Monday, November 28, 2011

Review, Lover Mine by J.R. Ward, Book 8 of the Black Dagger Brotherhood

This book follows John Matthew and unlike the last book it’s pretty much focused on his story – and the story of Xhex. 

A few things happened in this book – Xhex had to evade her kidnapping at the hands of Lash, the Omega’s own son. Lash originally took her because she killed his symphath prisoner and ended up infatuated with her and her willingness to fight back. But all is not simple in Lash’s life – with a rift developing between him and the Omega and his own body transforming around him.With Lash on the outs, the Omega has a new fore-lesser with a new and potentially horrendous tactic – the Brotherhood has to deal with

We see greater insight into John’s connection to Darius – and more of Darius and Tohrment’s past, as well as some of the changes to the Chosen’s circumstances. But mainly we see Xhex and John recover from their ordeal, sort through their past issues and finally plough their way towards each other, seeking vengeance and having lots and lots of sex. Oh and Qhuinn and Blay drowning in theirs.

Ok, as summaries go that was a little scrappy, but they are focused on one storyline (the side-plots are not only distracting but they’re almost laughably hollow and irrelevant) and the relationship between John  and Xhex is just one long angst/issues/sex/make me want to break my kindle fest. Deep breath guys because this isn’t going to be a good one.

I say the Brotherhood have to deal with various things here, but I’m taking that on trust, because I have no idea what they were doing. I know I wanted a more focused story, but what are Zsadist, Vishous, Rhage and Phury (who is always on speakerphone, he’s that busy) actually doing? Because not only do we not see them much, but they always seem to be there when needed. Do they just hang around looking bad-ass until called? If they’re not doing anything could someone get them a thesaurus and point out that “shitkicker” is not synonymous with “shoes”.

In general I have found this series to be highly problematic (and have other flaws besides) but I’ve found enough to amuse me that I generally leave each book laughing rather than cringing.
I'm not laughing.

This book took most of the problems the series has had, highlighted them and clicked bold and poured them all out at once.

I’m going to start with the most minor of issues – there are a couple of side plots here running around that seem to serve absolutely no purpose. They just show up, introduce characters we know next to nothing about, they do next to nothing then we return to the main plot. It’s like having an advert break. Payne and Muhrder had no real role in this book, they could have been a paragraph to bring their story up to date, but instead we saw them time and again doing nothing and being irrelevant

On the main story, John Matthew is the protagonist, which should be a good thing. For many many books, John Matthew’s plot line has been the one I’ve clung to as the… well, not diamond, that’s going too far, maybe the pretty quartz crystal in the coal seam. It has been more interesting and more compelling than most of the dominant storylines with much deeper and more rounded characters.
And that has quickly spiralled down to this book.  He has become less and less sympathetic – he is mooning over a woman (HIS woman, I might add, yes "HIS".) he has had, what, a whole 2 conversations with and 2 brief, unsatisfying sexual encounters – but now he is not only obsessed to an healthy degree with her but actually has her name tattooed across his back. And there’s the way he treats Tohrment – yeah being abandoned by Tohrment was bad with his history but he had pretty compelling reasons - John giving him the cold shoulder in the circumstances makes him extremely unsympathetic. He repeatedly tries to ditch Quinn, despite him being his bodyguard and generally uses angst over Xhex to excuse acting like an arsehole. Add in Blay and Qhuinn’s angst and this storyline has plummeted.

Right, now let’s dive into the real cess pits. Let’s look at Xhex. In the previous books to date most of the female protagonists have not been physically strong and their defence mechanisms largely consist of kicking their little feet and squealing (while the men are big butch killing machines). They have largely been victimised, commonly attacked, kidnapped, stalked, tortured, killed and otherwise menaced by the lessers – perpetual or potential victims to a background of many many many MANY murdered prostitutes. Victimised women are absolutely everywhere in this series – not only everywhere but NON-victimised women were pretty damn rare.

Except Xhex. Xhex is large and strong (and, as such, has had a lot of really dubious transphobic and gender role dubious language in previous books which was another truck of fail). And she can fight and she’s an assassin and dangerous! At last, a strong, tough, dangerous woman who will not be helpless and fragile and weak the entire book – they even make a point of repeatedly talking about her as a warrior.

Except, of course, she was kidnapped in Lover Avenged. And she spends the beginning of this book imprisoned, brutalised and raped and then a considerable amount of time being supported, comforted and healed by John Matthew (and we learn from her backstory that this is the second time she’s been kidnapped and tortured). This strong, powerful woman had to be victimised and weakened.

Aaaand then we’re treated to many scenes of how terrible it was for John Matthew that his woman was raped. There’s a scene where John is exercising himself near to death while Xhex is sat helpless outside the room wondering how to help him deal with it (that “it” being HER rape).

Then we have a big wallop of homophobia. We have pretty much confirmed that the Omega (hugely evil devil, incarnation of all evil who is depicted as animated pure darkness in a Liberace cloak) is gay (and the frequent “sweet baby powder smell” and “Liberace cloak” were, indeed, gross stereotyping) and that yes, he does rape new lessers who join up (continuing the ongoing theme of man on man rape in the books, emasculation through that and general  Do Not Wantness that is so common in the series).

And the Omega kicks out Lash, his son… why? Because he’s straight! Because y’know that’s totally how it works right? Yes, I know, excess sarcasm but considering the number of gay kids kicked out by straight parents I think wallowing in sarcasm is pretty forgivable. But Lash has been replaced by a new leader. A brand new convert – who is actually a gay man and enjoyed being raped by the Omega. Yes, I kid you not, he enjoyed being raped. He rises up to the Omega’s second and "boytoy" – so seduced his way to the top through being enjoyably raped. I… have no words. It defies commentary. I'm not even going to talk about his car in day-glo primary colours.

We also have Blaylock, a gay vampire, who constantly angsting and being tortured by the fact Qhuinn doesn’t love him and how much sex with women Qhuinn is having and can he fawn a little more over the uninterested Quinn and be angry with Qhuinn for not loving him back and… yeah, ugh. And then Qhuinn decides he does want Blay after Blay pays attention to another man (go whiney drama queen stereotype!) Oh and let’s talk about Saxon. The vampire who is gaybashed by humans, by one single, solitary human, in fact. Never mind that in the past, Marissa has told Butch that, as a vampire, she’s far stronger than humans in Lover Revealed; maybe that somehow doesn’t apply to Saxon? Uh-huh, either way it’s just so utterly unnecessary – just an extra dollop of homophobia. I also feel that it’s there to serve a contrast “look, this is homophobic!” by showing us something so gratuitous while ignoring the excessively awful tropes that have come before. 

Wait, there’s more! Despite seeing John have sex on every flat surface in great detail (following the trend of every other Brother - i bet they scotchguard everything) – when it comes for Blaylock and Saxon to have sex we actually have a fade to black. An erotic, paranormal romance known for its wrist-thick penis had a FADE TO BLACK sex scene.

At this point I’m not even going to mock the excess “h” everywhere or even continue my speculation as to how the word “Xhex” can even exist, there’s no need.  It even seems unnecessary to complain at how ridiculously twee the ending was (all the reunions! Did hallmark sponsor this?) Ok, maybe I’m too cynical for over the top, happy ever afters, your mileage may vary.

It’s a little depressing really when issues which would normally be worth criticising fade into insignificance next to such major problems.

I had thought the series was getting better. This was punishment for daring to hope. I'm giving this 0.5 fangs though I'm aware it's pushed some personal buttons of mine and readers may find it more tolerable - however, even then I can't see it rising about 1, 1.5 at most.