Dhisappointment in the BDB

Dhisappointment in the BDB

The Shadows by J. R. Ward (Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 13) - UK/Australian editionThe Black Dagger Brotherhood is no longer a romance series, and Gabby is enraged. Warning: Major spoilers for The Shadows. And CAPS.

Today, I finished reading The Shadows by J. R. Ward.

Let me start off by saying I have a super complicated relationship with the BDB. Sometimes, I am so head over heels in love with it and other times, I’m two seconds away from throwing it at the wall. It’s enraging, messy, sexy, funny and truly unbelievable most of the time. (Vishous ends every single since sentence with “True?” Like, come on. Are you for real?) I was so into this series, I did my thesis on Lover at Last. But I guess that book was the beginning of the end.

As the series has progressed, something fucked up has happened, and it wasn’t until today that the final nail was slammed into the coffin. It’s no longer a romance series.

This probably started around Payne’s book (or maybe earlier, it’s hard to keep track). But the earlier novels in the series were firmly romance. Wrath, Rhage, Butch, Vishous, Zsadist, Phury. They all had proper romance novels. But the story started getting bigger and bigger, and there was less focus on the Brothers and their mates, and more on the ever expanding universe that is Caldwell. Along with the true enemies of the lessers (who, let’s face it, are the most boring part of the series) we now have sympaths, Shadows, Assail, the Bastards, Throe, etc. There’s also Paradise and Craeg (which is apparently leading to a spin-off series. Also, speaking of Paradise, why is her dad named Abalone??? Was there no other name that sounded fancy enough?? A seafood delicacy just does not cut it!). There is no main storyline. The book changes perspectives and scenes every single chapter. It’s INFURIATING.

I read romance for one reason — the overarching love story. I read the BDB because it’s cracktastic and it has usually delivered on this front. I didn’t bother finishing The King because I wasn’t interested in revisiting one of the least interesting pairings of the series (sorry, guys, but damn I am sick of Wrath and Beth). I also knew it wasn’t a romance. I took it as a brief sojourn down memory lane, exploring where the couples are up to and what they’re doing since the Warden is SUPER into telling us about their lives. I forgave it because she has a complex relationship with her characters (I admit, I do not understand this relationship, but hey, she gave me Rhage, so I don’t argue).

What I didn’t get was apparently The King was a sign. A premonition, if you will, of what was to come.

The Shadows follows the story of Trez and iAm, two ever-present characters in the earlier novels. We’re familiar with them. Apart from the fact that I still don’t know what a fucking Shadow is (they have special powers?? Like what?? “Shadowing”?? What does that MEAN?), I know that they have issues. Trez is in love with Selena and has a pretty severe sex addiction. He manages to cure himself pretty damn quickly thanks to Selena’s Magic Hoo Hoo (I think he was just pretty into having sex) and it’s weirdly never mentioned again. Anyway, the book does follow that love story but J. R. Ward did something that was really fucking messed up.

Please turn away here if you don’t want to be spoiled.

J. R. Ward killed Selena.

She killed the heroine of a fucking romance novel. Or what was meant to be a romance. She’s changed genres midway through the series, and I’m pissed that I’ve stayed with it for so long. The marketing hasn’t changed, the labelling hasn’t changed, the brand hasn’t changed. But the story has. I tried to read urban fantasy but couldn’t commit to the one character over multiple books. I’m greedy because I want immediate gratification, and romance usually gives it to me.

If I couldn’t see an alternative to Selena’s death or if I was totally convinced by it, I don’t think I’d be as annoyed. But fucking hell, look at what else she’s done to keep her heroes and heroines together.

Rhage and Mary got together because the Scribe Virgin cured Mary’s cancer and GAVE HER IMMORTALITY even after she made Rhage promise never to see her again?!

Vishous and Jane are still together even though JANE DIED AND IS NOW A GHOST?!

Butch and Marissa got together because apparently Butch has a SECRET VAMPIRE AS AN ANCESTOR AND WAS ABLE TO BE TRANSFORMED?!

I think it’s been proven time and again that J. R. Ward can defy the rules of her own universe. It’s big enough to do that. But she couldn’t do it for Trez because the characters wouldn’t let her? Her Rice Krispies told her something different?

Excuse me, but I’m gonna be really fucking cynical right now.

It’s your book, your rules!

You write in a genre that demands a HEA. I know it’s been under debate recently, but it goes back to the promise of the text. Genre conventions are genre conventions and the definition of a fucking romance novel includes a HEA. I’m not ready to say goodbye to that!

