The Chick: Beth Randall. When a strange, dark, leather-clad man breaks into her apartment, the last thing she expects is to have hot monkey sex with him.
The Rub: Maybe the second last - she also discovers he has pointy teeth and five hot vampire brothers!
Dream Casting: Liv Tyler.
The Dude: Wrath, King of the Vampires. To honour his promise to a deceased friend, he seeks out his friend's half-vampire daughter to ease her through her coming transformation.
The Rub: He gets all warm and tingly around her - but his angst! If he settles down, he might actually have to take on all those responsibilities he's been shirking for centuries!
Dream Casting: Eric Bana.
Wrath: Surprise! You're going to be a vampire!
Beth: WTF! GET OUT OF MY APARTMENT!
Wrath: But I'm a sexy, angsty pain-filled vampire!
Beth: ...go on.
Wrath: And I have five brothers who are just as angsty as me!
Rhage: I bring the sex appeal!
Phury: I'll do your hair!
Zsadist: You'll want to fix me!
Tohrment: I'm full of pre-emptive angst because my hot wife is still alive!
Vishous: I bring homoerotic subtext!
Butch, Beth's Friend: What a coincidence! So do I!
Vishous: YAY! LET'S BE PLATONIC MAN-FRIENDS!
Butch: I CAN'T WAIT TO NOT MAKE OUT WITH YOU!
Wrath: OMG YOU GUYS THIS IS MY FREAKIN' NOVEL, GO AND BE NOT-GAY SOMEWHERE ELSE!
Vishous and Butch: *skipping away happily* ~*let's talk about baseball...*~
Beth: You were saying?
Wrath: Let's get hitched!
Romance Convention Checklist
6 Orders of Piping-Hot Vampire Angst
1 Order of Piping-Hot Cop Angst
1 Pair of Wrap-Around Shades
1 Evil Karate Dojo
2 Accidental Cases of Forgot-the-Condom
1 Magical Transformation
1 Magical Aphrodisiac Vampire Doobie
1 Abused Ex-Wife
1 Secondary Romance between Abused Ex-Wife and Angsty Cop
1 Secondary Homoerotic Bromance between Angsty Cop and Hacker Vampire
The Word: I really must give J.R. Ward her due.
She has crafted one of the most enjoyably silly and spot-on parodies of vampire romances that I have ever read. It plays so close to the line that it can be read like the real thing, if that's your bag, but it's overlaid with just the right amount of cheese and exaggeration that people who are not normally fans of vampire paranormals (like me) are totally in on the joke.
The whole novel plays like a dark, twisted vampire parody of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - where a woman on the run is essentially adopted by a DudeGroup of inbred cannibal vampires who name themselves after incorrectly-spelled negative attributes.
Let me explain - this particular DudeGroup is the Black Dagger Brotherhood, a secret society of vampire warriors dedicated to protecting the slightly-less-secret society of vampire civilians.
The members of the Brotherhood are neatly introduced with all the pride and specificity of a new line of action figures. Each one comes with his own angst! Romantic Soulmate sold separately!
Wrath: He's the leader of the BDB, and the official King of the Vampires - presumably because he was the only one smart enough to spell his name correctly. However, he is visually impaired, so maybe someone else with a better grasp of English wrote it on his nametag for him. Likes: Black satin sheets, leather, ninja stars. Dislikes: Bright lights. Responsibility. His angst: He's been slacking off on the ol' Royal duties for 300 years because of his low self-esteem.
Vishous: The Hacker Vampire. Sports a goatee and a Mike Tyson-esque face tattoo. Casting: A sleazy Chris Evans. Likes: The Red Sox, hot cops named Butch, things he can do with his right hand. Dislikes: The Yankees, things he can do with his left hand. His Angst: A magical Left Hand of Doom that he must keep gloved.
Rhage: The Hot Vampire - nicknamed "Hollywood." Described as a "sex legend." I suppose the name Hhumble was taken. Casting: Chris Hemsworth. Likes: Killing. Sex. Ladies. Not at the same time. Dislikes: Anything that does not involve killing, sex, and/or ladies. His Angst: Cursed to turn into a dragon when he's enRhaged.
Phury: The Fabulous Hair Vampire. Casting: Michael Bolton, circa 1991. Likes: Vidal Sassoon, Moroccan Oil, his twin brother Zsadist. Dislikes: Split ends, scrunchies, everything his twin brother Zsadist actually does. His Angst: Vow of celibacy! Woe!
Zsadist: The "tortured" one, he is clearly the A.J. of the Backstreet Dagger Boys Brotherhood. Casting: Vin Diesel. Likes: Pain. Darkness. Terrorizing, torturing and possibly murdering women. Hitting that high F in "Defying Gravity" from the Wicked soundtrack. Dislikes: Women. Everything else, too - but especially women. His Angst: He was, um, literally tortured since infancy and is covered in scars.
Tohrment: The well-adjusted one! Nice, reasonable, easy on the eyes. His wife is awesome. Casting: Brian Austin Green. Likes: Rational arguments, and his wife Wellsie. Dislikes: Being called pussy-whipped. His Angst: Having a fabulous hot wife with a baby on the way more or less paints a Bull's-Eye for Fate on his ass - is he only two days away from retirement, too?
