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Although I'm sure readers of great literature will disagree, there is a clear distinction between totally trashy paranormal romance and well written urban fantasy. The Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J R Ward falls somewhere between the two and is one of my secret guilty pleasures.
Despite being slightly more paranormal romance than urban fantasy, this series started off with great promise having a very good balance between the romantic and paranormal elements so that one never overshadowed the other. As the series progressed it's fair to say that it began to lean more towards urban fantasy, which personally appealed to me far more but upset many fans of the original books. Lover Unleashed seems to be J R Ward's attempt to appease these somewhat disgruntled fans because the pendulum has swung right back to paranormal romance once more..
Payne, the twin sister of Vishous, has been held captive by her mother, the Scribe Virgin, for centuries and when she eventually escapes, tragedy strikes when she receives an injury to her spine which leaves her without any feeling from the waist down and unable to walk. The only medic skilled enough to help is the human, Manuel 'Manny' Manello and Payne soon begins to want more than just his surgical skills. Manny, despite being human, might just be Payne's destiny.
The thing that prevents this book and others in the series from being true urban fantasy is the fact that none of it is rooted in reality. This is pure over-the-top sensational drama, a bit like Dynasty with vampires. One really big problem that any reader of the series first has to overcome is with the male lead characters, at least those belonging to the Black Dagger Brotherhood, all of whom are ultra alpha males. I'm sure most women would agree with me that although alpha males seem very attractive on paper, in reality they would be regarded as controlling, possessive men who most right thinking women would steer well clear of. (Give me a beta male every time; one that uses his brain rather than his brawn!) In fact, the Black Dagger Brotherhood (henceforth called BDB) have never struck me as being particularly attractive unless you're into men with tattooed faces and piercings aplenty and with a violent streak a mile wide.
Although this particular book is supposedly concentrating on the romance between Payne and Manny, the reality is that the book flits between three romantic situations, has a very slight urban fantasy element and also introduces new characters destined to be enemies of the BDB. For any new reader of the series, it would be totally bewildering as not only would they be expected to know many of the characters and their back stories from previous books but they'd also have to get to grips with the arcane language style of the BDB. There are lots of thees, thous and thines to contend with as well as some strange street lingo which includes ending many sentences with the phrase _'you feel me?'._
Payne is a fairly new introduction to the series, making her first appearance in the previous book. She's the twin sister of Vishous. (I should perhaps mention that all the vampires of the BDB have rather tortuous names, Zsadist, Tohrment, Wrath, Rhage etc.) Payne and Vishous have only just been united as they have been kept apart for centuries by their mother, the Scribe Virgin, a sort of goddess who is almost but not quite all-powerful. Payne has never known either the human or BDB world before so is a useful character for getting a bit of a recap on past events and the structure of this strange world within a world. The romance, if you can call it that, is pretty sudden. Manny takes one look at Payne and realises she's everything he's ever wanted in a woman and the same goes for her. Although she's paralysed from the waist down, it doesn't take long before she's able to move again, all because she wants to cop a look at Manny in the shower! (By now I'm guessing you're realising why this is a secret guilty pleasure!)
Meanwhile, Payne's twin is having romantic problems of his own. His wife Jane, who's a ghost, able to make herself corporeal at will, has discovered that Vishous has a penchant for BDSM which includes tipping hot wax onto very tender body parts (I know, the storyline just gets better and better, doesn't it?) It seems as though their marriage is on the rocks which prompts Vishous to seek out dangerous situations such as fighting the enemy of the BDB, the Lessers. At the beginning of this series, the Lessers were a force to be reckoned with and added some action and interest other than romance into the books, however, they make only very brief and much diluted appearance here.
As if all the agony and ecstasy of Payne's and Vishous's tangled love lives wasn't enough, the third romance which is being played out, and this is by far the most interesting of the three, is between Quhinn and Blaylock, two young males of the BDB, one of whom (Blaylock) is out and proud whilst Quhinn is so deeply in the closet, he hadn't even realises he was gay! Blaylock has loved Quhinn from the offset but Quhinn has always been rampantly heterosexual only realising that he has a gay side when Blaylock begins a relationship with Saxton. Unlike the other romances this one is set to run a while longer so nothing is resolved in this book and I suspect that pretty soon these two will have a story of their own.
Despite knowing from the first page of the series that this wasn't great literature, there is something about these books which sucks you in (no pun intended, though there is plenty of sucking in these books!) The author has certainly built an intriguing, if not particularly believable, world. J R Ward has the same writing style as Arthur Hailey and Jackie Collins in that there are lots of separate storylines going on and the action in each is pretty episodic. It's a clever technique which leaves the reader hanging on to find out what happens next in each storyline and the whole package is generally wrapped up right at the end.
Would I recommend this book, or indeed the series? Well, if youere a man, I'd have to say probably not because these books are likely to leave you feeling very inadequate when you read about the physical prowess of the BDB. If you're a woman, however, and occasionally enjoy some pure escapism which bears no resemblance to real life whatsoever and is peopled by characters so full of testosterone it's scary, you'll absolutely love this. I would recommend you begin at the beginning with Dark Lover because this is a pretty convoluted world which takes some time to understand. As for star rating, it's not good enough for four stars but it certainly moves the main elements of the ongoing story forward and is an engaging read.
If I had to sum up this ninth book of the series, I'd have to say it's enjoyable hokum!
Published by Piatkus
Also posted on Ciao under the same user ID.