Tag Archives: j r ward

the Covet review

I didn’t like this book. There. You have it straight up. At about page 450 of this 474-page book I came clean with myself that the itchy feeling in my fingers was to do with the fact that I wanted to put the book down. Without any impetus to pick it up again.

A couple of things:

I wasn’t going to read the fallen angels, but decided to because I was going crazy waiting for Lover Unleashed. I figured any Ward was good Ward.

Wrong.

I actually feel like it’s achieved the opposite: Because I had no investment in these characters, Ward’s writing palette was made very obvious to me, and it made the Black Dagger Brotherhood seem less special somehow, as though I’ll go back to it seeing all those things that my full immersion made unimportant before.

Ok, now time for some “it wasn’t ALL bad”.

And it wasn’t. I kinda like Jim, the fallen angel who has to help the hero get the girl. I thought his side-kick Adrian was too like Qhuinn, so I had to stop myself from imagining him anything like, and it skewed him in my head. Eddie? Huge guy with a long braid doesn’t really do anything for me.

Oops, I was on good points, right?

The dark stuff is good, she does really go there. And I think my favourite scene, which was executed brilliantly, is when we first see the hero. We’re in the POV of a jeweller who is selling him a $2,300,000 diamond ring.

After making the jeweller show him progressively worse stones for an hour, Vin says he’ll take the first one he was shown, adding: “If I’m giving you my money, I want you to work for it. And you will be discounting the stone, because your business needs repeat clients like myself.”

He comes across as hard, mean and powerful. In a really good way.

This is where my biggest beef with the book lies, though. The whole premise is the battle for human souls. They are souls that have an equal chance of swinging either way – that can be influenced equally by good and evil.

But all we see, the whole way through, is a bunch of people trying to do the right thing whilst evil throws up some obstacles in their path. This is particularly true of Jim, who Team Evil are supposedly very confident of being able to sway. There’s so much that could have been done with actual human desires, which sometimes do tend the other way. The only person who truly gave in to an evil desire was the baddie. Proper, normal baddie guy.

I think this is why the romance didn’t work for me in the slightest. I really couldn’t care less about these two being together. Marie-Terese as prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold was ok (or not – her problems got tiresome pretty quick. Vin kept admiring her backbone, and I kept wondering why she didn’t have one), but her reasons for resisting her attraction to Vin were tepid at best. There was a fear because the attraction reminded her of her first husband – another great opportunity to explore the dark side of the soul not taken.

I didn’t feel any vulnerability from her – falling in love didn’t feel like a risk. Which is funny, because that’s what we were told it was, as far as plotting went. Also, her as a desperate mother? Ward really should have read Dream a Little Dream before she ventured down that path.

When Vin and Marie-Terese first meet there are sparks. And then there’s just a whole lot of falling in love and gradually defeating some bad stuff, but hey, they’re in love. I so wanted to see that hard, cold man from the jewellery shop struggle to come good – but as soon as we got inside his head, he felt reformed. So when he finally makes love to Marie-Terese and it actually means something, I had nothing to contrast it with and I was just like “Oh, ok.”

NO conflict. Not in the love. Conflict in love is good.

Ah, what a rant. It was just so damn disappointing. I even have Crave sitting on my dining room table and I just don’t think I’ll bother.

writing out loud vs. honing your craft

The reason Ward’s advice to “write out loud” resonated so much with me is that after a year of studying writing I’m looking around wondering where the hell my voice went.

I’ve been studying Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT, and it is a mind-blowingly good course. My novel teacher is Sonia Orchard, and she knows her stuff. Her critiques are to the point and always pertinent.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that I have become a much better writer this year. I’ve learnt about the drama underlying a scene and the 80% of the story underlying the novel. I’ve learnt about detail and showing and about what can be ruthlessly edited out.

But it’s taken me the whole year to realise that all those things are important…to a second draft.

