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Book Review: Lover at Last

By (April 5, 2013) No Comment

Lover at Last (a novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood)lover-at-last

by J. R. Ward

NAL, 2013

The almost-unbroken tyranny of books-in-series that currently rules the Romance genre will remind new readers of being a guest at that deadly kind of party where everybody in the apartment has known everybody else in the apartment for twenty years. The guest has an open mind and is perfectly willing to make an extra effort at quick contextualizing in order to latch on to the gist of conversation and stay in the game, but sometimes, especially with very rude twentysomethings (a bit of a tautology, that), no amount of extra effort is ever going to work. The conversation streams around the guest, increasing in volume and enthusiasm, until finally somebody shrieks, “Brittany’s duct-taped thesaurus!!!” and the room dissolves into peals of helpless laughter while the guest stares forlornly at the untouched copy of Wolf Hall on the coffee table and wishes these people hadn’t all been busy texting when God handed out common courtesy.

It can actually be a bit difficult to find a romance novel in the New Releases section of your local heartless big-chain bookstore that doesn’t immediately announce itself as basically a private party. “A Werewolf by Day Novel,” “A Dark Ascendancy Sequel,” “An Antharian Sisterhood Adventure” – most of the parties seem like they’re already in full swing, and although very few authors are as rude as twentysomethings (unless of course the author happens to be a twentysomething, in which case all bets are off), they’re all about as good at efficiently synopsizing their books as a senior citizen is at efficiently synopsizing what kind of day he’s had.

The commercial appeal of books-in-series is on first thought easily understandable and then on second thought more puzzling: you lock in an audience of readers who’ll buy each new book, but you also lock out an audience (presumably a bit larger with every consecutive book) that feels daunted by all that catching-up they’d have to do in order to enjoy your latest opus.

The math must work out in favor of the practice, however, because series rule the romance genre. And it would be tough to find a more successful series than the “Black Dagger Brotherhood” books written by J. R. Ward. The latest in the series, Lover at Last, roared off the presses just the other day and instantly became a bestseller.

It’s the 11th novel in the series, and it comes with a fairly detailed glossary of terms (everything from ahvenge – an act of retribution that’s somehow too cool for plain old “avenge” – to cohntehst – a competition that’s somehow too cool to be a plain old “contest” – to phearsom – well, that one’s a bit indelicate, but here’s a hint: it’s reputed to be rare in Irishmen) but nothing resembling a “Previously, in the Black Dagger Brotherhood” catch-up feature. True, there are plenty of such features online – fans of series are typically garrulous, and this particular series is no exception – but that doesn’t soften the ‘By Invitation Only’ feeling the book itself presents to any curious reader who picks it up.

The setting is unchanged: Caldwell, New York, which plays host to the ongoing war between vampires and their enemies. Those enemies are organized into a group called the Lessening Society (which doesn’t sound very threatening – like being hunted by WeightWatchers – but Ward does a good job of conveying thrills & danger in her breathless prose, so what’s in a name?), and guarding the vampire world against such threats is the Brotherhood, composed of the leanest, meanest, and of course sexiest fighters among the species. Humans tend to be helpless pawns and playthings of both sides, although since there’s quite a bit of interbreeding going on in these books, virtually every character has some personal connection to the ordinary human world. It’s like Greek mythology, only with motorcycles and leather pants.

Over the years, Ward has given the spotlight to many of her endless cast of characters, but perhaps no such focus has been as eagerly anticipated by her fans as the one we get in Lover at Last: a novel starring Ward’s two most star-crossed bad-boy lovers, Blay and Qhuinn, who’ve been trading quips for many books now, slowly but steadily amping up the sexual tension without ever paying it off. In fact, those fans were beginning to think there would never be a payoff, especially when Qhuinn entered into a relationship with (fans would say “fell into the clutches of”) of Layla, who doesn’t even have the common decency to be male.

Books intervened, and Ward kept up her signature move of juggling multiple plots, but now, finally, Blay and Qhuinn fans get a consummation devoutly to be wished: Lover at Last, as its title hints, is the definitive Blay and Qhuinn novel.

At times throughout its hefty length, even the most attentive reader might lose sight of that fact; the parallel-plots and sub-plots and teaser-plots seem to multiply with each page, and Ward further complicates her already-complicated goings-on by switching up her narrative viewpoints and back-tracking on her plotlines whenever it suits her (there is, as usual, never a dull page). The Lessening Society is always coming up with new ways to be devious, and the Brotherhood is always either fighting hard or bedding hard (sometimes both simultaneously), so there are long stretches in Lover at Last where are two bad boys get shunted to the sidelines. And given how devious a writer Ward can be, that delayed gratification might very well be part of the book’s master plan.

That deviousness is on full display here. Ward is touchingly responsive to her legions of fans, and little authorly gifts to those fans can be found everywhere in this book (actually quoting from the thing would be the ultimate exercise in futility – for instance, we get this little bit about Qhuinn: “He wore Hanes T-shirts and fatigues or leathers … no Ferragamos or Ballys for him; New Rocks with soles the size of truck tires. Hair? Brushed if it was lucky. Cologne? Gunpowder and orgasms” … single-minded conviction like that can only withstand so much direct quotation). And that’s a lucky thing, because Lover at Last must be about as impenetrable to newcomers as a dense Brazilian rainforest, or the Republican Party. Its bestseller status rests on the ardor of all those long-time fans, who’ve been eagerly reading this beloved author’s books about her naughty, naughty boys for years now.

There’s no end to those books in sight, and for these guiltiest of guilty pleasures, that’s great – sorry, ghrayt – news.