Lover Eternal by J.R. Ward

lovereternal.jpg Wendy: Romance’s greatest strength lies in its numbers: the number of readers it claims, the number of sales it racks up, the number of authors who forge a career in it, and the number—the sheer volume—of romance titles released each year. While many of those titles are familiar retreads of what has come before, there is always a gem awaiting discovery. Just when it seems every angle and possibility has been played out, a new voice, a new perspective comes along to breathe new life into the old constructs and to play hard and fast with the old rules. These discoveries don’t come along often enough, but when they do, they are something more than simply a good read: they are a reminder of all the reasons why romances are passionately consumed and lovingly cherished. J.R. Ward’s The Black Dagger Brotherhood series of paranormal romances are those rare gems, full of heroes that are a higher order of Alpha Male, heroines that bring those heroes to heel, and stories that are obstacle and conflict rich.

Like most paranormal romance authors, Ward takes the vampire mythology and uses parts and discards other bits in turns. In the Brothers’ world, vampires are a race unto themselves—there are no conversions, no vamping humans with an exchange of blood—and the race is nearing extinction from two kinds of population killers: enemies and high mortality rate. The vampires don’t feed on humans, but are nonetheless hunted by soulless slayers known as lessers. The Black Dagger Brotherhood is a group of, now, five of the most elite warrior vampires. The Brotherhood’s mission is to eliminate the Lessening Society and protect the civilian class of vampires.
Lover Eternal, the second of the Brotherhood series, is Brother Rhage’s tale. Rhage is a deliciously complex hero. Beautiful but tortured. The most ferocious of the brothers, he is a walking metaphor for the beast within. Cursed by the Scribe Virgin—creator and keeper of the vampire race—with a literal beast that lives inside and pushes him to control his emotions, his actions, and forces built up energy to be expended. Rhage keeps himself on an even plane—and keeps the dragon-like monster from making an appearance—by fighting and having sex. That strategy works well enough until he and the beast hear the lilting, musical voice of Mary Luce. Rhage’s instant and unwavering attraction to Mary is typical of the genre, however that Rhage is compelled by Mary’s voice is a clever turn (as in, her voice is music to sooth the savage beast inside Rhage).
Mary is also dealing with a curse and a beast within, but for Mary, a human, it’s leukemia. To pair a heroine with a blood disease with a vampire hero is an inspired choice and one that is abundant with conflict given the precepts of Ward’s vampire world. Each curse, the cancer and the dragon, work to keep Rhage and Mary apart. For Rhage’s part, he doesn’t feel he can stay in control of the beast and ensure Mary’s safety; for Mary, she has limited time and that time will be spent in the most uncomfortable way possible: the treatment of her cancer. But, after being set upon by lessers, Rhage seeks to protect Mary from the slayers, even if it puts her at risk from his beast.
Ward is a nimble writer who earns the reader’s respect by avoiding the feel of pandering to the lowest common denominator (eventually, even the names Ward employs for the brothers—Wrath, Rhage, Zsadist, Phury, and Vishous—stop sounding ridiculous and come to be the only possible names for these men). The romance clichés that Ward uses somehow manage to work in her hands. For example, upon Rhage and Mary’s first meeting, Rhage presses Mary into a wall, their encounter is as sexual as a fully clothed, non-penetrating encounter could be and yet the disbelief of a hero introducing himself by way of rubbing his erection on the heroine never comes. The scene works and the need to watch these characters come together overwhelms. Ward takes risks, shatters taboos—some to heartbreaking effect—yet manages atonement for her characters. Rhage and Mary are all the more compelling because they lack perfection, they are both flawed, both tortured; they are characters that must fight for happiness.
Lover Eternal, as the second installment of the series, has large shoes to fill. By repeating some of Dark Lover’s plot elements throughout the novel—such as the hero showing up nightly at the heroine’s home until she moves into the Brotherhood’s mansion for protection, or the vampire hero introducing the heroine to a world she was previously ignorant of—Ward is able to fill much of those shoes. These are, however, small considerations. Lover Eternal exceeds Dark Lover on a craft level because Ward’s writing is tighter. The multiple view points are well handled and this time around scenes are closely cropped so that the main story never feels too far away. Ward’s familiarity with her characters has grown between books and the sense of these characters becoming real to their author is palpable. Unlike Dark Lover, which took time to establish the world the story takes place in, Lover Eternal begins smoothly without ever feeling like a party already in progress; pages devoted to back story aren’t necessary and therefore not included. This installment is all forward motion, a book that both compliments and furthers the series while standing alone. There are, however, threads left untied at story’s end, threads that point to a story about Zsadist’s redemption and the vampire that could love him.
In the end, Lover Eternal—the whole Black Dagger Brotherhood series, in fact—may well be the type of story that some readers will allow themselves to be swept into while others will not. For those that do, the ride a is breathtaking, pitch-perfect page-turner that will leave readers feeling as though the next installment, Zsadist’s story, can’t hit bookshelves fast enough.
HelenKay: Most romance heroes possess the universal and predictable characteristics – tall, handsome, strong. Words that promise protection and attraction. When the romance novel works, unseen wounds and harsh pasts tend to linger just beneath the surface of these physically appealing men. This added ingredient – the realism and potential for vulnerabiity and weakness – provides nuance and conflict, showing the hero to be intelligent and tough but limited in some way. All of these pieces work in the context of building a hero readers can connect to and a worthy heroine can love. And sometimes there’s more. Every now and then, authors treat readers to a different kind of hero, one who is all those things described – strong, handsome and haunted in some way – or, possibly, none of them. This hero is so commanding that he owns every page, rises above a host of strong and interesting secondary chacracters and pulses with life. Ward has created such a hero in Lover Eternal with Rhage. An extraordinary feat since the hero pulsing with lilfe here also happens to be dead.
