able to put it down!

  7. I read the first one and thought it was really good but not a keeper for me. I have the second one but haven’t read it yet.

  8. See, I read comments like Keziah’s about the uber-alpha and teenagerishness and then keep thinking that I need to read something else. It’s a sickness, I tell you.
    And Wendy, have you SEEN how many tbr books I have????

  9. These books have been my guiltiest pleasures to date. Some of the “yo, bro” stuff really annoys me and pulls me out of the story(personally if I never read another sh*tkicker reference I’d be grateful) but her heros and world still manage to reel me in.
    And Jennifer, I’d think it be a whole lot easier to go in order, but there is a glossary of terms in each that might help if you wanted to start some where in the middle.

  10. Thanks Samantha…I plan on reading them in order, but have only been able to find one of them…I am sick right now or I’d hit the bookstore.

  11. i liked the book but not as much as i thought i would. i really felt that bella was short-changed.
    i love all the characters but i would have liked the book to focus more on bella and zsadist. no matter how strong she is she would have had more emotional damage than what is in the book.
    *on another note i got this book on sunday at walmart! [9.3.06!!] I’ve noticed they tend to have a lot of books before the bookstores- including online!*

  12. I read this book in a day because I couldn’t put it down. I understand those readers who wanted more Zsadist and Bella, however, I agree with the Wendy’s observation about the “breadth and depth” being so fantastic. I appreciate that I’m still curious about these characters after three books as I was before I read the first one.
    As for the juvenile “yo, bro” and teenagerish behavior: My Dad was a fighter pilot…the behavior seems much like my Dad (who’s 75 now) and his friends…even to this day. My take on it is that it is an outlet for the stress of the day job. It is that male bonding ritual which gives them permission to act like a juvenile ass.

  13. Wendy, mega thanks for the RITA congrats! I’ve had more than a month to get used to it – and it’s STILL blowing me away! 🙂
    This is a whine alert….
    So, I got the book, and planned to read it today. Got everything done, ready to settle down and dive in, and got an email from my agent – aka, Quick Draw. She already read what I sent her last week, and has suggestions for tweaks. So I have to wait a bit longer to read LA. I mean, this isn’t a bad thing – just frustrating. Incidentally, my agent says Lover Awakened is #27 on the Times bestseller list already – way to go J.R. Ward!
    I’ve got five books behind it, and I’m dying to sink my teeth into all of them. (including HK’s) It’s weird though – I can’t read when I’m writing. Have to finish a project and not be working on anything in order to read – otherwise, shit gets wacky.
    But I’ll be back, as soon as I read the last page – OMG! It’s just SITTING there, winking at me!
    Must resist….must do tweaks….
    End note: I adore the yo, bro, etc. I love guys, even on their worst behavior. One of the things I especially like about this series is the obvious ‘manly’ affection the brothers have for one another.
    Must resist…..must hide book in closet…..

  14. There is a rather simple but not so simple explanation for how John fits into the books. It’s kind of spoilerish, but isn’t a secret because it’s bandied about JR’s forum like a tennis ball. So I’m going to ask if you want to know, before I tell you. I don’t think it will ruin future books for anyone, but it’s an interesting tidbit and makes you scratch your head at the same time.

  15. I think I know, Angie. Does it have something to do with what happened at the first of the first book? Like, somebody who died?
    p.s. – how come I check the box to remember info, but it never does? I’m starting to get paranoid.

  16. Don’t be paranoid Stephanie, it doesn’t remember me either (which is really annoying). One of these days I’ll get to the bottom of that issue.
    Angie, you can reveal whatever you’d like.

  17. Yep Stef (shouldn’t you be writing?) that’s it.
    John is Darius. Or Darius is John. Whatever, they are the same “soul” or something along those lines. If you ask me how that “reincarnation” works, since Darius died when John was ostensibly alive, I will freely tell you I have no idea but avid readers of the books have picked them apart and point to this as the reason John has such an odd reaction to first meeting Beth.

