Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Genre: Defined

Those who are familiar with the paranormal sub-genre probably have heard, if not already read, J.R. Ward. Ward has undoubtedly defined the genre and in doing so, has gained a legion of loyal readers. Not only has she, in my opinion, defined the genre but she is the leading voice in this new age of vampire fiction. Move over Rice, Ward has taken over and her brothers are marking their new turf.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood. 

The series is something to be experienced for yourself and I will not go in depth with every book simply because there's so much to say, so little room, and the brothers' books should not be spoiled. They should be read by anyone interested in the romance genre. But bigger than that, they're not simply romance. They're action with interconnected plots and characters that will feel so real that they eventually become not just characters, but beings in their own right. 

I came across a review once for a Ward book and the critic said that you know you're in trouble when the book contains its own dictionary. Laughingly, I would have to agree, but probably not in the way the critic intended. The series itself is so complex that even if I were to reread the series multiple times, there would be something new to pick up each and every time. Not only is there a dictionary of defined terminology, but there is a separate culture that becomes deeper with each novel. 

When the sun sets on the streets of Caldwell, New York, there is an endless war that wages between the vampires and those who seek their extinction. Arising from centuries of specific breeding, honing the finer skills of the race, the Brotherhood signifies the qualities that are desirable in warriors. Armed with quick reflexes, superior physical strength, and intelligence 
that foils their enemies, the Black Dagger Brotherhood are the defenders of their race.

While they live amongst humans, they are a separate species all together. As long as humans keep to themselves, the war that the brothers fight do not concern them. But once in a while, a human crosses into the world it's every man for themselves. The Brotherhood will let nothing and no one get in their way as they defend their community and their loved ones. 

Let's take a brief look at the general Brotherhood members. (Fans will recognize the fact that there are more to the list, but for the sake of simplicity, let's keep it to the 'original' brothers and the books that are published so far).

Wrath: The Blind King. Wrath is the reluctant king of the race and the last pure blooded vampire alive. He has no intentions of taking the throne but the death of a brother prompts Wrath to carry out a last request. Darius had pleaded Wrath to aid in his half-vampire daughter's transition before his death. Half blooded vampires are rare and Darius knows that once his daughter hits the age of twenty-five, her chances of surviving the change will greatly increase with Wrath's pure blood. Though Wrath initially refuses the plea, once Darius is dead, he has no choice but to look after Beth himself. From there readers are introduced into the world and the end of the book sees Wrath ascend to the throne and really bring the brothers together. The Black Dagger Brotherhood will ultimately live together, bonded in a way that they hadn't before. And so the journey begins...

Rhage: The legend among the race. Known for his voracious appetites for women, his story is passed down from fathers to sons at the right time. The one that's nicknamed Hollywood, the blindingly handsome brother who knows how to party is saddled with a vicious curse. Whenever his emotions are out of control, his beast emerges. A fearsome thing for anyone or anything to behold, Rhage worries constantly about hurting those around him. When a human enters into his world, it becomes a battleground for survival. Mary soothes him in a way that Rhage craves. And when the mighty fall, they fall hard. Rhage knows without a doubt that Mary's his destined mate. He bonds hard and quick with her but he knows that her entry into his world brings danger to her front door step. For Mary, there's nothing Rhage won't do to ensure her safety. But Mary's living on a ticking clock. Her days are numbered and while her world is indeed turned upside down by Rhage, she can't engage her heart. She knows there will be no time for them together. When Rhage is determined to keep her close for as long as they have, Mary must learn to trust him.

Zsadist: The scarred one. The one whose past is so dark he radiates blackness around him. Zsadist has never known softness, has never experienced a bit of relief in his constant personal hell. When Bella enters into his life and is in danger, Z does not know the reason why he can't seem to withdraw from her. But he won't because she's in danger. Though Bella eventually is saved, it's Z who is in need of rescuing. Bella will show him the joys of life that have been long missing in his life. The scars that he carry will be soothed by Bella. However, it's not an easy road. When Bella tries, Z will bite. But when Bella gives up, Zsadist finally realizes that Bella is the only one for him, his mate and his life. 

