Now I have always said that when I do vampire romance, I do the good kind, where they don’t freaking sparkle.  Yes Edward, I’m looking at you.

And once upon a time, I was not a romance person.  I would not touch that stuff with a ten foot pole or a pair of rubber gloves.  I always felt the characters were two dimensional, and the storylines were boring and contrived.  Always the same stuff recycled over and over.  Until I found Dark Lover, the first in the Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R. Ward.

Now I first found Dark Lover about seven or eight years ago.  I read it and I loved it.  It was the first vampire romance I had picked up, and it was everything opposite to what I expected romance to be.  It was kinda dark, gritty, and the main characters were married halfway through the book!  That was a big thing for me as one of my biggest peeves in ‘typical’ romance is that the characters deny their feelings until the end no matter how many times they jump into bed together.

I knew that Dark Lover was the first in a series, but I could not find the others to save my life so I set it aside and eventually passed my copy on to someone else.  Then four years ago I started work at my store and I saw Dark Lover again.  I figured I’d pick it up, give it another shot, and see how it went.

I loved it just as much the second time round as the first!  And since I had the entire series at my disposal, I went through all the books that we had in stock in about a week.

In Dark Lover, we are introduced to a race of vampires both typical and vastly different than those we normally deal with living hidden among us in today’s society.  They drink blood.  They are vulnerable to sunlight.  They have super abilities and all that.  The biggest difference is that they do not need human blood to live.  Rather they feed on themselves kinda.  Only vampire blood of the opposite sex will sustain them, so blood play takes on a whole new meaning in this world.

Now in the BDB series, the vampires are the heroes, and where would heroes be without a nemesis?

See once upon a time, a long time ago, the Maker created two children: a entity known only as the Scribe Virgin who was granted the gift of creation from her father and created the vampire race, which even in the 21st century retain very medieval and feudal ideas within their society.  We can assume the Scribe Virgin is a vampire herself, but it’s not definite as we do not see her often, and when we do she does not feed.  She appears in humanoid form, robed from head to foot, and she live in the Fade, their version of heaven, with a cabal of femals called Chosen.  These Chosen are all…well…chosen…for their impeccibility, if that’s even a word.  They’re bloodline is perfect, they’re drop dead gorgeous, their only duty and desire is to serve the race in whatever way they can.

Now opposite the Scribe Virgin is the Omega, basically her brother and polar opposite.  As the Scribe Virgin is light, the Omega is dark etc.  The Omega created his own race called the Lessers, although I can’t remember if this ability was a gift from the maker, or if he had just so much spite in him he was able to create this race.  Lessers are creatures who are born human, and are recruited by the Omega. And of course they’re the dregs of society.  Drug dealers, wife beaters, people who don’t really have much humanity to begin with, but in the employ of the Omega lose their very soul and whatever remains of their humanity.  The Lessers and the vampires are at perpetual war, but whereas all Lessers are trained to kill vampires, not all vampires are trained to kill Lessers.  That’s where the Black Dagger Brotherhood comes in.

There are two classes in the vampire race: the aristocratic glymera, who are everything you would and could imagine aristocrats to be.  All they care about is money, breeding, appearances, and anything else that could directly benefit the,  The second class is the warrior class, literally, who more often than not are in the Brotherhood.

The BDB is basically self explanatory.  It’s a brotherhood of male vampires who’s sole job it is to hunt, track, and kill Lessers with a special black blade to the chest.  Now any blade will do the trick, these blades are only made for the brotherhood and just so happen to be black in color.  The end.

Every book in the series follows the same plot.  The Lessers are working on something to get the upper hand on the vampires, the brothers are doing their best to thwart the Lessers, and during the course of the book one of the brothers falls in love and finds their mate eternal.  And when I say eternal, I mean it.  Vampires in this series generally mate for life.  Once mated if one of the couple dies the other usually dies of a broken heart shortly afterwards.  But of course that is only true of those matings that happen out of love.  Or lust.  Take your pick.