It feels like we’re being messed around with. Not only do we have to pay insane prices for her ebooks ($16 anyone?! I barely pay that for a paperback! And as Kat has noted people overseas were paying $85 for virtually signed copies) but she decided to warn us the day of the release? The Goodreads blog that she wrote was upsetting for several reasons. Ward decided to blame the whole thing on her creative process, but she was hiding behind so many spoiler tags that I wouldn’t have read it before the actual book anyway! Forgive me for liking anticipation in my novels! I’m pissed that she finds the HEAs boring, and the Chosen without personalities. She’s set us up with this universe and then is bored with it before she carries through on the promises she’s making. In the post, she acknowledges that people were angry when Wellsie was killed off. I remember that but this is a BILLION times worse. Wellsie was a secondary character. She wasn’t the main focus of a novel.

Granted, there was a lot of flip-flopping between stories in this book, but I still read it as though Trez and Selena were the thread holding it all together. Maybe I was forcing it because that’s what I expect of romance but she did nothing to change my perspective. The only thing that hinted at things not working were the page numbers. I inched my way through the book, page by page. 200 pages — still so much time left. 300 pages — wow, they’re moving fast. Can’t believe they’ve said I love you already. 600 pages — so a cure better come soon, they’re running out of time.

They fucking burned her body, and I was still unconvinced. Heroines have been brought back from the dead before, why would this be any different?

I didn’t believe it. It felt like she was just trying to mix things up, but romance can’t function that way unless you tell your readers things are going to change. Tell them before the release date.

If you want to argue the case that there was still a HEA in this book, then fine. But I’m not going to buy it. iAm met maichen halfway through the book. He barely spent three scenes with her, then BAM, everything’s resolved and we’re deeply in love. If Ward had seen fit to grant us with a li’l more of them, maybe this book wouldn’t have been the massive disappointment it turned out to be.

The series is changing, and I don’t like where it’s going. The thing I hate the most is the fact that I still won’t stop reading it. I know. I’m ill! Why complain about something I have the power to end? It’s because I loved the feeling I got when I read Lover Eternal. I loved the way the characters functioned. I loved that Rhage was blindly following Mary in the hallway. It was her voice. Her scent that did him over. I loved that I fell in love with Qhuinn and Blay before I read their book. I loved that I could watch them go from friends to lovers so beautifully.

I know the series is messed up. I know the race issues in it should make me walk away. But it makes me want to look at it critically and ask why Ward refuses to see colour and race but gives them such deliberate cultural signifiers. I want to know why masculinity is so uncompromising at times, but sometimes is so fluid and soft that the heroes are crying more than the heroines. I want to know why her female characters don’t feel as alive as the Brothers, and why she isn’t comfortable writing women. I want to keep talking about this series because it’s important.

But it’s going to be a challenge to go back when she’s broken a rule that, to me, should be pretty damn unbreakable.

If you just read this and wondered what Gabby was talking about, you can catch up by reading the BDB cheat sheets.

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Twenty-three-year old postgrad student who has now read too much erotica to know what’s appropriate to say in every-day conversations. Likes: romance, food, musicals. Dislikes: sad endings, loud chewing, spoilers.

18 comments

  1. azteclady says:

    Oh.

    Well, then.

    Thank you. This is it for me. I don’t read urban fantasy at all, and I struggled with the last three or so books so much it approached hate reading–and who has time for that, let alone energy?–so knowing what’s what here helps me a lot.

    Thank you for taking one for the team, ma’am.

  2. Yeah. I think around ‘Lover Unleashed’ I started to see the holes … and by ‘The King’ I was just over J.R. Ward’s OTT style. Suddenly all her pop-culture references read dated (seriously – there were times when she namechecked Kanye, Miley Cyrus and Keisha in the same paragraph), the Brother’s speech patterns got repetitive and my biggest problem was the lack of human heroines … I really loved Mary and Beth, but then the Brother’s started only pairing up with Chosen or female vamps and suddenly we had all these perfectly proportioned, hairless women who were verily subservient and annoying and Trez & iAm especially spoke of how disgusting they felt having bedded so many human women in their lifetimes. Urgh.

    I did say after ‘The King’ that it was probably time to just chuck in the towel on this series. I think I want to spare myself the heartache of ‘Shadows’, and seriously hope that her new contempt series ‘The Bourbon Kings’ is more romance and less sucker-punching readers.

    Seriously. Something about paranormal romance and urban fantasy – these authors write lengthy series and just lose it along the way. Warden, Laurell K Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, Jeaniene Frost, Carrie Vaughn … you’re right, Kat – Nalini Singh is the only one who still delivers, every damn time (thank god!)

  3. Kat says:

    I thought maybe with the two romantic couples this book would deliver some of the intensity I loved about the earlier books, but there’s absolutely now way I will read through a romance dealbreaker. I’m pissed off on behalf of all the pissed off romance readers, and supremely grateful that I didn’t read this one as soon as it arrived in the mail!