In Lover Eternal, Ward sets out a world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood a small and elite group of fierce vampire warriors who protect other vampires from danger and a group known as the Lessers. Lessers are humans without souls who hunt and kill vampires. The groups are at odds and in constant battle. Into the middle walks Mary Luce. She is a leukemia survivor on the verge of another round of illness. As part of her work at a suicide hotline she has befriended John Matthews, a desperate young man who, unknown to him, also happens to be a vampire and future warrior. Mary’s neighbor, Bella, recognizes a fellow vampire when she sees one. Bella knows John is about the experience “the change” and needs the guidance of other vampires to survive the experience. She calls on the secretive Brotherhood society for assistance.
Rhage arrives and upon meeting Mary, feels a connection. This is not a I-found-my-lifemate issue. Mary’s voice calms Rhage. Ward manages to make the connection between Rhage and Mary real and confused and unsure just as actual first meetings can be. Rhage feels something for Mary, but he doesn’t know what. She soothes him. As a result, he wants to spend more time with her. Part of the connection comes from the fact that Rhage is a man in desperate need of soothing. Cursed by the Scribe Virgin, he is approximately halfway through a 200-year curse. A beast lives inside him. If Rhage (note the name) doesn’t vent his rage and keep his body steady through mindless sex or fights of fury, the desperation and anger build and the beast appears. With Mary, his attraction awakens the beast.
Rhage’s obligations are to stay away from Mary and to wipe her memory clean afte vtheir meetings. He can’t do either. She speaks to something in him. Something he doesn’t understand he even needs. He knows he should protect her and leave, but he resists doing just that. When Lessers attack one evening, the beast makes an appearance and in the fracas Mary loses her purse. With her indentification in the hands of the Lessers, Rhage moves her into the Brotherhood’s mansion for her own safety, incurring the wrath of his Brothers and the Scribe Virgin. Once ensconced in the mansion, Rhage and Mary must deal with threats from the Lessers, Mary’s illness, the varying needs of the Brothers, Bella’s kidnapping, John’s awakening and the demands of Rhage’s body and the Scribe Virgin.
Eternal Lover packs a punch. It is sensual and moving. The plot zips from issue to issue but never feels disconnected. The romance stays in the foreground, even when Mary and Rhage are off the page. Backstory and the compelling lives of the other Brothers and the attacks by the Lessers weave in and out of Rhage’s story with an expert hand. This book clearly sets up the next book and leads from the one before it, but it manages to rise above the just-one-in-a-series feel. Ward does not spend a great deal of time spoonfeeding information. She dools it out in a believable way that keeps the pace humming. The only negative may be in the difficulty for a new reader to play catch up. This is most true, possibly only true, in the role of the Lessers. The information about them is limited, keeping the group and their plans mysterious. This works in the overall context of the book, but does cause some confusion early on.
The real strength here is in Ward’s ability to draw multi-faceted male characters who never feel like just characters. Rhage is larger-than-life. Ward does not give him an easy road to redemption. He carries the burdens of his past and, in many ways, acts contrary to what readers expect from a hero. But, his behavior is consistent and well-formed, making him a deep, interesting and complex hero. He is stengthened both by his bond to his Brothers and by the manenr in which the other Brothers react to him. All of the men are full and rich and different. Their backgrounds blend, but Ward keeps dialog, speech patterns and backgrounds separate, so that each stands alone as a well-drawn character.
Rhage is so instense that it would be easy for him to overwhelm Mary. He doesn’t. Mary is vulnerable but never weak. She actually stengthens the tough warrior. He needs her. It would have been easy for Ward to fall back on the sick-woman-needs-big-guy plan that is so prevalent in romance novels. She doesn’t. Mary may be physically weaker, but it is her strength that feeds Rhage and eventually saves him. The rescue here is mutual and satisfying.
While the ends do not tie up neatly, the romance does reach climax and move forward. Some issues will carry on to the next Brotherhood book. This unresolved feeling often torments and angers readers. Here, it shouldn’t. Ward provides enough hints and stokes enough interest that it is hard not to count down the days to September 2006 when the next book in the series will be released – a book based on the most wounded of the Brothers and a male so full of conflict and pain, one can’t help but want to see what Ward has in store for him.
Wendy’s Question: Outside of poly-amorous relationships, it is ever okay for a hero or heroine to have sex with someone else? Is the action ever redeemable?
HelenKay’s Response: My presumption and automatic response on this is that it’s not redeemable. Without giving everything away, I would say Lover Eternal , in Ward’s expert hands, provides a believable exception. The key here is in having the act make sense in the overall context of the plot, not be gratitutious and not be just because the hero wants to find a quick sexual release. My guess that the real key to having something like this work – and 9.5 times out of 10 it won’t – depends on the abilities and talent of the author. Ward makes it work…somehow. I’m still not sure how she did it without alienating me of making me dislike Rhage. If anything, the scenes that came after made me love Rhage all the more.
Wendy’s Final Thoughts: Block off time for Lover Eternal, it’s impossible to put down.
HelenKay’s Final Thoughts: A bold and unique addition to vampire lore with a commanding hero, strong world-building and compelling secondary characters.
You can visit J.R. here and purchase this book here and here.

