Lover Avenged by J. R. Ward

Lover Avenged by J. R. Ward
Lover Avenged by J. R. Ward (Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 7)
Lover Avenged by J. R. Ward (Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 7)

Before I start my review, let me get this off my chest: I paid $55 for this book. I’ll wait while you pick yourself up from the floor.

Granted, I paid a premium price to buy it from my local independent bookstore, and so I could read it immediately, but since the cheapest Australian bookstore price we could find for this book was just short of $40, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I give a big old WHAT THE FUCK?!? And you know what gets me most? It’s the fact that this could’ve been a much leaner, much cheaper hardcover if the series weren’t so damn “bestselling” that suckers like me keep putting up with the fat just to get to the ever-dwindling romance between the pages.

So—expensive hardcover? Punishes the loyal reader.

Anyway, I’d been looking forward to Rehv’s story because J. R. Ward wrote some pretty dark, very angsty scenes with him in Lover Revealed, plus I was interested in what happens between John Matthew and Xhex now that he’s stopped all the whingeing. It’s frustrating, then, that Ward seems to have changed the focus of this series towards the greater world building and vampire mythology at the expense of the romance, particularly since Ehlena is probably my favourite BDB female character to date.

Lover Avenged is the seventh book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series (and if you don’t know what that’s about, you can read Decadence’s very thorough cheat sheet starting here). The primary romance plot centres around Rehvenge, the owner of popular club ZeroSum who featured quite prominently in Lover Revealed as the vampire from whom Marissa fed. Those scenes between Rehv and Marissa—and Butch angsting over Rehv and Marissa—are some of my favourites in the series.

Rehv is a symphath, a breed of vampires who are normally exiled because of their ability to manipulate others’ thoughts and feelings. As far as I can tell, they revel in intense emotions and this can lead them to acts of violence just to satisfy their emotional cravings. I think. I haven’t been keeping track because it’s all gotten a bit too hard, to be honest. Anyway, Rehv is being blackmailed by his half-sister. Every month he has to pay her off, in cash and in sexual favours, to keep her quiet about not just his status but also that of Xhex’s, his head of security at ZeroSum, a good friend and a fellow symphath. This need for a constant flow of cash led Rehv to the drug trade, and he’s one of the biggest drug lords in the city. In order to dampen his symphath urges (and let me just say, how ridiculous is this term “symphath”?!?) Rehv injects himself with dopamine, which he gets from Havers’s clinic. It’s during these visits that he meets Ehlena.

Ehlena is a nurse at Havers’s clinic. Unlike most of the vampires we’ve met so far in the series, Ehlena’s struggling financially after her father squandered away their family wealth in bad investments.  Between her job and the demands of taking care of her father, who’s slipping further into dementia, Ehlena doesn’t have much time for a social life. She feels a connection with Rehv although she doesn’t really trust him. When she notices that he seems to be suffering from an infection, she smuggles him some antibiotics and loses her job as a result.

But when Ehlena discovers Rehv’s secret, she’s devastated. So is he, and, because he has nothing left to lose, he decides to confront his blackmailer and end her hold on him even it means never seeing Ehlena again.

Secondary (and tertiary) plots

This review is part of the Pub Challenge. Click on this image for more details.
This review is part of the Pub Challenge. Click on this image for more details.

There are a few secondary plots in the novel. Wrath gets quite a lot of pages dealing with his deteriorating vision and his desk duties as King. At the start of the novel, he goes out to fight Lessers even though, as King, he’s not supposed to be doing that anymore. Whereas I liked Wrath previously, I struggled to care about him at all in this book. I don’t understand how he turned into a selfish brat all of a sudden, and for a King, he’s pretty bloody stupid and irresponsible. Rhage and V come across as so much more worthy of being leaders. There’s a subplot to overthrow—or rather, kill—him, which involves Rehv.

The lesser plot centres around Lash, the Omega’s “son” as he tries to rebuild the lesser army and figure out a way to get enough money to fund their activities. His big plan is to take over the drug trade in the city and create an alliance with the symphath colony. Lash is marginally more interesting that the previous lessers, but I think this subplot suffered from too much politicking and not enough direct confrontation with the vampires.

The main romantic sublot is between Xhex and John Matthew—no doubt in preparation for the next book. John Matthew accidentally walks in on Xhex self-medicating by—and I’m not sure I got this right—binding her legs in these metal clamps that cause her to bleed. Or something. The pain basically subdues her symphath urges. Shocked by the intrusion, Xhex says some pretty harsh words to JM. JM takes this to heart and, combined with what he feels as constant rejection from Tohr, he decides to give everyone a big Up Yours and take control of his life. Of course,  that means having a threesome with Qhuinn and a prostitute. Whatever. Xhex watches JM’s self-destructive behaviour and mourns his loss of innocence and her part in helping it happen.

