Review: Lover Unleashed (Black Dagger Brotherhood #9), by J.R. Ward
With her life in jeopardy and her mobility possibly permanently impaired, Payne faces some difficult decisions. Her healer Manny, a world class surgeon and head of surgery at the local hospital faces some difficult circumstances himself when his efforts to save Payne begin to impact his career. Payne’s twin brother Vishous and his mate Jane have a rough ride in store for them as well, as they work through V’s frustration & anger at the decisions made by his and Payne’s unconventional parents. A good read – not as spectacular as some of the previous BDB novels, but definitely worth picking up!
- Title: Lover Unleashed
- Series: The Black Dagger Brotherhood – book #9
- Author: J. R. Ward
- Prominent Characters: Payne, Manny, Vischous, Jane
- Recommended reader age: 17+
- Sexual content level: Moderate
After suffering a paralyzing injury, Payne’s life (as well as her mobility) is in jeopardy. When Doc Jane realizes the damage is too great for her to repair, she goes on a hunt for the one man she knows has a chance of saving Payne: Head of Surgery, Dr. Manuel Manello. Manny and Payne share an instant connection, but will she ever walk again and how will he deal with the news that Jane really isn’t gone and vampires actually do walk among us?
WARNING: This review will include some spoilers, most minor or mid-range but some possibly large ones involving the plot’s turning points. If you already know you want to read this book, WAIT til after you finish it to read my review, then see if we agree! If you have not read the BDB series and are looking for a review to decide if you should, then look at either Dark Lover (BDB #1) or Lover Eternal (BDB #2) as this newest one is good, but by no means the highlight of the series.
The title of this book is a little misleading, assuming it is supposed to describe the featured couple or “warrior”. Payne is more “unleashed” in her sparring sessions with Wrath in the previous books than she is throughout this entire novel. “Lover unleashed” is more more applicable to V, as he learns to relinquish his vicious self-control… literally, un-leashed from the “predilections” that trapped him in his previous destructive BDSM spiral. Payne’s personality is nearly unrecognizable compared to the tenacious & serious, almost savage, amazon she was introduced as in a previous novel. Some of this is understandable, considering how crushing it would be to be faced with permanent paralysis as a warrior, but far too much time is spent on this period of weakness and inactivity for Payne to really grow as a character. Then, when she does finally become mobile and has a chance to be “normal” again, she acts more like a giddy young girl than a 300-year old fighter. Sure, being in love makes you do silly things, makes you giggle and skip and spin in place, but I felt it was too harsh a departure from the personality we (the readers) had already been introduced to and accepted throughout Wrath’s sparring sessions and her interactions with Layla.
Too much of this book feels transitory for it to be strong enough to stand on its own. For a reader new to the series, I would say absolutely do NOT read this novel first! Obviously, starting at the beginning is best, but most of the other books are strong enough that a new reader could pick them up and enjoy the stories even with the multiple story arcs and ever-growing roster of characters. Lover Unleashed reads as if its the middle film in a trilogy (hello, The Two Towers and Empire Strikes Back!) – it’s more a way to get there from here, and to wrap up plotlines while introducing yet another. I don’t mind the sideline plots, because sometimes they turn into fantastic drama, but at least give us a little more of the one we all REALLY want to see: Blay & Quinn! How many books is she going to stretch that one out before it comes to some kind of conclusion (oh, and please be the outcome I think we all want!)? What about Muhrder from book 8 (Lover Mine)? A substantial amount of book-time went to setting up that whole “ghost” scenario at his mansion, then revealing who he is on TV, then there’s not even a reference to it in this one. I think this is the first time a developing plotline like that has been dropped completely from one book to another. What about Lassiter?
“When John and Xhex came down with Blay and Saxton, the only people not in attendance were Quinn and Tohrment, who were likely in the gym, and Marissa, who was at Safe Place.”
So now that John Matthew’s story is wrapped up and Tohr doesn’t need the angel’s constant supervision, will we be seeing him again? I’ll be sad if the answer to that is “no”, because, honestly, who can resist a cocky, arrogant, asshole angel with a big squishy (yet well-armored) heart? Maybe the cast of characters is just becoming too large to fit them all into each novel.
A couple things really bothered me about Payne’s abduction toward the end…
1) Her abduction was fishy and too convenient (read: predictable). Considering how well previous story lines have worked out after some of the leading ladies were abducted, Ms. Ward could have made an abduction like this work, but this just had no heat to it… no drive. It felt flat. A warrior like Payne so easily apprehended? Dozens of lessers showing up just as Xcor and his guys do – that’s more than coincidence; it’s a forced plot device. Sadly, I was actually glad to see her abducted. Payne spends so much of the book struggling and weak, then girly and flighty, putting her in a situation like this was really the only way to quickly give her back some of the spine she had before the accident.