15 thoughts on “Lover Eternal by J.R. Ward

  1. What a great review! You two have really managed to sum up the reasons both Lover Eternal and Dark Lover have earned top spots on my keeper shelf. It’s all about putting a new spin on something that could potentially be a rehashing of a rehashing.
    One thing you didn’t mention yet I wonder what you thought about is how the brothers in the Brotherhood are portrayed as very modern men. They listen to rap music at excruciating levels, drive hip cars, use current slang, dress like gang bangers in the military. Generally, there isn’t a puffy-shirt wearing stereotype in the mix. I really liked that about this bunch. It’s not the normal description of a romance hero, in fact more like the MO of the villians. Yet it works perfectly.
    As for Rhage’s sexual situation after he meets Mary, I will respect the spoiler space of others and not say much about the details, only to say that I had no problem with what happened what so ever. For Rhage, sex was something almost medicinal, and meeting Mary didn’t change the reasons behind his past behaviour.
    Too, I’m a person who has always had a problem with stories in which the rake of a hero is immediately reformed by simply meeting the heroine. The reasons any man would buck social mores and common taste in order to sleep with as many women as possible are very complex. Either something in his past has damaged him psychologically, inspiring him to skirt-chase like crazy, or perhaps his hormone levels are out of whack. He’s in a sort of more sex = more offspring = more chances of my genes surviving natural selection instinctual overdrive. Either scenario cannot be “fixed” simply by meeting a woman who eventually proves to be The One.
    So when the Rake is instantly reformed, my romantic sensibilities are pleased but my sense of realism is really stretched. Rhage had spent centuries doing what he did. For him to simply walk away from it because he’d met Mary and felt an attraction for her wouldn’t have rung true for me.
    And his reaction afterwards, as HelenKay pointed out, more than redeemed any breach of romance ethics, IMO.
    I cannot wait for September, to read Zsadist’s story. In fact, I will almost predict that his will be the one I like best so far, given the set up to date. Of course this just begs for inflated expectations that are bound to be disappointed!
    And Wendy, I totally agree with your assessment about the names. At first I found them almost cloying with contrivance, but now I cannot imagine these guys with any other names. Too, I like how other Vampires not directly in the story have appropriate names – like John Matthew’s name when he eventually enters the Brotherhood becoming Torhment. In Ward’s world, this makes absolute sense.
    Sorry for going on and on. Can you tell how much I liked these books?