I was trying to re-write the first chapter of my novel, and I wasn’t feeling it. Then half-way through it dawned on me: I was writing a really good scene. And I was writing the things that agents and editors “look for” (they don’t, really – what they look for is passionate writing, whatever that looks like).

I wasn’t writing what I love. What makes me fizzle and spark inside and want to know more.

I had Sonia in my head saying Melodramatic! What does this mean? Would they really say that back then?

We all know that a first draft should be uninhibited. But I think Ward’s advice goes beyond that. She’s not just saying be uninhibited, she’s saying be so honest you find parts of your brain you never even knew you had.

Craft is important. Voice and passion are vital.

write. out. loud.

I’ve been reading the insider’s guide to the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Yes, it’s completely daggy. But that’s just how this series is – once you’ve read all the books there are to read you’ll take any way back into the world you can.

(There’s a hilarious review of Dark Lover here. What I love most about it is the self-conscious comments from readers who just can’t help themselves.)

There’s a section in the guide that’s J. R. Ward’s advice to writers. She says a couple of things which really got me.

1. Writing and getting published are two very distinct things. Being published and having people buy your book are not the only things that validate you as a writer. If you write, you are an author.

2. Do the best you can do now. This bit of advice is great, huh? Ward gives a really warm, funny account of when it was first passed on to her. I think you know when you’re pushing your own boundaries and it’s relaxing to think that that’s enough.

3. And the one that spoke to me most: Write out loud. By this she means – push your ideas as far as they go. Write what’s in your head without concession to readership/market/internal censor or inhibitions. You can edit it back later.

This last piece of advice is also what I think has made her series so stratospherically successful. Her characters are big, cheesy and far too much. But they are so unrestrained, so true to themselves, that you fall right in with them.

Alpha hero

the Black Dagger Brotherhood books have gotten me thinking a lot about alpha heroes – and what kinds of heroines they need to keep them readable.

Just to get this out of the way first: Alphas feel a little bit illicit…but we all love them, right?

I read Kresley Cole and J R Ward close together, and they both write men who are compelled by their animal nature to be possessive and protective to an astounding degree. The different heroines they give these heroes makes for some interesting comparison.

For almost all the Brotherhood books to date, Ward’s heroines wait bravely at home while their men go and fight. They worry. To the point where they annoy. But it also worries me that they don’t seem to have power over their own lives.

I don’t mean that they aren’t “strong women” in their characterisation. But when they act against what their men want, they tend to get into trouble. As Ward has written them, they aren’t in a position to make the right choices for themselves.

The one standout divergence is the heroine of the latest Brotherhood novel, Xhex. She not only frees herself and fights alongside the men, she also forces her lover to stay home and wait for her while she’s fighting. He is now the one at home, eaten away by worry.

In Ward’s novels it is the heroes who stick in your mind. They are the main characters, their relationships to each other are of the most interest in the books, and their women are given meaning by being important to them. It’s not that I don’t like the heroines (ok, sometimes I don’t), but I don’t think Ward gives them parity with their alpha males.

That contrasts heavily with Cole’s heroines, who stand beside the heroes as memorable – and very often steal the show. They are strong and they make decisions for themselves. Though they have alphas going after them in a single-minded way, they have the power in their own lives.

There’s a scene that shows this to perfection:

Two valkyrie heroines from previous novels have turned outside their brother-in-law Conrad’s house to find out why their husbands have gone missing. He and his woman are watching them out the window. One of them wants to kill Conrad for information, but the other punches her to stop her from making that mistake.

“Wait a second.” Myst narrowed her gaze. “What in the hell are we doing? We’re Valkyrie – we take what we want.”

“What do you mean?” Kaderin asked.

“Kristoff won’t let our men go? Then Kristoff needs to be taught a lesson. I say we capture the whole bloody castle.”

There was a dangerous light to Kaderin’s eyes. “Fucking A.”

“Go get them girls,” Conrad muttered.

“Those small women couldn’t really start a war?”

