From the BLURB:
Payne, twin sister of Vishous, is cut from the same dark, warrior cloth as her brother: A fighter by nature, and a maverick when it comes to the traditional role of Chosen females, there is no place for her on the Far Side… and no role for her on the front lines of the war, either.
When she suffers a paralyzing injury, human surgeon Dr. Manuel Manello is called in to treat her as only he can- and he soon gets sucked into her dangerous, secret world. Although he never before believed in things that go bump in the night- like vampires- he finds himself more than willing to be seduced by the powerful female who marks both his body and his soul.
As the two find so much more than an erotic connection, the human and vampire worlds collide … just as a centuries old score catches up with Payne and puts both her love and her life in deadly jeopardy.
** Spoilers ahead - BEWARE! **
For never was a story of more woe
Vishous, son of the Bloodletter and Scribe Virgin, has just discovered he is one half of a twin. At the same time this revelation comes to light his twin sister, the Chosen Payne, lies paralysed from the waist down . . . and the only man who can save her is a human called Manuel ‘Manny’ Manello.
Meanwhile, there are new vampires coming to the town of Caldwell. Xcor and his Band of Bastards are old-world vampire warriors, here to challenge Wrath to his kingdom.
In the human world, Josè de ka Cruz has got himself a new rookie partner called Thomas ‘Veck’ DelVecchio. This newbie has his first case cut out for him, as they hunt a serial killer who stalks and brutally kills the women of Caldwell. . .
I must be cruel only to be kind.
Normally I barricade the door when there’s a new Brotherhood book. I take the phone off the hook and power through the new instalment so I can jump online and discuss it with all my equally obsessed blogger friends. Not the case with ‘Unleashed’. While reading this ninth book I found my mind wandering; I'd read for a bit and then put the book down and walk away for a little while. I finished it in one day, but I also realized that there were whole passages and chapters that hadn’t really sunk in – as though I was skim-reading them.
My biggest problem was a total apathy for Payne and Manny and their romance. I have been sceptical about ‘Unleashed’ for a while now . . . and my concerns stemmed from the fact that I don’t know Manny and Payne, so why should I care about them? Part of the appeal of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series is getting to know each brother individually, and anticipating their happily ever after story. Not the case with Payne and Manny. As readers, we don’t really know these characters – they are peripheral, mentioned in passing and relegated to the sidelines in previous books.
I really enjoyed ‘Lover Avenged’ and the relationship between Rehvenge and Ehlena – two characters who were likewise small-time until their instalment put them in starring roles. But where Rehv and Ehlena had heat, chemistry and friction to spice up their romance, I found Payne and Manny to be utterly dull.
Warden does for Manny and Payne what I hate in all romance stories – love at first sight. And it’s made worse by the fact that Payne is paralysed and on an operating table when Manny lays eyes on her. Gag. This couple left me cold – to the point that I groaned whenever a chapter refocused on them.
I was also concerned about Payne’s instalment because in previous books she has been presented as a warrior female. But ‘Unleashed’ is coming on the coat-tails of Xhex’s book, ‘Love Mine’. . . I was worried about having two BDB instalments featuring strong, warrior-women. Alas, I had no need to panic about Xhex/Payne similarities. Payne may fight with Wrath and handle knives, but there was no trace of an ass-kicker in this book. She is thoroughly, depressingly, a Chosen female . . . and all the naïveté that entails. Verily. And on that note. . .
I hate thee as I hate hell. . .
I hate Layla. Verily.
Layla joins the growing list of Chosen females who I don’t like reading about. There’s just something about all of the women who migrate from the Other Side – Cormia, Marissa, and now Payne. I just don’t like these females, and I am becoming increasingly frustrated by them being paired with the Brothers. I miss the human females who became Shellans. My favourite Shellans in the series are (or started out as) humans; Beth and Mary. But not since Vishous’s book, ‘Lover Unbound’ has a Brother hooked up with a woman of the homo sapien persuasion. The last four Shellans have been vampires – Cormia, Ehlena, Xhex (part sympath) and Payne. Now, I didn’t mind Xhex and Ehlena as heroines, but on the whole I am no longer interested in reading about vampire/vampire pairings.
I think part of the reason I don’t connect with the vampire heroines is that, as a female reader, it’s not exactly fun to read about these perfectly beautiful women in all their hairless glory nabbing gorgeous Brothers for themselves. I loved reading about Mary and Rhage, because lovely, beautiful Mary couldn’t even fathom Hollywood being interested in her. There’s a level of believability to that; I can connect vicariously with Mary’s feelings of inadequacy. No doubt I would have the same reaction if a gorgeous Brother took a shine to me (hey, a girl can dream!). With all of the Chosen females, there’s too much perfection. They are too beautiful, too naive, too nice and too . . . verily! I'm over it, quite frankly. And I am seriously considering skipping whichever book contains Layla’s HEA storyline.
I am in blood / Stepp'd in so far
I love Vishous, but I (like many fans) was not satisfied with his book, ‘Lover Unbound’. I thought Jane’s ghostly transition was weirdly indecisive on the Wardens part. And it only became more awkward as the series went on and questions went unanswered. Are she and Vishous mated? Can she eat? Does she sleep? Is Jane unhappy with her ghostly-self? Is Vishous? It was all frayed ends, up in the air. . . until this book.
I would say that ‘Lover Unleashed’ is Payne *AND* Vishous’s book. In this instalment Vishous cuts loose – he goes off the rails and exposes himself, completely. Everything that was left unsaid in ‘Unbound’ is ripped open like an oozing wound in ‘Unleashed’. And it is wonderful. Vishous is in a very bad head-space when his twin appears, and Jane bears the brunt of his upheaval.