  2. Lynn! Chat all you want. HelenKay and I owe you a big thank you for suggesting this series. We’re both now obsessively hooked on the Brotherhood.
    To answer your question, about the Brothers as modern men, yes, I loved that element of the story. They listen to rap music, they wear “shitkickers”, they speak in modern parlance, and the non-Brother Butch has an almost chick lit heroine love of designer clothing. It was yet another bit of freshness for the old mythology that’s the basis of this series. I didn’t mention it simply because there’s so much to talk about here and my half of the review ran very long as it was.
    Rhage’s issue with sex and how he uses is difficult to delve into because of the spoiler issue (though I have seen it revealed entirely elsewhere). Speaking in generalities of genre Rakes, I completely agree with you, Lynn. That they amend their ways after catching sight of the heroine appeals to the romantic in me while insulting my sense of realism.
    I’ve tried to remember other romances that didn’t stick to the fidelity rule and there are only two that stand out in my memory. In Dragonfly in Amber Claire sleeps with the King of France in trade for Jamie’s release from prison. In that instance Claire’s betrayal of Jamie isn’t one of the flesh, but of trust: she lied to him about what happened. For those characters the lie was everything and the act very little. Then, of course, in Slow Heat in Heaven Cash doesn’t immediately give up his booty call and in fact uses the woman when he wants Schyler. But, that was Cash, bad to the bone. These two likely stand out in my mind, because they work within the contexts of those stories.
    As HK said, what happens between Rhage and Mary doesn’t diminish the story and, in fact, makes for a better read.
    Zsadist, I absolutely cannot wait for Zsadist’s story.
    Got any more suggestions for us, Lynn, because your opinion is golden.

  3. A good friend of mine told me I’m an idiot if I don’t read Dark Lover. I really hate being an idiot, so I bought it and lugged it to a writing conference last weekend, but never got a chance to start the book. On my way home, I spent a few days in Dallas, and wound up leaving it there. Last night, I was in Barnes & Noble and thought, what the heck, and bought another copy. Stayed up until 4 am, then got up this morning and finished the second half. Oh My God! I SO love when I find a great author, a great book – and a SERIES! More great books to come! I was so fired up, I headed back to Barnes & Noble to pick up Lover Eternal – and they were out! I live in Podunk west Texas, so not many other book venues to visit. At least, none that are open past 9. Argh!
    Probably just as well – I need to catch up on sleep, and I suspect, particularly after reading your review, I’d be up until the wee hours again.
    But tomorrow….I’ll be on the prowl, looking for a copy. Dark Lover is one of those books I so seldom read – I was totally lost in it and never once thought about how it was written, or why the author chose a particular plot point. I finished it and sat back and thought, HOW did she do that? This was quickly followed by insane jealousy, rapidly followed by a Wayne’s World scenario of I’m not wooooorthy, and finishing up with warm satisfaction that I read a book I thoroughly enjoyed and eager anticipation to get to the next one.
    Thanks so much for such a fabulous review – it’s like an appetizer that leaves us hungrier than before. Yes, I was anxious to read the second book, but now, it’s gonna drive me crazy before I can get a copy and dig in.