There’s also a subplot around a ZeroSum prostitute who’s found dead. It turns out her violent boyfriend is the drug contact that Lash uses to break into the city’s supply chain for drugs. Xhex tracks him down and kills him, drawing the attention of a local police detective as well as Lash, who’s attracted (in an evil, sadistic way) to her strength and symphath-ness. There’s a hint that the head prostitute in ZeroSum might be an angel or angelic or something. Good heavens, don’t we have enough characters to keep track of???

And for Tohr fans, this is the book where he starts to move past his grief and anger.

I’m still not sure what Lassiter is doing.

From romance to urban fantasy?

This review is part of my Book Binge. Click on this image for more details.
This review is part of my Book Binge. Click on this image for more details.

I have no idea why Ward is toning down the romance in favour of the external plot. Her strength as a writer is in romance—and, in particular, the emotional conflicts between lovers who seem to be in a situation where love simply isn’t enough. And her weakness has always been the world building—the campy slang, the hopeless antagonists, the uber-powerful heroes, and the inconsistent application of the rules of her world. The move to less romance-focused books is a misstep, I feel.

First, it’s not what readers signed up for when they invested time and money in this series. Fair enough, she wants to branch out creatively, but I think she should’ve done that by starting a new (but related series) or a completely different world altogether.

The thing is, her writing method—“the voices in my head”—is not conducive to any sort of long-term series arc. This is obvious in the way the BDB rules have been broken willy-nilly. The Scribe Virgin in this book bears no resemblance to the Scribe Virgin in Dark Lover. And an urban fantasy with weak world building is just a mess.

But most disappointing is how the romance has suffered. There were very few scenes in Lover Avenged that moved me enough to make this book worth my money and my time. Rehv, who needed a lot of redemption—not the least because he’s a drug lord—doesn’t really step up, to my mind.

Rehv and Ehlena

For me, one of the strongest aspects of the book is Ehlena. For the first time, we see a heroine who has her own life, a career, family, hopes and fears. Unfortunately, the emotional honesty in Ehlena’s scenes seems to disappear when she’s with Rehv. Their encounters seem superficial, designed for thrills, and I attribute that to the lack of pages devoted to their story. For such a thick book, the scenes between Rehv and Ehlena are surprisingly few and far between.

I was so looking forward to better understanding Rehv and seeing how Ward turns a drug lord who’s biologically predisposed to be amoral into a loving, deserving hero. Did she succeed? Kind of. Because I liked Ehlena, I was willing to accept Rehv. But I think Ward could’ve done much better with him, and she basically sidelines him in his own book. I don’t mean that he doesn’t feature heavily—he does—but emotionally I don’t think we get more than a superficial understanding of what motivates him. A lot of his scenes with Ehlena seem contrived, his lovey-dovey conversations out of character. The phone sex scene icked me out a little. Usually, Ward manages to find some balance between macho aggression and emotional tenderness, but not so much in Lover Avenged, although Ehlena’s presence does help.

Because sex in romance is about emotions

One of the things I loved about previous BDB books is Ward’s ability to write a compelling sex scene and then end it with utter devastation. That kind of emotional rollercoaster can be quite yummy when you know that the book will eventually sort out the happy ending. I was looking forward to more of that in Rehv’s story because of his impotence, his symphath side, his sex on the side with his half-sister. Unfortuately, most of his scenes with Ehlena didn’t really strike a chord with me. They were okay, but not great.

Wrath’s scenes with Beth were just annoying.

The most compelling sex was between Xhex and John Matthew. When JM goes a bit loopy and decides to take control of his sex life, it’s just devastating to watch Xhex realise what she’s done to him. I never thought I’d like Xhex, but I’m barracking for her to get her happy ending. John Matthew’s emotional arc seemed a bit forced, though, and I wish Ward had been more subtle in showing how Xhex, Tohr and JM’s rape drove JM to his (arguably) self-destructive behaviour.

Major problems

Over at Very Occasional Book Reviews, I commented that part of what bothers me most about the last few BDB books is the fact that many of the problems could’ve be caught by tighter editing. So, in fact, there’s an entire team of people responsible for producing a book so thick I have to pay the equivalent of 2 hours of work to buy it. A convoluted plot isn’t what makes a story compelling—it’s how characters react to what’s happening around them that readers respond to.

And there’s no reason the book couldn’t have been trimmed by at least a third of its size. Wrath’s entire blindness/fighting subplot could’ve been released as a novella. It added nothing at all to this book. It could have added something to the political subplot of trying to have him overthrown, but Ward doesn’t really do that. It was mainly focused on Wrath’s internal character development and his relationship with Beth.

