Lover Awakened

J.R. Ward
September 2006, Vampire Romance
Signet, $6.99, 464 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451219368
Part of a series

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Hot

Lover Awakened is the third book in J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Those who have not read the first two books may feel a bit like the new bride at a family reunion, but eventually you'll figure out who's who. A handy glossary at the beginning of the book helps. This book also lays the ground for upcoming entries in the series and I must say it really piqued my appetite.

If you've read the first two books, you know that the brothers are all vampire warriors - big, bad, scary guys who take no prisoners when it comes to fighting lessers, the desouled humans who hunt and kill ordinary vampires. However, even these ubermacho warriors are scared of the one called Zsadist. Unlike the other brothers who are all bulky with muscle and handsome verging on beautiful, Zsadist is lean, scarred, pierced, and shavenheaded - with that skull-beneath-the-skin look about him. To go with his menacing looks, Zsadist has a warped psyche, and as flashbacks to his past show, he has a lot to be warped about.

Zsadist and his twin brother Phury were born to the warrior Ahgony and his wife Naseen. When he was very young, Zsadist was kidnapped and sold to Catriona, a member of the glymera (the vampire aristocracy) where he served her household as a kitchen boy. When Zsadist matured, Catriona had him taken to a dungeon, and tattooed as a blood slave. For a century he was her sexual plaything. She raped him, she allowed other men to rape him and watch while she took her pleasure and fed on his blood. Zsadist was not forgotten by his family though, and for years Phury searched for his brother. When he finally found and rescued him, Zsadist was so filled with hate, despair, and self loathing he was almost an animal.

In the previous book, Lover Eternal, Zsadist met the beautiful glymera vampire Bella. At the the end of that book, Bella was kidnapped by a lesser. This book picks up with Bella imprisoned underground being alternately wooed and abused by the lesser who has fallen in love with her. Meanwhile, the brothers are searching for Bella, and Zsadist is the one who rescues her. Bella clings to him as her savior and refuses to leave him. Because the lessers are all out prowling for the escaped Bella, the brotherhood decide to keep her at their headquarters, and her proximity causes things to heat up in a major way with Zsadist, especially when Bella goes into her needing period and starts sending out waves of pheremones. Think of Vulcans at pon farr and you have some idea of the needing period. However, Zsadist is so scarred and twisted by his century of torture by Catriona that it looks as though he and Bella will never be together, even though Zsadist knows that she is his nalla shellan (beloved mate).

Along with Zsadist and Bella's story, the author introduces several other characters and storylines that I know we will see developed in future books, beginning with John, a mute street kid vampire who, it is hinted, may turn out to be the most powerful one of all. Butch, the human cop who lives with the brothers, meets a beautiful vampire and falls for her in a major way. We also meet Bella's brother, Rehvenge, who is not exactly a nice guy, and Tohrment suffers a major loss.

In the first two books Zsadist was presented as a downright nasty piece of work. Think of the scaggiest skinhead ever and you've got the picture. I wondered if Ward could ever make him likable, but she does. While he never turns into a cuddly sensitive guy, he does soften up and become a more normal vampire like the rest of the brothers (if you can call them normal). Zsadist still can scare with just a look, but he loses his scaggy starved appearance and begins to resemble his twin brother, Phury. The bond between the twins is one of the most interesting parts of the book and we see that Phury, the quiet one, has suffered almost as much as Zsadist.

As you can probably guess, Zsadist's attitude toward sex is a thoroughly warped one. He refers to his penis as it, refuses to look at himself, and a more accurate name for him would be Mzasochist. He is a strong willed character, and from the first, he rebelled against Catriona's treatment; he managed to keep something of himself to himself and refused to allow Catriona or the men she brought to him have it. In a weird sort of way, Zsadist is a kind of virgin, but I'll let you discover the rest on your own. It takes a strong woman to heal such a damaged man, but Bella has rebelled against the strictures of the glymera and is as strong as they come.

J.R. Ward is building a most interesting urban fantasy world here and it's one that I am thoroughly hooked on despite myself. I love small towns, I hate nightclubs, I hate hip-hop, I can't stand tattoos and piercings, but there is something so visceral about this world and these brothers that I love them despite their silly names and bad habits. As long as there are macho words and H's and Z's to insert in them, it looks like there will be more and more vampires, which is just fine with me - I'd follow these guys almost anywhere. Rock on, my brothers!

-- Ellen Micheletti

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