    AZ — I feel sorry for Gabby, who read this book without any warning of what was in it. So I’m glad it helped you!

    Danielle — I felt that the decline began with the first inflated book. I think that might have been Lover Avenged? Once the editing became cursory, I knew readers would lose out, because Ward’s style doesn’t lend itself to pulling back.

    I really dislike the excuse that she gets writer’s block when she tries to write something other than how she ‘sees’ the story play out. That’s fine for the first draft, but it’s her and her editor’s job to fix up any problems in subsequent drafts. I also feel that if they wanted to show respect for their core romance readers, they would have removed the Trez storyline from the book, or removed it from focus so it was a secondary plot.

    As for authors I trust, Nalini Singh definitely knows her audience and I know she would never do something like this. I also believe Patricia Briggs would never split up Mercy/Adam and Charles/Anna. I’ve heard Ilona Andrews is trustworthy, too, so I really need to pick up her books soon.

  4. Sonya Heaney says:

    Basically: if you write mystery or crime, the bad guy gets caught at the end.

    If you write romance (not “romantic fiction”) you have the HEA. And I don’t care how many JR Ward fangirls claim the death is an “original” version of the HEA; it isn’t.

    I read all sorts of books, but if you market your book as romance, there’s ONE rule it has to adhere to.

  5. Kat says:

    Sonya — OMG, how can death by an HEA??? Maybe if they die together, in their sleep, in each other’s arms, when they’re really old??? I can’t remember if The Shadows are immortal, but if so, then that makes death even worse!!!

    Honestly, why can’t people just admit that there’s no HEA for these characters? Surely even if they love the book, that’s not even up for debate!

  6. Joyce says:

    Thank you Gabby for putting some of what I thought into words but let us remember back too. I am remembering that Ward herself said, sometime before Tohr and Autumn’s book, that Trez WOULD get an HEA……………. Ummm, NOT. This was not my idea of an HEA…
    I am extremely disappointed. As you said, she is violating her own rules….. As the bonded male, he would be so distraught that he would want to follow her into the Fade. Instead, he’s like, Oh well, OK. I’ll go back. It was terrible.

    It should have been entitled “The Sorrows”

  7. azteclady says:

    Kat, if you go to amazon.com (the US version) the ‘most useful’ of the five star reviews has this as the title: “Not your typical HEA,” and the comments are agreeing with the reviewer and praising ‘the realism’ of killing of the heroine.

    Some people have truly drunk the kool-aid if you ask me.

  8. Sonya Heaney says:

    @Kat

    “Honestly, why can’t people just admit that there’s no HEA for these characters? Surely even if they love the book, that’s not even up for debate!”

    Exactly. What some people don’t seem to realise is that you can write whatever you want, but what people are – rightfully! – annoyed about is that this book is being sold under the romance label.

    Also, I have a few issues with Ward’s blog post about how stupid and boring HEAs are, and how she doesn’t like writing female characters…

  9. Bona says:

    Great review, you express what you feel about this book and give the reasons for that.
    Thank God I’m not a fan of BDB books. I feel very disappointed when a beloved series goes south.
    And then there’s the question of genre. If there’s no HEA, then it’s not a romance novel. It’s something else, and it could be great, marvellous, wonderful, but it’s not a romance. That change of genre should be announced beforehand.

  10. Kat says:

    Sonya — Honestly, I feel like readers bend over backwards to justify all the ridiculous and illogical things in Ward’s books, and it’s almost offensive to me that she just dismisses the HEA that, for some readers, is an essential part of why they read the BDB.

    Bona — I think it was maybe Lover Avenged where ‘romance’ doesn’t appear on the spine of the book. But still, I feel like that’s too subtle. I would have preferred that the original series ended, and then Ward had started a spin-off that should then brand as not-quite-romance-genre.

  11. azteclady says:

    Ah, but if Ward had finished the series and then started an Urban Fantasy series, she would have lost a high number of her fans who only read romance.

    I do hope that those readers who are dissatisfied because The Shadows is not a romance, return it. That would send a signal.

  12. Erin Burns says:

    Kat, Ilona Andrews is trustworthy in this respect, though maybe a bit differently than Nalini Singh. Burn for Me is more UF, but you can tell it is headed towards romancelandia. And the Kate Daniels series was that way too. It’s more like how the Guild Hunter Elena/Raphael relationship played out, than the Psy-Changeling series.

  13. Kat says:

    AZ — Someone (might have been @katiebabs) tweeted that the book made the NY Times list on opening week, then dropped out completely. I’m guessing that’s a pretty definite signal?

What do you think?