Friday, September 16, 2011

Dark Lover by JR Ward, Book 1 of the Black Dagger Brotherhood

Vampires are trying to live quiet lives as best they can. Their society is secretive and often separated from humanity – who they have little to do with. But there numbers are dwindling. An ancient group of human hunters has tried to annihilate them throughout the ages. To fight the vampires these Lessers sacrifice their souls, continually recruit more members and hunt the vampires with a sadistic glee. In response, the Vampires have the Black Dagger Brotherhood – a small group of veteran fighters to defend them against the predation of the Lessers. Each with their own darkness, they are the few warriors that try to save their species from extinction.

Wrath is their leader – and heir apparent to the empty throne that he refuses to fill. Cold and aloof, he dedicates himself to nothing but the fight – until his Brother, Darius is killed by the Lessers and his dying wish is for Wrath to take care of his daughter, Beth. Raised as a human Beth is soon approaching her transition to becoming a vampire – a transition that may kill her without Wrath's help.

Together they deal with their overwhelming attraction, transitioning into vampiredom, avenging Darius' death, saving themselves from the continued attacks by the Lessers – and to complicate it all, Beth's friend Butch, a police man, knows something is up and are watching all too closely. All the while the shadows of Wrath's past continue to haunt him

Wrath and Beth see each other and things get engorged/hot/wet/hard and the humping starts. Just about every time they lay eyes on each other – even before Beth knows his name. And I wouldn't mind if it was a case of sexual agency and simply enjoying the sexy time – but it's not, it's more akin to Love at First Woo-woo with both knowing they Cannot Live Without the Other. Wrath and Beth go from complete strangers to true love, married and “I will die for you!” (literally) in the space of... a week? Maybe 2 weeks on the outside. Even Marissa and Butch go from “just met” to “I can't stop thinking about you!” in 8 hours.

There's also a huge amount of Hauptman going on here – Wrath marks Beth as his. We have references to her being “branded” claimed, taken and all the skeevy we normally get where Twu Luv looks a lot like a stalker abusive boyfriend. Wrath, of course, being the Big Bad Man has to protect her and threatens death and dire consequences (or actually physically assault) to any man who looks at her/talks about her. The way it's worded, it's implied that all male vampires are similarly inclined.

We have more Big Strong Men protecting the Delicate Womenz with Marissa, Wrath's sort-of-ex who he treats as a blood bank. Arranged for him by his parents, he is cold and uncaring towards her, avoiding her when he can (but it's all ok, because after centuries of emotional abuse,. Wrath says sorry. Cool now, 'kay?) And Havers, her brother, is determined to fight for his sister's honour (whether she wants him to or not) which ends up on him joining the dark side (he could listen to his sister, but instead spends several days cutting her off and acting on her behalf without consulting her).

As well as the romance being highly problematic in nature, it's also overwhelming. Wrath is facing a steadily dwindling race, his best friend and battle brother has just been murdered, he has to hunt down and destroy the killers as well as the people trying to annihilate his species - and to top it all the police are hunting him as the prime suspect in multiple murders. And what does he do? Has sex. Thinks about having sex. Then has more sex. Then more sex. Then they have some more sex. The plot could actually have been interesting if it weren't considered to be a minor interruption between the next lot of sexing.

Some more irritants – this book has all the subtlety of a sack of hammers swung at the head. The bad guy is evil – we can't not know he's evil because this character lacks even the remotest hint of nuance. He's a sadistic murdering torturer who revels in suffering and death. That's it – that's all he is. He might as well have a moustache he twirls while laughing ominously – and his recruits are more of the same. And, as is the case with all long-time Lessers he's utterly pale, pale hair etc – it feels a lot like the old “evil albino” trope.

And it's pretty much the theme of this book, everything is written in bold, cartoonish fashion. The dialogue is stilted, overdone and ridiculously dramatic. The bad guys are bad to the point of being caricatures. Wrath is cold and reserved – but there are statues with more emotion to them, in fact everyone is a walking stereotype. Even the Dark Brother's names – Tohrment, Rhage, Phury, Zsadist, Vishous (oh and Darius. Darius? Couldn't he have been Irrytated? Pizzed? Zsulky? I mean if you're going to go with a theme, stick with it) are so comically over done that I honestly had to put the book down to have a giggle fit over them.

More irritating points – though it's like beating a dead horse at this point. I'm unhappy how the cast seems content to accept Zsadist who they suspect of being a misogynist murderer of women and Butch, who they know engages in police brutality often enough to get a reputation for it.

The books are grossly heteronormative, not only do we have GBLT erasure but vampires must feed on the blood of the opposite sex so we have heteronormativity heavily imprinted on the canon. Add in that if you want to drive just about any of the male characters to a furious rage you just have to imply they're gay.

There's one hispanic cop who plays a side role, otherwise we have complete POC erasure.

On the semi-plus side Wrath is visually impaired. I was surprised to see this mighty vampire leader and warrior portrayed as disabled, with vision that shows him no more than vague blurs at best. It shows many of the difficulties and issues he has with his daily life caused by having such poor vision. I think this is a first that we've seen and certainly worth mentioning. I'm not sure how far I want to go praising this, however, because when he fights etc any difficulties from his impaired vision seem to no longer be present – of course he has other vampiric senses. I don't know, I don't know whether to call this a good portrayal, or a portrayal of disability that “turns off” the disability when it is not useful for the plot.

Would I recommend this book? No. It's boring, its plot and world are lost in a series of lacklustre sex scenes and its told with no great skill and the characters have little realism to them. I've read worse, that's for certain – but I can only say that because I've read some really terrible drek. I am regarding the rest of this series with something resembling vague dread.