Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review: Lover Reborn by J.R. Ward, Book 10 of the Black Dagger Brotherhood Series.

Tohrment finally learns why the angel Lassiter is following him – his shellan, Wellsie, is lost in limbo and only Tohrment can free her. But he isn’t read to let her go and he still grieves her as if she were only just lost – and into that grief comes No’One.

No’One is still traumatised by her horrific past and has come through to bond with her daughter, Xhex, she lost so many years ago. But No’One still hardly knows who she is and still carries the burden of her own self-loathing.

Xhex and John Matthew are not finding their relationshiop eashy – especially as John Matthew insists on protecting

And byond all of that and the standard lesser attacks, Xcor and his band of Bastards are thoroughly entrenched in Caldwell – and have their sights set on Kling Wrath. Xcor wants the throne – and whether by politics or bullets, he intends to claim it.

This book has 2 main relationships in it that we focus on. The first I consider full of barely redeemed awfulness, the second I consider a lost opportunity. So let us begin with the barely redeemed awfulness.

The female (in Black Dagger Dudebro culture women are referred to as females and men as males. No I don’t know why either, especially since the humans keep forgetting and using the same terminology. At very least they should be fehmahles and mahles.) is No’One. Yes, No’One. Not the name she was born with – but many many decades ago she was kidnapped by a Symphath (evil sociopath vampire – and we know they’re evil because of their spooky androgyny), raped and impregnated. She had the baby and then committed suicide – but the Scribe Virgin (that would be the Vampire’s deity and embodiment of purity – you can tell by the whole “virgin” thing, in case the anti-female sex messages weren’t strong enough) resurrected her and she changed her name to No’One to represent what she now thought she was. She has spent the last few decades as a maid, wearing a hooded robe that hides her from everyone (because she is so good looking people treated her with respect which she couldn’t allow), out of self-imposed penance. Yes, penance. I would very much have liked someone to explain to me why her extreme victimisation was treated as something she had to do penance for and why none of the Chosen or the Scribe Virgin her holy self couldn’t have spent a little time in the centuries sitting down, talking with her and trying to instil her with some sense of worth.

Then there is Tohrment, still in deep deep mourning for Wellsie, his shellan (wife) of many many decades who died back in Lover Awakened. Since then he has been suicidal, the only thing stopping g him actively committing suicide is Lassiter, the angel sent down to save him, and the fact that the Scribe Virgin has Issues with suicides (as we can see from poor No’One). But he has tried many passive suicide attempts – such as being extremely reckless and starving himself.

Now, the basis for the “love”. Wellsie is not in the Fade (heaven) no, she is in the In Between (limbo) and she is stuck, in pain and slowly fading away. Lassiter is on Earth to save her – by making Tohrment move on and let go over her so she can pass into heaven probably with some twee music in the background.

I’m sorry, these 2 were together for, what, 200 freaking years? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to allow the man more than a couple of years to get over that. It is not an unreasonable amount of time to mourn here and I can’t imagine in a society where a) everyone lives for centuries and b) they biologically BOND with their mates in holy stalkerdom – sorry, love – that prolonged mourning periods and refusing to move on is in any way uncommon. The In Between must be standing room only.

Anyway, Lassiter’s solution to Tohrment needing to move on is, naturally, a grief counsellor and some intense therapy. HAH! Just kidding, nothing so sensible. I mean it’s not like they have an in-house therapist or anything, is it – oh hey there Mary! No, Lassiter wants Tohrment to find another woman – because of course nothing removes your deep and abiding grief for your murdered pregnant soulmate like the magical healing vagina, right?

So, what does this end up with? Tohrment pushing himself into a relationship (with Lassiter sort of cheerleading behind him: “have you had sex yet? Mutual masturbation doesn’t count! Yes I know you haven’t gone all the way, I’m the invisible stalker angel in the corner of your bedroom – hey no pressure – but did I mention your wife is in hell! Make with the shagging!” And my gods I wish that wasn’t a fairly accurate paraphrase) with No’One who accepts a relationship with a man who is utterly and completely in love with a dead woman, not her, because she is a) starved for attention and b) has the self-esteem of road kill. Basically we have a whole lot of pages where No’One is used by Tohrment and Lassiter as a convenient female to free Wellsie. We also have 2 absolutely awful scenes where Tohrment lashes out in grief and rage against the emotionally damaged No’One using his knowledge of her past to be so far out of line that everyone in the Brotherhood should have been lining up to beat him with sticks. Perhaps even worse than this is that one of Tohrment’s abusive tirades against No’One is what causes her to finally start to recognise her own worth – therapy by emotional abuse! It totally works!