Darius: The Dead One. Bites it with a car bomb.
The whole group dynamic is a sharp riff off the Manly-Man-Pain stereotypes that tend to proliferate in DudeGroup romance series. There is absolutely no reason given for the ridiculous names that no other vampire has - and it can hardly be a coincidence that the one Brother in the Hood with a comparatively normal name is bumped off in the first chapter. They're all more or less Angst Archtypes hyped to 11 - Zsadist, in particular, takes the Done-Wrong-By-One-Woman-Therefore-ALL-Women-Are-The-Same trope so far he makes the average Judith McNaught hero look like a petticoated lesbian suffragette.
But beneath all the sweaty, angsty leather-coated muscle, there is a narrative! Before he's blasted to the Ann Rice Novel in the Sky, Darius (or Uhnlucky, as I like to call him) reveals to Wrath that he sired a daughter on a human woman 25 years ago. Thanks to her half-vampire heritage, she's due to undergo Fang Puberty very soon, and he asks Wrath to help her survive the transition with his pure vampire blood. Wrath, who has spent 300 years turning Commitment-Dodging into a science, refuses - but he feels differently after he's forced to collect his brother's remains with a dust buster.
Enter Beth, a perpetually sexually-harassed newspaper reporter. She's tasked with investigating a car bomb that went off outside a nightclub, but she's understandably distracted as she only barely escaped full-on sexual assault mere hours before. She's initially too shaken up to open up to Detective Brian "Butch" O'Neal, a human cop with Vampire-Sized Angst who is an acquaintance of hers - and Wrath certainly doesn't help when he pulls an Edward Cullen and gets caught sneaking into her apartment to see Darius' half-breed daughter for himself.
Forced to psychically sedate her and erase her memories, Wrath tries to Groundhog Day her and breaks into her apartment again, this time smoking a blunt of what I can only surmise is Secret Vampire Weed, which is intended to relax her into listening to reason. Unfortunately, it makes her uncontrollably horny instead - a common side effect in romance! - and they end up Doing It. Whoopsie!
It's not long before Beth's eyes are forcibly opened to the secrets of vampire society - as are Butch's, when he follows her because he suspects the enormous, tattooed, pierced, leather-clad, heavily armed men she now hangs out with are up to no good. Butch is easily the best part of the novel - he's nicely self-deprecating and the one male character who can communicate with a female character without dragging his knuckles across the floor and beating his chest. He's a little hyper-masculinized, too (his suspension from the force for police brutality is completely deserved!), but he makes up for it with his immediate bromance with fellow Sox fan Vishous, a pairing that generates enough homoerotic tension to fuel an armada of Disney cruise ships.
The Brotherhood, meanwhile, are opposed by an evil anti-vampire group with the wimpiest of possible names: the Lessening Society. Watch out! They're going to lessen you! They're not going to eradicate you, but they'll shave a little off the top! Enough so that you'll notice! Oh no!
But no, I'm being too harsh - the society is actually comprised of albino baby-powder-scented eunuchs. But threatening albino baby-powder-scented eunuchs! Ward very cleverly gives the villains attributes that are directly and exaggeratedly opposite of the descriptors stereotypically given to romantic heroes (who are typically dark-complexioned, musky-scented, and virile). Since there is no actual world-building reason given for why they smell like Johnson & Johnson, it seems apparent to me that this is a comedic choice for parody purposes.
As funny as they are, however, the Lessening Society serves more as a looming threat than an actual one. They seem to be trapped in the world of '80s films since their evil plans consist of recruiting boys into evil martial arts dojos. Most of the major baddie's (Mr. X) story arc involves him serving as an evil Mr. Miyagi to a young recruit, as he teaches him how to metaphorically wax on and off with paranormal villainy.
There is also a subplot with a Mad Vampire Scientist that is a little Jekyll and Hyde and a lot pointless.
When it all comes down to it, I suppose I am making a conscious choice to see this novel as a parody, because if it isn't, it really is a rather subpar paranormal. The worldbuilding is hit or miss - Wrath states that vampires feed on the blood of other vampires, not humans, and yet Zsadist frequently does and Mr. X catches vampires by attracting them with human blood. I also get iffy feminist vibes from the vampire culture's restrictive "protectiveness" towards the females of the species - why are there no Black Dagger sisters? I mean COME ON, no Bhitchy?
It's also easier to tolerate the Brothers' attitude towards violence and collateral damage when it's viewed through the lens of parody. Without it, the Brothers appear cruel, callous and bigoted (even Tohrment has a questionable scene where he threatens to rape Butch's significant other). And Wrath essentially abandons the wife he neglected and abused for centuries to the point where she's a shell of a person, for another woman and we're supposed to cheer and clap. If I didn't look at this novel as a take off of cliches that I despise, than I'd just plain despise it.
Honestly, I'm still pretty much immune to the Black Dagger Brotherhood's charms (in particular, Zsadist sounds so horrible and terrifying that I can't imagine how Ward would do his novel without retroactively neutering him first), but there are a host of other reviewers who are fans of the series, so if you're serious about giving this one a try, I would try searching for their reviews. In fact, if you are a fan of the series, do leave a comment below - and even drop a link to your own reviews!
As a Parody:
As a Serious Vampire Novel:
Purchase Dark Lover here.