  4. Stephanie – LOVER ETERNAL is not my usual reading taste either. I got a copy in the mail and a reader suggested we review the previous book, DARK LOVER. Since ETERNAL was coming out, and since there was so much buzz about this book, we decided to jump into the middle of the series and give ETERNAL a try. My experience was like yours – I got lost in the book. Absolutely fell in love with Rhage, the hero here. I’m intrigued and excited about the remaining Brothers. Ward “broke” some romance rules I generally view as unbreakable. In her hands, I believed. She is very talented, and I look forward to the next release. That’s saying something from a reader who usually skips vampire tales.
    Now, for a small plug for you…I read your book SHOW HER THE MONEY and really enjoyed. Am looking forward to picking up a copy of your April release, RUN FOR THE MONEY.

  5. Hi Stephanie, thank you for stopping by. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited by an author or a series of books and I’m glad I’m not alone in that sentiment.
    I had exactly the same reaction you did when I finished reading Lover Eternal: how did she do that? Then I traipsed to Barnes and Noble for Dark Lover, devoured it, and again wondered: how did she do that?
    The books are well executed and, more importantly, resonant on an emotional level, so there really isn’t an opportunity, or a need, or a desire, to ponder craft or plot or author choices. For me, it’s a rare thing to be so immersed in a work that I don’t dissect while reading. I didn’t think I’d be able to write a review for Lover Eternal, I thought I’d simply drool into the keyboard and type: I loved it, over and over again.
    Hope you’re able to find a copy of Lover Eternal, sleep can wait for another day.

  6. Well, hell – it’s 1 am, on a Sunday night, and I’m supposed to meet a client and deliver his tax returns at 9 in the morning. Do I care? No way! OMG! LOVER ETERNAL rocked my socks off – it was maybe better than the first. At least as good, and I’m frustrated out of all reason that it’ll be freakin’ September before I can read the next one. I’m so not the fan girl type, but I’m there. Your review is spot on, and I hope lots and lots of people buy these books, so NAL will keep paying J.R. Ward to keep writing them. Wendy, I’m with you on the drool factor.
    HelenKay, what a lovely thing to say – and I’m so glad you liked the first Pink book. That means one helluva lot, coming from you. I never post here, but I love reading the reviews, because they’re unflinching, honest, in depth, and you always get it so right.

  7. Yes, we are honest and unflinching, LOL. We always appreciate it when someone gets what we’re trying to do. Thank you, Stephanie.
    I’m glad to hear you got Lover Eternal and so thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m in love with Ward, and want everyone else to be in love with her too.
    Agreed, September is much too far away.

  8. Don’t know if you ladies have seen it, but over at AAR, reviewer Jane Jorgenson gave Lover Eternal a C rating. You can check it out here: (sorry, I’m totally lame when it comes to creating links).
    Anyway, although I disagree with her grade because I would never grade something I consider a keep with only an “average”, I do admit to having some of the same issues with the book as Jane did. Mostly, it’s a problem with Mary, the heroine. I think it comes down to the fact that the members of the Brotherhood are so much larger than life, yet Mary as a heroine didn’t jump off the page for me. She’s just a bit too passive; too much happens to Mary rather than her participating in it. I tend to like heroines who do more than wait around for their lovers to return, so this fell a little flat for me.
    Too, the resolution at the end – which I will not specify here to avoid spoiling anyone – was a bit of the deux ex machina variety. One second, things are nearly impossible to resolve yet everything turns out fine on the twist of a dime, as it were.
    I’m really hoping that Bella proves to be a more active heroine in Lover Awakened. Of course, if this is the case, I’m going to be forever lost in rereading it because it will be so good!

  9. I went back and forth on Mary at first. She seems secondary on first read, but I would argue that actually she is the catalyst for everything that happens here. It’s true Rhage is larger-than-life and, really, the book belongs to, and is about, him not her. But, look at how Ward presented Mary – try to find Mary whining or acting the roll of shrinking violet. She doesn’t. She stands up to the Brotherhood, to Rhage and to her disease. She saves Rhage, and I mean that in the most romantic way as well as in the physical way. In those terms and in many ways, she turns out to be the strong one.
    Admittedly the ending did have a wrapped up feeling but, honestly, could it have ended another way that would have felt satisfying? I preferred this ending to the other forever possibility that would have allowed her to stay with Rhage (ie, the undead kind).

