Paranormal romance is the portion of the genre with the most primal stories. There are strong tribal elements and the tropes tend towards traditional roles. Men are warriors, god-like iron-thewed lords capable of both shocking violence and macho tenderness. The women are fertility goddesses, sensual and beautiful, but with a core of steel. The mythological elements dovetail perfectly with common wish-fulfillment fantasies. These stories are generally not my cup of tea, although I admit that the genre’s writer I am most familiar with, Kresley Cole, is capable of sexy escapism when she isn’t regurgitating misogynistic folderol. Paranormal romances can be campy fun when securely centered in their own world and everyone’s tongue is placed firmly in their cheek, but that doesn’t mean you get to be a lousy writer, or maybe it does because JR Ward’s Dark Lover is very badly written and, this is the cardinal sin, not particularly sexy, yet her Black Dagger Brotherhood books are incredibly popular and successful.
Wrath, erstwhile vampyr king, and his Black Dagger Brotherhood, including Rhage, Vishous, Phury, Tohrment, and Zsadist are in a battle to the undeath with the Lessers, meaning humans converted to vampyrs, as opposed to pure-blooded or mixed race vampyrs. (Note my jejeune “vampire” spelling homage to Ward’s maverick orthography.) Human Beth is about to make the transition to vampyr and needs assistance lest the transformation kill her. Owing a debt to her deceased vampyr father, Wrath takes on the task of assisting her through the process and out of her underpants. The factions fight, future heroes and heroines are introduced, and Ward lays the groundwork for the rest of the series.
In this world, men can only feed off women and female vampyrs offer the best nutrition, so they are often kept away from the outside world. This gives me pause because, one, what happens if a vampire is gay, and two, I don’t know about you, but I am leery of any culture in which women must be sequestered for their own “protection” and whose primary function appears to be to servicing the men’s needs. Vampyr Marissa has been meeting Wrath’s blood requirements for decades and knows when she finishes doing so she will be AND I QUOTE “considered used goods”. There’s more on this front: “He’s marked you…I can smell it…the warning’s all over you…That scent on your skin sends a powerful message to other males.” I was at a party with a man I was seeing who was acting so territorial that I finally asked him, “Wouldn’t it be easier just to pee in a circle around me?” This is that, that is what this is. The male vampyrs mark their territory/women with scent, like a dog or an ocelot, or whatever male animal that pees on things and seems the most manly.
Speaking of territoriality:
Zsadist: Not willing to share the female?
Wrath: You only like it if you pay for it.
Zsadist: So I’ll flip her a twenty. Assuming she lives through the sex.
Wrath clarifies Beth’s role and his relationship with her father, “and then (Zsadist) made a point to tuck in his shirt while looking her in the eye. As if he were apologizing.”… for planning to rape her so violently she died. [waiting for the full body shudders to pass] Zsadist has his own book and that is going to have to [still shuddering] be one hell of a redemptive female.
Ward’s vampyrs have powers, as is the paranormal way of things, and they include the ability to materialize and dematerialize, super strength, and heightened senses, in particular strong scent associations. The women are stunningly beautiful, and the men are huge, muscular, heavily tattooed and/or scarred, and wear a lot of leather. In other words, every bad boy fantasy rolled into one. At first, I took that to mean this:
or perhaps this,
Good job, my brain!
Note: In addition to all the leather, Wrath is nearly blind and sports wraparound sunglasses almost constantly, such as after a shower when he holds a meeting while wearing only a towel around his waist.
As is true of all romance or any other genre writing based on such a consistent and repeatable pattern, Dark Lover’s quality comes down to the writing and, truly, JR Ward has a gift, nay, a curse for metaphor:
“Jose loosened his hold, and Butch went down like a piano.” Pianos stand quietly where you put them.
“Panic ran like gasoline through her veins.” That must be a really small nozzle.
“The smell of her sex on him was like a whip against his self control.” Wouldn’t that have an encouraging effect, i.e. “Daily weigh-ins are like a whip against my self control around chocolate.”
“She arched again, feeling like a dam had broken between her legs.” [insert beaver joke here]
It’s not just the metaphorical language that sets the writing and story apart. I also learned that discovering your absent father has had you secretly followed and photographed your entire life is sweet and not completely freaky, and that police brutality is totally cool as long as the victim deserves it.
Then there was this,
“There was an IV pumping fluids and painkillers into his arm and a catheter bag…” I was grateful that Ward clarified as I was too distracted by my concerns about Wrath’s vampyr urine management, to concentrate on the story.
“He let out a bellow of ecstasy.” I tend to bray in ecstasy myself, or give a ladylike yawp.
and, lastly, this:
“Oatmeal raisin,” he said, taking three. “My favourite.”
It was then I understood the unholy nature of these creatures and the true malevolence of Dark Lover and JR Ward’s vampyr world. No good can come of a book series in which oatmeal raisin cookies are anyone’s preference.