2) Payne was able to resolve the entire abduction situation by just standing there and talking. Really? The big bad glowy she-warrior doesn’t even get to fight for herself? Part of the reason the abduction portion of the story feels so flat is because it’s not believeable. We know she can burn with her touch – that’s how she killed her father in the Prologue of the book – so would we really believe she’d be successfully restrained and tortured using just steel or iron manacles? Then she just talks her captor out of something he’s believed & fought for all of his life, after which he proceeds to protect her from his own men at his own peril? Uh… no. And B-O-R-I-N-G!
If only there were a 12-step program on how to be the Scribe Virgin’s son…
Hi, I’m Vishous. I’m her son, and I’ve been her son for 300 years.
She’s done a head job on me again, ad I’m trying not to go to the Other Side and scream bloody murder at her.
We understand, Vishous.
And on that bloody note, I’d like to dig up my father and kill him all over again, but I can’t. So I’m just going to try to keep my sister alive even though she’s paralyzed, and attempt to find some pain so I can deal with this Payne.
You’re a straight-up pussy, Vishous, but we support your sorry ass.
The word “boot” is mentioned THREE times within 2 chapters! Oh noes, invashun of teh BOOTS!
“I’m going to work on you,” Manny said. “You got a problem with that?”
“Not if you can keep me from bleeding out.”
“Consider it done.” Manny grabbed a pair of scissors. “I’m going to cut off your pant leg first and ditch the boot.”
“Shitkicker,” the guy groaned.
“Fine. Whatever you call it, it’s coming off.”
The new & improved, sensitive V? Nah…
Next thing he knew he was going to be on TV, staring into a camera and saying, “All it takes is a little dab of Self-awareness… and then I rinse with the patented Defining Yourself Wash, and my mind and emotions are clean and glowing – “.
Ok, now he was really losing his damn marbles, true.
Oh, the bromance!
“One other thing.”
“I think we’re dating now.” As V barked out a laugh, the cop shrugged. “Come on… I got you naked. You wore a damn corset. And don’t get me started about the sponge bath afterward.”
“To the end.”
If you like…
If you like Lover Unleashed and the Black Dagger Brotherhood and haven’t yet been introduced to Cat & Bones, I highly encourage you to invest some quality time with them – there’s a duo that will knock your socks off and take you on an emotional rollercoaster comparable to some of the BDB novels! Cat & Bones are the featured couple in the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost, which (at the time of this posting) has 5 core books and 2 Night Huntress World novels (as well as a few short stories and novellas featured in genre compilations).
You might also enjoy the Meredith Gentry series by Laurel K. Hamilton. Yes, that Laurel K. Hamilton – the one who writes the infamous Anita Blake books. The Merry Gentry series is a little less smutty (although honestly, not by too much) and has stronger plotlines, and her relationships with her “merry band of men” can get pretty intense, much like some of the BDB relationships. If you have an aversion to sexual exhibitionism and three(plus)-somes, Meredith Gentry may not be your bag, but if you can get through that (or if that’s what you’re looking for!), give her a try – it’s a little more tame than Anita Blake, and a lot more emotional.
As much as this was a tough book for Payne, with her paralysis & uncertain future, it was an even rougher story for Vishous. The emotional breakdown scenes were skillfully written and you can tell Ms. Ward really enjoys writing these characters (even though V seems to have a strange animosity toward her in his interviews and comments on the BDB forums).
This book is really more about V & Jane than it is about Payne & Manny. Payne & Manny almost feel more like side characters than the featured couple, to the point that this is easily Lover Unbound 2.0. Now I’m not complaining – V is one of my favorite characters in the series, so more face (and body!) time with him is A-okay with me. Of course, his penthouse scenes in this book feature more B&M than D&S, but getting to see the Butch/V bond again was totally worth it. I also enjoyed the references to the iconic “bathroom sink” scene from Lover Unbound (oh la la!).
Overall, even with all my b*tching and moaning above, I did enjoy this book and I will probably read (parts of) it again. V’s story arc is strong enough to carry the weaker Payne/Manny story, and the emotional complexity of Xcor and Throe will make for an interesting new plotline. John Matthew is hands-down my favorite character in this series, with Quinn and Blay close seconds, so obviously Lover Mine was going to be a super-tough act to follow. I’m really curious who the next couple will be. Ms. Ward didn’t set one up in this novel, so unless she plans on bringing in another brand new character (which would be out of place, considering how, with the exception of Mary, the rest of the characters are interwoven and developed before being cast as part of a featured couple), could it actually be Quinn’s and Blay’s turn?
4.25 fangs: BITE IT, but try not to think about how ridiculously awesome Lover Mine was, and just enjoy the ride!