Lover Avenged by J.R. Ward
After blasting through the rest of the series at breakneck speed, I rushed out and bought the newest Black Dagger Brotherhood book in hardcover. It's the story of Rehvenge: drug-dealer, business tycoon, in-law to a member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. It's hard to believe, but J.R.Ward continues to reinvent how we view paranormal romance. Each story is different. There is no confusing one character for another. The same plot is not rehashed over and over with minor changes in cast and location. To me, it seems nothing short of miraculous that she's managed to create a world filled with truly unique, believable characters without falling into the plot and character traps so many authors seem to fall victim to.
Rehvenge is an anti-hero. Someone who, in another genre, would be the villain. He's not just a little bit bad. He's ordered assassinations; he's a pimp and a drug dealer. Making the reader sympathize with that sort of character is no mean task, but Ward pulls it off brilliantly. And she doesn't pull any punches with the reality of what Rehvenge does.
One of the best assets a series has is the sense of history created by past installments. This is not a series to read out of order, because Ward uses that historical real estate masterfully. The relationships formed in previous books are shown as they really are: evolving, complex, and needing in maintenance. She makes sure that we know the "optimistic outcome" we've seen isn't set in stone. That the people in those relationships are capable of screwing them up. That just makes everything you've read seem that much more believable in a genre that usually demands a HEA (Happily Ever After.)
I'm also continually impressed by the themes Ward tackles head-on. Racism, sexuality and sexual identity, the concept of evil, domestic violence, drug addiction, medical ethics, freedom of choice, political machinations and the role of wealth. Nothing is off limits.
The subplots and story archs are also compelling--particularly those of John Matthew and Xhex. I love authors who whet the appetite for future installments as much as I hate them for making me wait to find out what happens next. What is really fascinating to me is that if you stripped away the paranormal aspect, this series would still work. You could move the time period, and it would still be compelling. The series would thrive based on the characters and writing alone. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series is one of the best series I've ever read--regardless of genre.