J.R. Ward really exposes Vishous’s every little nook and cranny in ‘Unleashed’. The big, pink elephant in the room has always been the fact that Vishous had a serious, hard-core crush on his best buddy Butch for a long time (until both men met their respective Shellans). Well, Ward delves into that ‘almost’ relationship, somewhat satisfyingly in this book. She even looks at that relationship from Jane’s POV:
. . . . it was always like that with V. With him, she never knew what to expect, and not just because he was the son of a deity. He was sex on the edge all the time, hard-cornered and crafty, twisted and demanding.And she knew that she merely got the watered-down version of him.There were deeper caves in his underground maze, ones that she had never visited and could never go to.
The one thing I would have liked in relation to the Butch/Vishous dynamic was Marissa’s response to it. We get one little scene with her where she seems A-Okay, but I wasn’t buying it. I wish the Warden had offered us a little Butch/Marissa heart-to-heart (consequently, I missed out on just such an exchange in ‘Lover Mine’ too, since Butch never fessed-up to Marissa or John Matthew that he and Xhex hooked up once. Marissa, the poor dear, seems to be left in the dark on all manner of things).
J.R. Ward has always been very open and honest about her difficulties writing Vishous. He’s a broken and complicated character – coming from an insanely abusive childhood and transitioning into an adulthood of painful BDSM play. One of the few good things to come out of ‘Lover Unleashed’ is a new outlook for Jane and Vishous. . . their tale finally seems to have been told, and it’s about time too!
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
‘Unleashed’ introduces a possible new big-bad in the BDB universe. For nine books now it has been the same villains – Omega and his lessers. But in this instalment we meet an old-world vampire called Xcor, and his Band of Bastards. These are vampire warriors from England. They are like the Brotherhood, minus all the moral chivalry. These guys are mean – yes, they kill lessers – but they have no time or care for humans and their petty problems. And they are in Caldwell for one reason and one reason only – to dethrone Wrath. . . dun, Dun, DUNNN!
The Bastards were probably the best part of this book for me. I'm putting my hand up as an early fan. I think there’s a lot of potential here, for new characters and more well-rounded villains. I have never been a real fan of the lesser and Omega storyline. Truth be told, I often skim-read over all the chapters told from Mr. X and the Omega’s POV. With these Bastards, there’s potential for redemption and a full character-arc. These are morally bankrupt characters that could go either way – via the path of redemption, or ending up on the heel of a Brother’s shitkicker. I have particularly high-hopes for one Bastard called Throe, who seems to have an unusual interest in the human world. But I really liked Xcor – a big, mean warrior with a face only a mother could love (could he be the new Zsadist? Only time will tell!).
And all the men and women merely players
One of the biggest pitfalls of ‘Unleashed’ is the lack of scope. One of the best things in a BDB book is getting to revisit old characters (now fictional friends). It’s one of the reasons I love this series and the universe the Warden has created. Characters don’t just disappear - they get their novel-length time in the sun, and then they reappear sporadically in later books. Not so much the case in ‘Unleashed’. This ninth book is most assuredly (and sadly) the Vishous and Payne show. Admittedly, Vishous needed a spotlight focus to correct his lack-lustre ‘Unbound’ instalment. But the sharp focus means the Warden skips over revisiting old favourites; like Tohr, Lassiter, Xhex, John Matthew etc, etc. And the biggest omission of all is Qhuinn and Blay.
For quite a few books now, fans have been rabid for Qhuay – the only M/M pairing in the BDB world. The Warden has uhmmed and ahhed about whether or not to give fans a novel-length, homosexual HEA for two of the Brothers . . . so instead she has been writing their unfolding side-story in each new instalment – and it has been wonderful. Rocky, and sad, but wonderful. Each new book and side-story has bought Blay and Qhuinn that little bit closer to their happily ever after. Not the case in ‘Unleashed’. We get a little bit of insight into Qhuinn’s thinking and changing attitude, but there’s not nearly enough Qhuay-time to satisfy. I can only hope that the lack of them is an indication that the Warden is close to coming out with their novella. Fingers crossed!
‘Unleashed’ is quite a frustrating book for all that the Warden omits. In ‘Lover Mine’ we met a new vampire male (and ex-Brother) called Muhrder. His hefty side-story in ‘Lover Mine’ seemed to indicate that he was a new player in the series . . . yet, there is no mention of him in ‘Unleashed’. He has disappeared. So what was his purpose in the first place? J.R. Ward may have an end-game in mind, but her fans aren’t privy to the inner-workings and I'm sure it’s driving the majority of us nuts!
Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.
My overall response to ‘Lover Unleashed’ was a resounding; “meh.”
I think, to some extent, this novel was all about the Warden going back in order to move forward. On the one hand, she’s giving fans a much-longed for storyline concerning Vishous and Jane. She’s tying up loose ends . . . while at the same time she has introduced a whole new crop of characters (and potential villains?) for future books.
I have a lot of faith in J.R. Ward, so even though I was verily unimpressed with Payne and Manny, I hold out hope for the future of this series. I look forward to Tohr’s story (heartbreaking though I know it will be). I still want to know more about Trez and iAm. I need a Blay and Qhuinn novella, like now! And I am interested to see where the Band of Bastards take the future of this series . . . but ‘Unleashed’ marks the lowest point in an otherwise unblemished series (until Layla’s story, at least).