  18. My love for JR Ward and her books astounds me. Like Stef, I wait for each new one to come out and then whine when I can’t immediately read it. Even gloated when I got my copy before Wendy got hers. All this is a bit odd since I’m not a huge paranormal fan. Here the fact these guys are vampires never gets in my way. Probably because they’re big ‘ole alpha males – love those. Nothing about the bonding or language here bothers me. In fact, it strikes me as very guy-ish. Guys living and talking together, all in a state of arrested development to some degree because of how they became what they are, and all living their lives to fight. In real life, they’d probably just grunt. Ward gives them much more depth than that.
    It’s true Ward doesn’t spend much time on the females in the series. Doesn’t bother me a bit. The Brotherhood is about the men. Sometimes the romance even feels secondary. I feel a bit cheated by that, but tolerate it because the males are so well done.
    On the order question – I read the second book first. We reviewed it here. After that, I went back and picked up the first and then waited for this one to come out. Never felt lost. I think you can jump into this series and double back, but if you haven’t read any, I’d go from the beginning.
    Angie – Have you been hanging out on the message boards again… 🙂 Lover Awakened does talk about John’s lineage. There’s no question he plays a much larger role here. It will be interesting to watch this subplot take on more and more significance.

  19. I have been hesitant about series — it’s my allergy to cute spellings, you know — but Wendy’s near breathless commentary (not slight HK’s analyis, never to do that) that sold me. It’s on my desk, has been there for a while (sorry Stef…reviewing has its privileges), and, well, you know how I said I’d be reviewing regularly forever? Right after I devour this series. Sorry, priorities.
    Oh, right, HK, whip. Will be sneaking this series in between regularly scheduled work. You sold the most jaded of souls.

  20. HK–I avoid that message board as much as possible, but end up there about once a month, because someone googles the next Ward book, lands on my blog, finds out I’ve gotten an advance copy (since JR sends me ARCs of the books) and then posts my link on the board. Then it shows up in my stats and I go to be amused at how much her fans hate me for reading the book 3 months before it’s set to release. I’m evil, I know, lolol.
    And actually, the people on that message board are relentless on trying to figure things out and guess at things and get spoilers, and I’d just rather not KNOW. I want to be surprised and in the dark a little when I read the next book, not analyzing what’s happening and how everything fits with everything else. Sometimes, I just want to read to sink into the story, you know?

  21. I unfortunately have to wait another week until I can purchase this book and I cry myself to sleep every night. I am a student in college so EVERY penny that I have goes toward my education. Maybe I’ll just put it on my debit card and put my account in the negative dollar amounts. I think this book is worth the charge. Wish me luck!!

  22. So, guess what I did until 4:30 this morning? 🙂
    Thoughts on Lover Awakened:
    I loved it, I really did. Obviously, if I stayed up until 4:30 a.m., I was rather carried away. Today, I’m working on a very complex set of tax returns, and finding it hard to focus – but not from lack of sleep. I just keep thinking about this book. As much as I loved it, there was something about it that kept me from enjoying it quite as much as the first two. I’m mulling it over. Perhaps it’s the difference in the romance itself – Bella’s pursuit of Z, versus the other way around. Or maybe because he was such a tortured character – literally and figuratively – it bugged me on some level. If I had never read the first two and started with this one, I suspect I’d be over the moon about it. But it’s difficult not to compare, and Lover Awakened was a bit of a different read.
    That’s not a bad thing – just different.
    One element I really liked – and this is probably my inner Bombshell writer talking – was what happened to the villain. Won’t say more so as not to spoil, but I thought it was perfect, the way Ward handled it. To me, this made up for how Bella’s abduction and trauma was somewhat glossed over. I noted – probably because of what was said here – that Bella commented, several times, that she couldn’t remember most of what happened to her. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d take that at face value. Since I am a writer, I saw this as a way for Ward to avoid having to go there. I mean, get down and dirty and go there. I don’t blame her – I’d have done the same thing. Two wounded, tortured central characters can get messy and unwieldy and maybe a little too close to reality. I had no problem with Ward skirting it to an extent.
    Wendy, you, my friend, are so right – I was stunned to see who’s up next. I thought his story wouldn’t be until later. I confess, I’m dying to know how that one turns out. So, once again, I’ll be watching for the release date and haul ass to the bookstore the day Lover Revealed comes out. This is an infatuation I have no interest in losing. 🙂

  23. Stephanie, first, yay you finally read it! And second, that’s exactly how I felt: if this were the first of the BDB I’d read, I’d likely love it best. And, while I’m not quite as enthusiastic about LA as I am about LE or DL, I still couldn’t put the book down.
    I’m going to speak for HK here and say that we were both stunned and disappointed that Butch’s story is next in line. Now that I’ve had some more time to think about it, telling Butch’s story next is clever. It will, hopefully, be an opportunity to stay up with the Brotherhood’s over arching story while, perhaps, adding some variety and break some of the repetitive issues with the series.
    Even if Butch and Marissa’s story doesn’t accomplish those things, I’m sure Ward will be her fabulous self and nothing else will matter.

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