I had other technical problems with the book. The most irritating were the missing question marks. Look, I get that sometimes authors will flout correct punctuation to emphasise a point, but OMFG the question marks seem to have been on strike when Ward wrote this book. I can’t believe that these would’ve gone unnoticed by the copyeditor AND the proofreader, so I can only assume that the author insisted on screwing around with the question marks. Why? Seriously, WHY?

Also, the slang is getting ridiculous. At one point, someone actually shortens “pizza” to “‘za”. Does it even make sense to shorten a 2-syllable word by choosing the unaccented syllable (and a shwa sound at that)? If there are any linguists reading this, I’d love to know the answer. Little things like this are just an unnecessary distraction.

The thing is, Ward has good ideas but her execution has been pretty ordinary. If someone would just tell her to tighten up her prose and add a little more depth to her storytelling, this series would still be good. But because either no one is telling her this, or they’re not giving her enough time to make the best books she can, I’m starting to resent being invested in this series.

Yay or nay?

I know many readers love to call the BDB “book crack”, but after buying the hardcover release I’m starting to lose my sense of humour. For that price, I expect the product to be polished and diluted to its purest, most pleasurable form. Lover Avenged is cut with unresolved plot points, inconsistent world building and lacklustre characters. Despite that, I’m almost sure I’ll be buying the next book as soon as I can. Addiction is a horrible thing.

You can read Wandergurl’s review here, Decadence’s review here, and our tweets via the hashtag #rehv. You can read excerpts of the book here and here.

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25 comments

  1. Kerry D. says:

    Interesting review. I really can’t decide if I want to read this one or not (I have it on reserve at the library). I’ve always enjoyed the crack, but this one is beginning to sound like rather a slog, and I’m struggling with my reading as it is at the moment, so I don’t know if I can be bothered.

  2. Decadence says:

    I visit Ward’s message boards almost every day and had to digest a lot of info for the cheat sheet, so there were some criticisms made that I think I can actually explain. You still might not be happy with the handling, but there are reasons for some of the issues you have with the story.

    Wrath’s behaviour makes sense when you remember that he never wanted to be king. He sees himself as a fighter stuck in a desk job and the unwelcome responsibility weighs on him and has taken a toll on his health in that he has trouble sleeping and he has lost weight. Would it be so hard on him now if he had stepped up earlier and not let things fall to shit so much? Probably not. But the fighting is where he sees his strength and is an escape from having to rule. Plus, all the paper-pushing exploits his weakness, namely his poor sight, so the king thing sucks for him even more, not that it discharges his responsibility to the race.

    I think he was included in the book for two reasons: his fighting was part of the reason Tohr will rejoin the war and secondly, Wrath is a sort-of colleague to Rehvenge as leahdyre and they share a storyline of doing the right thing, even if you’re forced into it.

    The Lessening Society has also suffered from a lack of consistent leadership, so Lash is laying foundations for the lessers and filling a vacuum created by Rehv. I would have wanted a more dramatic return to the Brotherhood’s radar and understand why he didn’t want to reveal himself too soon.

    I do know something about the head prostitute that explains why your attention was drawn to her, but I won’t spoil it here…

    I think the shift towards urban fantasy was inevitable because of where the series started. Yeah, it was about Wrath and Beth but the big picture is that the world Wrath was born to rule is in chaos and changes needed to get things back on track affect others, such as the Primale plot being introduced to boost the population and the Brotherhood in particular. The main characters are rulers and warriors, not your average Joes. So things they do will have a flow-on effect, like throwing a rock into a pond, it ripples outward until it reaches the edge and then ripples back toward the source.
    (But having said that, a series originally about vampires now covers angels, symphaths and Moors – the last two require a lot of explanation and world building, so I think it is becoming a bit too big.)

    There was a comment in Lover Avenged that the Scribe Virgin has changed so it is a deliberate thing. She’s reeling from the decisions she’s made not being right for her biological children and that holding too tightly to the highest female lines and enforcing traditions have contributed to the low vampire population. She’s very unsure of herself now and it shows.

    Rehv was very different with Ehlena. I, too, really enjoyed his scenes with Marissa but he was much softer with Ehlena and I’m not entirely convinced he needed to be. I think he was missing something there (his balls, maybe?) and when they had phone sex, I thought of laundry :P

    JM and Xhex’s scenes had the opposite effect on me than they did on you. I didn’t start off liking Xhex, but she grew on me and then she damaged JM. Unless something happens between now and when Lover Mine is released, I’m going to have a lot of trouble accepting her as JM’s HEA. I don’t want her to have a journey towards redemption, I just want her not to have done it. Although as V used to say, “Want in one hand, shit in the other. See what you’ve got the most of.”

    I have a theory about the lack of question marks. I think the Brothers, Rehv, Xhex and possibly even the Moors are too alpha (read: arrogant) to ask. Early in the series, it was stated that warriors take, they don’t ask. A lot of their questions are really statements with question-sounding phrases like “isn’t it” or “aren’t you” tacked onto the end, but that doesn’t make them questions because a lot of the time they already know the answers, so they’re not really asking anything. Is it annoying? Yes, but I think that’s why. I noticed that Ehlena asked questions ending in question marks.