Of course No’One develops feelings for Tohrment while being used for her Wellsie-exorcising vagina which threatens and worries Tohrment because he still loves Wellsie – but inexorably he also develops feelings back and behold twu luv happens and the abusive nature of the “relationship’s” beginning doesn’t matter

This whole romance just left me feeling so incredibly uncomfortable especially since there were elements of 2 great plots here. We could have had the touching scenes of Tohrment moving on – seeing him clear out the house and donate Wellsie’s possessions to the Safe Space was incredible scene – we could have had a series of insights into Tohrment slowly moving on and eventually cumulating in Wellsie’s Fade Ceremony. From what we saw that could have been powerful, emotional, and a fitting tribute to the character of Wellisandra as well as opposed to the current “quick, have some rebound sex already” storyline.

The other great storyline could have been No’One finding her sense of self and worth through bonding with her daughter, Xhex. We already see some great scenes and fragments of scenes – No’One riding the motorbike with Xhex, No’One in Xhex’s cabin, them talking together - this could have been powerful and sweet and empowering and generally good. Instead we got a romance that was skeevy even by the Black Dagger Dudebro’s standards.

The second relationship was Xhex and John Matthew. And this could have been so wonderful – now Xhex is bonded as John Matthew’s Shellan he is treating her as someone who needs protecting despite her being a lethal warrior every bit as dangerous as the men with added symphath mind reading abilities and the ability to go out in sunlight – just perfect when hunting down a vampire rebel group. Xhex refuses to stand for this and the ideas that because she is female she is inherently more fragile and in need of protection – and refuses to live with John Matthew until he accepts that

Great! This storyline could have redeemed so much! Except we never really examined it – after most of the book spent being miserable because they each miss the other, John Matthew has an epiphany moment and agrees Xhex is right – happily every after time folks. But there’s no exploration, no examination, no real learning – we could have included so much here, like how the only reason Xcor is still alive is because they treated Layla like a precious little snowflake on her delicate pedestal who couldn’t be sullied by the big, bad knowledge (don’t you worry your purty little head with the thinking, sweetheart, just do what the men tell you). Instead we had page after page of Tohrment and No’One.

Other problematic romance moments I have to mention is Lyla’s oncoming romance with Xcor. All she knows about this man is that he’s a brutal murderer. He’s hardly managed a coherent sentence to her in the brief, less than an hour, she’s spent in his presence. But already she has an almighty crush on him. And as for Layla and Qhuinn – both feel out of place so let’s have a kid? What what what is this?

And then there’s Blay, our token gay insert who has his very own fade-to-black while surrounded by straight humptasticness, as usual. And while all the straight folks are being all lovey dovey at dinner (and anywhere else) Blay and Saxon won’t even hold hands in public – with lots of lovely references to their “discretion” going round. Oh, and of course the gay men are aroused by the female vampire’s “needing” (female vampires go into heat and must have sex or be drugged into unconsciousness)

Ok, I’ve spent a long time on the romance so it’s time to get to the story – of which there’s not nearly enough. We have no idea what the lesser are doing, they just occasionally show up to be chopped into itty-bitty pieces. The Omega didn’t even make an appearance in this book, they’re just background canon fodder. They didn’t even bother with butch doing his whole destroyer – sorry, Dhestroyer  - thing.

We did have an interesting plot line with Xcor and his Band of Bastards actually trying to assassinate King Wrath. This is it, actual war, epic confrontations, a major movement in glymeria politics… except we’re going to spend more time with Tohrment and  No’One and here, look, Lassiter is making Tohrment watch romantic comedies. By focusing on the exceedingly long romance and pushing this storyline to the backburner it made this plotline seem… well not unimportant because they tried to shoot the king, how can it not be? But more like everyone seemed to have zero sense of priorities. It’s a problem I’ve seen with the Black Dagger Brotherhood before – they’re supposedly their race’s last line of defence against extinction but the actual war seems to be so far down their priority list.

What there was was interesting but sorely in need of more attention and development (what did Wrath discuss with the glymeria? How many meetings did he have? What did he resolve? What did Rehvenge do? What are the lesser doing? For that matter, what does King Wrath actually DO?)

The language problems continue – there is a lot of casual misogyny and homophobia in the language of this book that made it cringeworthy to read. And for crying out loud shitkickers are not synonymous with shoes. At least Vishous and Butch didn’t talk a lot in this book so we spared most of the pseudo-“ghetto” language.

I’ve covered a lot here, and this is a very long review. Which brings me to another element – this book was 675 pages long and ye gods did it feel it. The romance was interminable, dragged out as slowly and as painfully as possible. The vast majority of those nearly 700 pages was angst – John Matthew angsting about Xhex, Xhex angsting about him. Tohrement angsting about Wellsie, No’One angsting about everything. Angst angst angst. Despite its huge length we spent next to no time on the story of a rebel group of vampires that is trying to assassinate the king.

All in all this book had an interesting story. And it would have made an amazing 300 page book with that story and covering the issues as I mentioned above. Alas that core is drowned in pages and pages of one of the worst romances in the series to date – frankly I couldn’t stand it. I struggled to finish this book and, I confess, I felt relief when it was over.