The King by J. R. Ward
A character-driven story is being forced into a plot-driven approach at the expense of elements that made the earlier books such great reads. But I’m keeping the faith.
An advance reading copy of this book was generously provided by Hachette Australia. If you need to catch up on the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, click here to for Decadence’s cheat sheets.
On the surface, a return to Wrath and Beth makes The King sound like an extended epilogue to Dark Lover, especially since she wants to have his baby, but it’s so much more than that. By the end of Dark Lover, Wrath got the girl and that was it in the HEA (happily ever after) department for him because he had to take up the burden of ruling a people trapped by tradition and facing extinction. Everyone else in the series got their HEA as well as being able to make peace with their demons or had the strain either lifted from them or modified to something they were better equipped to handle. Only Wrath was forced to give up his identity as a fighter and, over the course of the series, we’ve seen him chafing under worship from his subjects, the boring and monotonous desk job, and attempted coups from the glymera.
The King is a very necessary part of the series. It’s also a jam-packed installment of an addictive series, with background on the previous king, resolution of the glymera’s coup and Beth’s desire for a young, as well as the continuation of another three romantic plots.
The King is darker in tone than most of the previous books, dealing with multiple conflicts, treason, Sola’s ordeal, the ticking clock on Trez and Selena and the bad romance that is Xcor and Layla, with less of the sarcastic, snarky humour between the Brothers that I enjoy from this series. Because The King reminds us how far the Brothers have come over the course of the series, it also highlights for me those missing elements I loved from earlier books.
I can’t help but feel as though J. R. Ward is being restricted by maximum word counts, as her books are among some of the longest paranormals out there, but she has so many characters in her world that aren’t broken off into factions to the extent of, say, the Dark-Hunters, that I don’t get to see as much of them as I would like, even though most of them live together. We don’t get potato-launcher-type scenes anymore because they’re not integral to the storylines in a given book.
We get to see some one-on-one scenes between Beth and JM for the first time, which is something that I really enjoyed, but it paves the way for more Darius-baiting. From memory, JM is never supposed to remember being Darius, and I’m now fuzzy on whether Ward said it ever gets discovered by anyone else. I want to see it happen, but since I’m not sure it will, it can be a bit frustrating.
I love the background plot with Wrath’s father, which adds texture to the current plot to oust him and nicely brings things full circle and redresses previous assumptions about the King’s history with his people. I also enjoyed getting to spend more time with some of the previous generation of Brothers and finding little tidbits, like Rhage has his father’s eyes.
The primary plotlines surrounding Wrath’s reign and Beth’s biological clock are a wild ride that does not disappoint. Even with Ward’s teasers, and noting the direction her world is going, there were plenty of surprises to shock me.
I think the reason why so many romantic plots have been packed into The King is that aside from giving Wrath and Beth a more complete (and richly deserved) HEA, none of the other plotlines are strong enough to be able to carry their own book, at least at this stage. The King stands as a transition book between the original Brothers and other characters in their immediate vicinity, and the newer characters, who have either been on the periphery of the series or only recently introduced. There is a sense of familiarity with some of the new characters because they can come across as mash-ups of the earlier ones, with obvious similarities between Rehv and Assail, or Trez as an amalgam of bits of Rhage, Rehv and old-school Primale. The newer characters like Assail and the Band of Bastards have not only been set up in direct conflict with reader favourites, but with the arguable exception of Throe, we have not yet seen their heroic qualities.
This won’t be the first time Ward has sold us on edgy, non-traditional heroes and heroines. She has taken us to some controversial places by giving a book to a drug-dealing pimp in fur, an addict, and a hooker. She even wrote a romance about two males, so whether or not she feels she has a choice, Ward has the balls to take risks in her stories.
Until The King, I felt that Assail must be the Old Language word for ‘asshole’ and I was just waiting with great anticipation for him to be branded a traitor after forming a partnership with the lessers. But a bonded Assail is a much more likeable character when you see him actually care for someone. After getting new insight into him, I’m more curious to find out why he’s so concerned with power and safety instead of writing him off as an obnoxious, cigar-smoking douche. Ward has been able to change my opinion of characters I haven’t always liked, so there is every likelihood that she will be able to do that again, and there are characters with proven heroism, like iAm and Saxton, who I would like to see find love. Even s’Ex has potential. But how long will Lassiter be relegated to comic relief? And when will Murhder return?
After all I’ve said about the series and The King’s place in it, I’m still going to keep reading the series and import my signed and personalised hardcovers at around $100 each, so I don’t see all doom and gloom. Ward has a novella for Rhage and Mary coming at some point (I predict they will be next), but considering that Lover at Last and The King were originally going to be novellas, she may be able to take it as an opportunity to develop her other romantic plots and give us a novel.
Yay or nay?
I really want to say that I unreservedly loved The King, but I wish we could have been given a longer book to accommodate more of the characters and the interactions that got me invested in the first place. It feels like a character-driven story is being forced into a plot-driven approach at the expense of elements that made the earlier books such great reads.
There’s no doubt that the series has changed since its early days and it remains to be seen whether Ward can carry the series over to pairings outside the BDB circle, but I’m keeping the faith that Ward will be able to maintain her momentum even as her characters continue to take us to places where romance typically does not tread.
Who might enjoy it: Black Dagger Brotherhood fans looking for a fresher approach to romance
Who might not enjoy it: Paranormal romance readers looking for a self-contained read, and readers who don’t believe a couple have to reproduce in order to be truly happy
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