In Dark Lover we are introduced to the ‘original’ cast of the series: Wrath, the king of the vampires who goes blind as the series progresses and is the focus of Dark Lover.  Rhage, a male cursed for his temper and the focus of book two Lover Eternal.  Zsadist, an extremely volatile, mean male who is the focus of book three Lover Awakened.  Butch O’Neil, a human introduced in Dark Lover and is the focus of book four Lover Revealed.  Vishous, another cursed male who is the focus of book five Lover Unbound.  Phury, a fiercely loyal male who is the focus of book six Lover Enshrined.

These are the original six members of the Brotherhood, and around book three or four, we are introduced to three new characters who are eventually initiated into the Brotherhood: John Matthews, a human orphaned mute who is eventually found and taken in by the Brotherhood and ‘adopted’ by Tohrment and his wife Wellesandra; Qhuinn, a child of the aristocracy who is shunned for his ‘deformity’: one blue eye, one green, and who just so happens to be gay, or at the very least bisexual; and Blay, another child of the glymera, again either gay or bi, and who also just so happens to be Qhuinn’s love interest.

As is my habit, here’s a brief overview of all the books.  The only difference is that most of these were taken directly off their wiki page, with my own notes following.  It’s been a while folks.  I hit the wiki to refresh my memory, and I liked what I read, so here we are.  I’m only human…

Anyways!

Dark Lover is the first book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. It tells the story of Wrath – the last purebred vampire left on the planet. The un-ascended king of the vampire species, Wrath lives only to fight in an endless war with the soulless vampire slayers, Lessers, who brutally murdered his parents centuries ago. As leader of the Brotherhood, his only solace is in fighting, not looking to the past or future, shunning his duties as King.  Within the vampire world, Wrath is known as the Blind King, due to his extremely poor eyesight, though this does not affect his powers on the battlefield nor his ability to sense the feelings of others around him.  Blaming himself for not intervening when his parents were slain, Wrath has wrapped himself in a cocoon of self-hatred and emotional distance, but Dark Lover tells of his enlivening. When the Lessers kill one of his best fighters, Darius, Wrath is left with the responsibility to help the warrior’s half-human daughter, Beth, through her transition. It is through Beth that Wrath learns to feel and look toward the future of his life and of the species as a whole.

Yeah, this one’s pretty easy to follow.  It’s the first in the series so everything’s just getting set up.

Lover Eternal tells the story of Rhage who is considered to be the most attractive of all the Brothers. His beauty has earned him the nickname ‘Hollywood’.  Rhage was cursed in the early eighteen hundreds for angering the Scribe Virgin. Due to his continued recklessness and uncontrollable lust after his transition, the Scribe Virgin gave him The Beast. Fearsome in its beauty, the Beast resembles a huge dragon with massive claws and a jaw filled with sharp fangs. It was a punishment designed to regulate Rhage’s energy and moods. Whenever he gets out of control, the Beast comes out. When this occurs Rhage’s eyes turn a brilliant white and his body mutates in a grisly display of tearing and ruptures – letting the Beast emerge. When it is out, Rhage is totally suppressed and he is in no way able to control the Beast, who knows neither friend nor foe. Because of this, Rhage has to keep the Beast from coming out by subduing it through the satiation of a good fight or sex.  Rhage’s sexual exploits are the stuff of legend in the Vampire society. It is said that fathers tell their sons the story of Rhage when the time is right. But Rhage does not relish this reputation and is, in fact, eager to cast it off.  Within the second book of the series, Rhage meets Mary, a human female to whom he is inexplicably drawn. Mary is unwittingly thrown into the vampire world and reliant on Rhage’s protection. However with a life-threatening curse of her own she is not looking for love and lost her faith in miracles long ago. But when Rhage’s attraction turns to something more emotional he has to fight to make Mary his alone.

This is where we’re introduced to John Matthews, Qhuinn and Blaylock for the first time, but the ball doesn’t really get rolling for him or his friends until later.  John Matthews is essentially ‘adopted’ by Tohrment and his wife Wellisandra, and we find out that John is the reincarnation of Beth’s father Darius, but it’s confusing because I’m pretty sure they refer to each other as brother and sister later in the series.  I could be wrong though.

Lover Awakened tells the story of Zsadist, a former blood slave, who is the most sinister and terrifying of the brothers. He rescues the beautiful aristocrat, Bella, from the hands of the evil Lessening Society. Their desire for each other is overwhelming, but in order for any hope of a future together, it is Bella who must “rescue” Zsadist from the suffering and humiliation of his tortured past.