    Oh, FFS, it’s not like “pizza” is a five syllable word, so it didn’t really need shortening, and “’za” pissed me off. She’s used the word “refrig” (or maybe it was spelled “refridge”, I can’t remember which), which I thought was totally unnecessary because people have been abbreviating “refrigerator” to “fridge” for decades. Why do we need the extra syllable there? Not to mention that “pizza” doesn’t have a “z” sound, it’s more like “ts”, so I looked at the word wondering if it was actually “za” or “tsa”. Slang should never require that much thought, IMO. I always thought the whole point was to make language easier.

    Maybe that clears things up and maybe it doesn’t. I guess it also raises the question of whether it’s a failing of a series that it takes frequent immersion in the world to get the big picture. But having said that, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.

  3. Kat says:

    Kerry, since it won’t cost you money to read it, I’d say go for it. It’s probably better than the last 2 books. I say probably because all 3 have been pretty forgettable for me.

  4. Kat says:

    Decadence, I knew you’d set the record straight! I can’t wait to read your review. *g*

    The thing is, I understand that Wrath is going through issues, but I still don’t think he needed to be such a big part of this book. There are other ways to introduce those issues without having to see them from Wrath’s point of view. Why did I have to read about him and Beth having sex on the desk?

    I agree that Lash’s storyline is significant. But again, it falls down in the craftsmanship. It’s not good enough just to say it’s significant and put it in the book. It has to make sense in the context and structure of that particular book. My frustration is that I can see where Ward is trying to go, but she just doesn’t build the story well.

    I can understand why the story has expanded and will continue to do so. I question whether it’s fair to fans to keep this part of the original series when the expectation for that series was that the books would be romances. I wish she’d stopped at Phury’s and then made a clean transition to UF. As it is, reader expectations are totally muddled and the only reason we know she’s moving away from romance is through the online discussions, which not all readers take part in.

    My main problem with the Scribe Virgin—and I didn’t really mind her changes up to and including Lover Unbound—is the speed with which she’s changed, considering she’s spent centuries being so strict.

    YES about wanting Rehv to be a little more hard-edged.

    I really felt for Xhex. I understand why JM was hurt, but he should have stood up for himself. Also, I felt kind of weird that his first order of business was to go have a threesome. Hello, what? I’ll be SO disappointed if the next book doesn’t have squeeable scenes. So much angst, I love it!

    I know what Ward was trying to do with the question marks, but seriously, if she wanted to make them seem demanding and authoritarian, just don’t put those damn tags at the end.

    Please say you’ll review this book. It’ll be good to have a different perspective, particularly from someone who knows the books inside-out.

  5. wandergurl says:

    Do I need to write a review?
    Can I just make:
    “wandergurl’s lover avenged review in 10 points”
    and bullet point my issues hahaha
    We can tell that we are lazy here. but three reviews might be over kill, and I agree mostly with Kat’s stuff. Tho I have additional stuff as well…

  6. Kat says:

    Quickies are fine! Or a list works, too. You can do it however way you want to.

    I need to fix these trackbacks. They’re cluttering up the comment threads.

  7. Kailana says:

    Okay, so I am still shocked at the amount you paid for this book! lol I haven’t read the first book in the series yet, although it has been on my TBR pile for quite sometime! I just have so many series on the go, I try and not start new ones! I guess if it is worth that much to be able to read the latest book… I should maybe read the first one!

  8. Kat says:

    Kailana, books are generally more expensive for us (due to freight costs and currency exchange), but hardcovers are a different level. My understanding is that hardcovers aren’t common in Aussie publishing, so when we have to buy them because of the US release, it hurts a lot.

    If you’re lucky Lover Avenged will be out in mass market by the time you catch up with the series. *g*

  9. chu6216067 says:

    KAT, I like yr comments.(’cause i bought this book within few week ago , i donot remember, and also bought with the expensive cost too, til now not read) Tomorrow i will read try to read its, i agree with u in the part of Rehv and Ehlena and the part of “Because sex in romance is about emotions”, i understand the feeling of the strongly part of other Ward do with her previous book. (My favorite book from this series is Lover Revealed. Butch is take my heart.)

  10. Jane says:

    The lack of question marks are SO annoying. The occasional omission of a question mark for emphasis is fine, but now absolutely everyone, be they vampire, angel, Chosen, Doggen, human or whatever, ask questions without putting in a question mark! It’s not colloquial, it’s lazy.
     

  11. Kat says:

    The lack of question marks is one of my pet peeves about the later books in the series. It seems to be getting worse, not better.

What do you think?