  10. I saw that review and will keep my mouth shut about it for a variety of reasons.
    That is an interesting point, Lynn, about things happening to Mary v. her more active participation. I think, however, that Mary is a fighter as much as she can be given the limitations Ward places on her.
    As for the ending, I was expecting a *poof* now everything is fixed conclusion and wasn’t at all surprised when that’s exactly what happened. I did think the ending was deserving of more page time that it was given. That created a frustration for me. As is, the quickness feels more like, OK, I’m done now, than the natural pace it should have.

  11. True, about Mary acting as the catalyst. And I do give her the benefit of having a backbone; she wasn’t a shrinking violet at all. It’s more that she had little she was given to do, I guess.
    Also, and I mentioned this in my comments on AAR’s reviews message board, I wasn’t happy with the way Mary’s cancer was used. Her reaction to it felt to be on the surface only. Certainly she had the thoughts I imagine anyone would on learning that their cancer had returned, yet I never got any emotional depth that made me believe she felt the level of despair I would think it would cause. I know part of this was based on Mary’s reserve and repression of her own feelings, but what it ended up doing was making her cancer feel more like a character trait than a horrible crisis. She has brown hair, brown eyes, cancer, and bites her fingernails. The cancer came across as more of a plot device – a reason Mary couldn’t just fall into Rhage’s arms – than a true issue.
    Too, as was pointed out on the AAR message boards by others more eloquent than I am, both Mary in LE and Beth in Dark Lover were kind of bizarre in that neither of them had any serious connections with the world that would give people pause when the two women for all intents and purposes completely disappeared. Granted, Butch followed Beth to join the Brotherhood, but what of her coworkers? Same thing with Mary. It’s taking the orphan scenario to a whole new level, isolating these women from friendships and the like so they can join this new world of the vampires without leaving behind so much as a residue.
    I’m really enjoying this discussion!

  12. Well, for me, Beth and Mary, leaving their lives to be enveloped into the Brothers’ world is one of those, you either go along for the ride or you don’t issues. If I’m not going to examine the believability of a race of vampires, then I’m not going to question the ease with which Beth and Mary disappear from the real world. That is just me, though, and I can understand how other readers could feel differently.
    I didn’t have the same reaction to Mary’s cancer that you did Lynn because I didn’t expect despair from her. Someone very close to me has recurrent lung cancer–which is scary as scary gets–and sitting in the doctor’s office and hearing, “It’s back,” for the second, third, and fourth time changes the perspective. At least in my personal experience. The first time brought despair, the second disbelief, by the third time the feeling was “here we go again, and we’ll beat it just like the other times.” While I don’t expect my experience to be a universal template for patients and loved ones dealing with cancer, it did make me think that Mary’s reaction and response was within reason for someone who’d been down the road before. Had it been her first diagnosis, I would have expected something different.

  13. Good point, Wendy, about going along for the ride. If you look at a good portion of romance novels, they are populated by a heck of a lot of orphans, which I understand makes things a lot easier for the writer because there aren’t any pesky relatives to handle. Too, it gives the character a special vulnerability that instantly causes sympathy in the reader and makes us want that character to finally have someone to love and who loves him or her.
    So Mary and Beth having no family to speak of isn’t really that big of a stretch for a romance novel reader. It’s more a matter of thinking of things from a different perspective. Most orphans in Romancelandia don’t simply disappear completely. These two women are gone – poof – never to see their old acquaintances again. You got to wonder why no one questions this.
    It’s like, I’m a huge fan of Buffy the Vampir Slayer, but I do always wonder why it seems like no one in Sunnydale ever questions all the strange occurances that go on. And I know this is a complete oxymoron, because if I can buy that there are vampires and demons and the like running around creating havoc, why can’t I just stretch the suspension of disbelief that little bit further to accept that the civilians just don’t notice these things?
    I’m not saying I’m a rational person!

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