The Lessers also get pretty damned cunning in this book and launch an all out attack on the glymera, killing most of them, including Wellisandra, Tohrment’s pregnant mate and John Matthew’s adoptive mother.

Lover Revealed is Butch O’Neal’s story.  A fighter by nature, Butch is a hard living, ex-homicide cop, he’s the only human ever to be allowed in the inner circle of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. And he wants to go even deeper into the vampire world- to engage in the bolster war with the Lessers. He’s got nothing to lose. His heart belongs to a female vampire, an aristocratic beauty who’s way out of his league. If he can’t have her, then at least he can fight side by side with the Brothers.  Fate curses him with the very thing he wants. When Butch sacrifices himself to save a civilian vampire from the slayers, he falls prey to the darkest force in the war. Left for dead, found by a miracle, the Brotherhood calls on Marissa to bring him back, though even her love might not be enough to save him.

What happens here is that Butch is cursed, but in a good way.  He can actually absorb Lesser ‘souls’ now.  See, when the Omega recruits humans, he actually gives them a little piece of himself, which is kinda recycled back to him when they’re killed by the Brothers.  So while yes, he is diminishing himself with each Lesser he creates, he is also being renewed with each death.  Butch breaks that cycle.  He absorbs whatever it is that Lessers pass off as a soul, and cleanses it essentially, preventing it from returning to the Omega and renewing him.  It.  Whatever.

Lover Unbound is the story of the ruthless and brilliant Vishous.  Vishous, son of the Bloodletter possesses a destructive curse and a frightening ability to see the future. As a pre-tran growing up in his father’s war camp, he was tormented and abused. As a member of the Brotherhood, he has no interest in love or emotion, only the battle with the Lessening Society. But when a mortal injury puts him in the care of a human surgeon, Dr. Jane Whitcomb compels him to reveal his inner pain and taste true pleasure for the first time- until a destiny he didn’t choose takes him into a future that cannot include her.

We also find out who V’s mother is in this one, and holy crap is it a doozy.  The Bloodletter is also a character to keep an eye on as he has ramifications throughout the series.  The Bloodletter was essentially the worst sociopath ever to be born to the vampire race.  Ruthless, vicious, and without anything even remotely resembling humanity, compassion, or emotions, the Bloodletter was the worst of the worst, and was responsible in the Old Country (Europe) to train the warrior males to fight.  Imagine every bad thing that he could possibly do in this position, and you would probably be right.  *shudder*

Lover Enshrined is Phury’s tale.  Fiercely loyal to the Brotherhood, Phury has sacrificed himself for the good of the race, becoming the male responsible for keeping the Brotherhood’s bloodlines alive. As Primale of the Chosen, he is to father the sons and daughters who will ensure that the traditions of the race survive and that there are warriors to fight those who want all vampires extinguished. He feels as though he is incapable of love, but looks upon the other brothers with want for what they have, though he’d never show it.  As his first mate, the Chosen Cormia wants to win not only his body but his heart for herself- she sees the emotionally scarred male behind all his noble responsibility. But while the war with the Lessening Society grows more grim, and tragedy looms over the Brotherhood’s mansion, Phury must decide between duty and love.

This is where the series gets a little weak, as it’s split between Phury and the background set up of John Matthews, Qhuinn, and Blaylock.  Phury also happens to be Zsadist’s twin, but I’m not sure if that’s revealed here or not.  Qhuinn also becomes John’s own personal bodyguard to try and teach him some responsibility after he almost gets someone killed, but again, I can’t remember if that’s here or later.  This is also where the three friends finally make their final transitions from basically the vampire equivalent of teens to adults.  They become males in every way and all finally start their training as warriors.