“They might be small, but either one of them could lift a train.” His tone absent, he said, “Kristoff’s sitting across the world – with no idea that hell has just been unleashed against him.”

The difference here is that Ward has said her heroines are strong, but she hasn’t given their choices any power. Cole gives her heroines real, operational intelligence, so that their decisions weigh in equally to their males’.

the Lover Unbound review

when I broke up with my first long-term boyfriend, what made me the most terrified, the most heartbroken, was that in a couple of years it would no longer matter. I wouldn’t feel the pain, and he would be nothing more than a memory I might take out once in a while.

At the time, in the midst of breaking us up, that felt like a horror.

That’s a bit how I felt about the romance in this book. And as I realise that I probably need to catch you up on what I’ve been going on (and on and on) about (with spoilers):

Vishous is a vampire warrior/son of the vampire deity who has never let himself care about anything or anyone. Until a human cop joins the Brotherhood. Butch and Vishous become roommates and start finishing each other’s sentences. Butch becomes the first person V has ever let close.

Then V saves Butch’s life, is the only one who can keep him alive if Butch is going to do his part in the war, undertakes the gruesome rite to turn Butch into a fully-fledged vampire (no bite-and-bury in Ward’s world!) and sponsors him to join the brotherhood.

During that ceremony Butch offers his neck to V and they share the most intimate moment of any in any of the books. All the while Butch is apparently falling for Marissa, bimbo-extraordinaire. (Ok, so I don’t mind her so much outside of her capacity as Butch’s soulmate, but will talk more about Alphas and their females soon.)

Ok.

Cut to Lover Unbound, and instead of brushing the whole thing off, Ward made the decision to actually name what V feels for Butch. The book opens with a whole bunch of delicious longing on his part.

In fact, it opens with Butch half naked, forcing V – with great tenderness – to look at him with the tip of a very sharp dagger.

So, it’s official. V is in love with Butch.

And then this miraculous thing happens. He meets a woman, who from one second to the next boots Butch out of “that secret chamber in his heart”. Ta da!

Jane was actually a pretty great character – an amazing surgeon, head of the Trauma team, stands her ground with aggressive men. But there was only really one moment in the whole book when I actually believed that she had gotten through to V: she makes a silly joke to him at an inappropriate moment and surprises a laugh out of him that no one else could.

I think there was the potential between these two for a great love story, but the problem was this: his love for Butch was just too much more convincing. So to have it just disappear in a matter of minutes?

Not good.

And then once it had magically gone, there was that feeling again. Instead of enjoying his new love story, all I really felt was the great melancholy that his love for Butch wasn’t going to matter soon. And what a horror that was.

I’m sorry to say, I have a lot more rant in me on this subject, so tomorrow I’m going to briefly touch on the give-and-take between writer and reader, and what I think has happened in this case.

Then I’ll move on. Promise.

(Er, though it might just be to the next book in the series…)

and the heartbreak continues…

I’m reading Lover Unbound just now, and still mourning the separation of Butch and Vishous. Makes it hard to engage with V’s woman, but more about that tomorrow….

Coming back to the book after my evening of class and choir, I had this odd feeling like I couldn’t remember what had happened so far. How the characters had come to be where they were in the book.

I started to panic just a little, book nerd that I am, hoping I would still be able to be inside the story, even with my curious case of amnesia.

It got me wondering: is reading a story like learning the alphabet? You have to forget it all over again in order to read the whole. If a character and their journey is truly well-drawn, does it matter whether you remember the particular events, as long as you intimately know the character as they are now – as a changed, transforming thing?

I think this is what agent Donald Maass is talking about when he writes:

A true journey is not just all that we experience but how we understand it: our minds in nova, our hearts seeking peace.

the Lover Revealed review

this is really hard one, because there’s something in this book I just can’t get past. It’s made me realise that one of the reasons I love romance is that it doesn’t leave you wishing something were different.