Butch: The human. The only male human to live with the brothers, Butch has abandoned his life willingly to be surrounded by a new world. There is only one vampire for Butch. Marissa. Graceful and beautiful with a caring heart, Marissa represents everything that Butch can never begin to wish for. Marissa is his unattainable goal, his mirage. A great divide separates them. He's human. She's not. As the whole BDB plot begins to be more complex, Butch discovers that maybe he does belong into his new world. Maybe there is a place for him besides the brothers and ultimately, besides Marissa. Butch will discover that he's not just the poor kid who became a cop. His life is intertwined with that of the brotherhood. Finally, he's found his family. 

Vishous: The one who is destined for a greater purpose within the race has accepted his destiny. He has nothing else besides the brothers and allows his fate to occur. But when he is injured and rescued by a special human, V suddenly wants something he can't have. He wants Jane. Jane is thrown into the world of the brothers, taken from her life because V senses something. Though V is gifted with the special ability to see into the future, he has lost it and cannot see anything. But when Jane appears, he cannot deny the fact that something must connect him to this human. When V must give up Jane, he cannot believe that his life will end up empty once again. As danger steps in and plays with Jane and her life, V will stop at nothing to see that she's safe.

Phury: The sacrificial one. The celibate. He is Zsasdist's twin who searched many long years for his lost brother. And when Z was found, Phury willingly shot off his own leg to rescue his brother. Phury is the one who has stepped into the background for Z. Even after Z found Bella, Phury cannot help but long for his twin's mate. But because of the happiness that Bella brought into Z's life, Phury once again sacrificed everything for his beloved brother. When Vishious is trapped with a sacred role for the race, Phury stands in his stead. Now Phury must take responsibility for seeing that their blood continues for generations to come. But when Cormia sees her fate, she wants Phury's love for himself. 

Tohrment: The level-headed one. Tohr has found happiness, only to have destiny rob him of it. Given the precious gift of a mate whom he would have chosen with his heart even though it was arranged for them, he and Wellise have lived a life together. But one day, in one moment, his heart is taken away from him. Pitted in utter despair and grief, Thor disappears. 

So far, the books have been published up to V's with Phury's to be released June. There is so much to be revealed about the brothers with Ward brilliantly peeling layer after layer with each successive novel. While I don't think every book is a 5 out of 5, they each serve their purpose even if readers are inclined to favor one character over another. For example, while I like Butch, I think his story served a greater plot purpose. Butch and Marissa are not my favorite BDB couple, but Butch's story is integral in moving along the general Brotherhood story as a whole. Same with V's. As a general consensus, readers have found that V's story is left lacking. The relationship of him and Jane is not as developed as it could have been, space sacrificed to another smaller developing plots. However, V's book as a whole will push the Brotherhood story further, same as Butch. Every book not only tells the tale of a specific pair of hero/heroine, it also very clearly moves the entire overall brotherhood story forward. With each new novel, we find out new information about the brothers and about their world as a whole.

Ward's heroes are alpha males. All the way. Leather wearing, dagger and gun toting, hardcore rap listening, males. To read the brothers is to be drunk on a testosterone overload. Though each male has their own distinctive qualities, it's hard to not fall in love with every one of them. Every reader can find a favorite among these males and their females are equally engaging to read. Each heroine has her own strength and weakness that perfectly couples with that of her male. 

Though it's obviously vampire fiction, these novels could very easily be read as action/romance instead. I can safely recommend that while it's definite romance, it can also appeal to a male audience. With insanely engaging characters, it's hard to say no to these brothers. Take my advice, read them and you'll be singing their praises as well. Don't believe me? Just pop on by Amazon and take a look at the multitude of high reviews. There's something to be said when each book has at least 160 reviews (some many more) and still the overall rating is at a high 4.5 out of 5. Haven't tried out the paranormal sub-genre, or perhaps you have and found it lacking? Go read the Black Dagger Brotherhood before you dismiss the genre. If the top rung of the ladder still doesn't do it for you, then you have sufficient reason to turn away.

Guaranteed: If you end up liking the brothers, you can't help but compare every other book in a similar vein to it. Ward has created not only a string of interconnected novels, it's a new world. Complete with language, customs, and rituals. The brothers are simply more than what can be crammed into a 400 plus paged novel. 

The Black Dagger Brotherhood has set the bar for the genre. And it's high.

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