Lover Avenged is about the symphath leader named Rehvenge.  Caldwell, NY, has long been the battleground for the vampires and their enemies, the Lessening Society. It’s also where Rehvenge has staked out his turf as a drug lord and owner of a notorious nightclub (ZeroSum) that caters to the rich and heavily armed. His shadowy reputation is exactly why he’s approached to kill Wrath, the Blind King, and leader of the Brotherhood. Rehvenge has always kept his distance from the Brotherhood, even though his sister is married to a Brother. Because he’s a symphath,his identity is a deadly secret- the revelation of which will result in his banishment to the symphath colony. And as plots within and outside the Brotherhood take their toll against Rehvenge, he turns to the only source of light in a darkening world – Ehlena, a vampire untouched by the corruption that has its hold on him – and the only thing standing between him and eternal destruction.

It’s here where symphaths start taking a bigger role in the series.  Only fitting as the book focuses on one.  Symphaths are essentially a mutated version of a vampire.  They have six fingers, interestingly jointed limbs, the tend to have red eyes, and they feed off emotions, especially negative ones.  They’re largely despised in vampires culture and are referred to as sin-eaters if they’re referred to at all, and for good reason.  Few of them are ‘good’ people, something I think comes about from feeding off negative emotions.  I think it turns them evil.  This is also where we see Wrath go from a figurative Blind King to a literal one.  That was pretty scary.

Lover Mine is John Matthew’s story(Finally!)  It revolves around rescuing Xhex (Rehvenge’s loyal friend and half sympath) from Lash (Vampire/Son of the Omega/Head of the Lessening Society).  John Matthew is the reincarnation of Darius, the Brother who was killed by a car bomb in Dark Lover.  In the darkest corners of the night in Caldwell, New York, a conflict like no other rages. Long divided as a terrifying battleground for the vampires and their enemies, the city is home to a band of brothers born to defend their race: the warrior vampires of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. John Matthew has come a long way since he was found living among humans, his vampire nature unknown to himself and to those around him. After he was taken in by the Brotherhood, no one could guess what his true history was- or his true identity. Indeed, the fallen Brother Darius has returned, but with a different face and a very different destiny. As a vicious personal vendetta takes John into the heart of the war, he will need to call up on both who he is now and who he once was in order to face off against evil incarnate. Xhex, a symphath assassin, has long steeled herself against the attraction between her and John Matthew. Having already lost one lover to madness, she will not allow the male of worth to fall prey to the darkness of her twisted life. When fate intervenes, however, the two discover that love, like destiny, is inevitable between soul mates.

Xhex is one of my fav characters, as she is the first female in the series we see that ‘breaks the mold’.  The other love interests up till this point have been females who are either calm and demure with iron cores, else modern and feiry.  All of them I guess would have warrior spirits, but none of the skills to back it up.  Xhex is the first one we see that has those skills, but it sucks that she still falls victim to the Lessers.

Lover Unleashed is Payne’s story.  Payne, twin sister of Vishous, is cut from the same dark, seductive cloth as her brother. Imprisoned for hundreds of years by her mother, she finally frees herself – only to face a devastating injury. Manuel Manello, M.D., is drafted by the Brotherhood to save her as only he can – but when the human surgeon and the vampire warrior meet, their two worlds collide in the face of their undeniable passion. With so much working against them, can love prove stronger than the birthright and the biology that separates them?

Back in either Lover Avenged or Lover Mine, Wrath started making regular trips to the Fade, the home of his creator goddess the Scribe Virgin to ask for his sight back.  At first.  He kinda went through all the stages of grief, getting stuck in a deep depression, until Payne broke free and began sparring with him.  He actually broke her back in the Fade at the end of Lover Mine, and brought her over to this side for healing.

All of these males are tough, fierce, loyal, and cuss like sailors throughout the books.  This ain’t yo mamma’s romance!  Nothing prim and proper here.  It’s all gritty blood, guts and glory, which is nicely balanced with alternating chapters focusing on the leading ladies and the budding romances.

So far there are nine books published, with a tenth just released and I have read them all.  All of them are excellent books and I would recommend them to anyone.  I actually got this series to Hong Kong!  A customer who I got hooked on the series went overseas for a conference or something and got all her coworkers on both sides of the water hooked!  That’s how good it is.

Fair warning though: like I said before, round about book four it gets a little weak before picking up again in book six, and that’s only because she’s introducing those three other lads and getting their back stories down so it slows down the main story line a bit.  Otherwise, great reads!

Enjoy folks.  And if you’re interested, the complete reading order with links to my reviews is here.

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