This book did.

It’s the fourth book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, which I’ve been devouring. And it’s timely that I just wrote a post about the homoerotics of the series, because this is the thing that I can’t get past.

In the last book, the love between the brothers – and the way they physically express their love and loyalty – were an aspect I loved. It was an integral part of the love story at the core of the book.

In Lover Revealed she pushes the male/male relationship further – especially between the hero and his roommate (don’t let the word fool you, the guy’s a giant vampire warrior). For me, every truly tender, truly passionate part of this novel happened between those two men.

And the heroine just wasn’t enough to convince that our hero would turn his back on his roomie. So I just ended up resenting her.

And when the two males share an unbearably intimate embrace as part of a vampire ceremony, then part and “the parting was complete and irrevocable. A path that would not be walked. Ever.” it kind of broke my heart.

All kudos to Ward, that she could write the men’s relationship such that it developed with subtlety and longing, without ever being outright. But I think an author has to be so careful what longings they set up in their readers, if they’re not going to answer them.

So I am left with an achy kind of melancholy, which I suppose is not an entirely bad thing.

homoerotics in straight vampire fiction

You may have started picking up on the fact that I’m reading J R Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. We’re talking a book a day here, but I got some homework done this arvo, so it’s all good.

I just finished the third book, Lover Awakened, which is by far my favourite so far. In fact, I think it would make it onto my top ten romance books list.

It also had by far the most homoerotic vibe so far, and I think it’s so interesting how J R Ward manages to do that in a hetero atmosphere that’s safe enough for leery readers.

Just to get the basic premise out of the way: Six specially bred vampire warriors are part of a mystical brotherhood and they protect their race from extinction. One of them is their blind king, and they are revered but violent and kind of psychotic. But in a good way, I guess.

Ward allows them not only the closeness of loyalty and brotherhood, but also a physical closeness, a physical loyalty. When Zsadist’s mate comes back after 6 weeks of torture and is being checked by the doctor, his brothers hold him up between their two bodies and he hides his face in the king’s mane of black hair.

(There’s a lot of context here: the guy hasn’t let anyone touch him in, like, centuries.)

Another of the brothers feeds his unwitting human roomie/best friend a glass of vamp blood then holds him while his body goes through hell – and climaxes in, er, a climax.

The best thing, I think, is that there’s a lot of ribbing each other about being gay, but not the tiniest hint of judgement or even a great amount of definition between them on the issue. All there is, is their love for each other.

Heady stuff.

It’s the same reason she pulls off the straight relationships too, I think. One particular part stood out for me: There’s a young kid watching his hero get pussy-whipped by the wife on the phone. The guy hangs up, and Ward writes how he respected his wife too much to do any of that rolling-the-eyes crap.

I like this woman.

the family thing

not my family, so chill.

(I’m probably getting too old to say so chill. Or something.)

Was talking with a friend recently about “Why exactly was Twilight so good?” Yeah, that old chestnut. To give context, I discovered it randomly at a bookstore in Berlin just as I was reaching the end of a looooooong, dark winter. I had never heard of it, and much as I tried to tell everyone I knew that they should read it, no one would listen.

I got to experience it in a vacuum, at a time when it was most welcome, and, yeah, I loved it.

Why though, and why so much?

One of the reasons I came up with was the whole family vibe. What I mean by that is that the disparate characters come to be this sort of family together – and it’s a family you want to belong to, spend time with.

Reading J R Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series at the moment has brought this home to me all over again. Even a book and a half into the series I still wasn’t sure whether I even liked it – but I had to keep spending time with the characters.

She’s built such a solid – if out-of-this-world disfunctional – family that I just couldn’t put them away for ever. I wanted to hang out with them.

So I guess the moral of the story is: don’t underestimate the powers of loyalty, love, and I-will-do-anything-for-you,-you-are-my-family on a reader.

Oh, and I think more often than not, that kind of love is expressed through fights, insults and punches.