Lover Eternal

Lover Awakened by J. R. Ward
(Signet, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-451-21936-8
Fans of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, prepare yourselves, Lover Awakened is the best story yet. The ungentle romance is sublime, the action is violent and enthralling, and the plot twists are truly evil and mind chilling. You wonít want to put it down.

The story picks up where the previous book left off, with the vampire noblewoman Bella in the hands of the Lessening Society, an evil group of undead soldiers bent on genocide. The war between the lessers and the vampires has been heating up for years, but the recent reorganization of the Lessening Society has doubled their strength against the vampires. Six hip, leather-clad warriors, The Black Dagger Brotherhood, are the vampiresí main defense. The Brotherhood, in particular its most scary member, Zsadist, have almost given up hope of ever finding Bella alive.

Due to a strange twist of events Zsadist is able to rescue Bella, finding her tortured and beaten and having been kept alive only by the sick love of her captor, a high-ranking lesser in charge of the facility where Bella was kept. Zsadistís already dicey psyche is completely shaken by her condition, but he refuses to allow any other member of the Brotherhood to help her and has to be restrained to allow the visit of the vampire doctor. The other warriors are too frightened of Zsadistís reaction to really try to take Bella away from him. Such possessiveness is normally indicative of a male vampire protecting his shellan or fated mate, a situation which is clearly impossible in Zsadistís case.

Zsadist and his twin Phury were ten months old when Zsadist was stolen from his home and sold to a vampire noblewoman. He worked in her household until he reached vampire puberty, when he was tattooed and imprisoned as a blood slave, forced to have sex with and feed his mistress and her guests, male or female. Zsadistís sexuality was completely twisted in the years it took his twin to find and rescue him. He calls his genitalia it and is reluctant to get his filthy self anywhere near clean, pure Bella.

Unfortunately for Zsadist, Bella is unwilling to accept anyone elseís care and Zsadist finds himself having to tend Bellaís hurts and her injured soul. That caring extends to seeing to Bella during her time of needing, a vampire form of heat where the female is inexhaustible until the end, leaving the male vampire wrung out and practically bloodless. It is during this period of attempting to satisfy Bella that Zsadist has real sex for the first time. This scenario is one of many to break the readerís heart, watching this damaged, scarred, scary dude learn how to make love.

Zsadist and Bellaís romance is not the only significant plot line. A human friend of the Brotherhood, the ex-cop Butch, is eating his heart out over a female vampire. A mute young warrior, found living pretty much alone on the street in the previous novel, learns more about his history and begins his warrior training. Phury has to make a desperate choice, and the Brotherhood suffers a grievous loss. To keep from spoiling anything, I can only say that a couple of the plot twists hit the reader like a bucket of ice water, leaving you gasping.

To get the most out of this book, one should read the previous two novels first. The Brotherhood and its idiosyncrasies are best absorbed slowly, as their bizarre names, odd religion, music and clothing choices and personal histories could easily confuse a new reader. This book does OK as a stand-alone, plot wise, but the finer points would be a lot for a new reader to take on.

Watching Zsadist grow is the main course of Lover Awakened. From the previous novels and the beginning of this one we know him as a starving junkyard dog of a character, untrustworthy, unlikable, and unloved by everyone except for his equally damaged twin. Somehow the author makes the reader love Zsadist, and that is why this is such an excellent book.

--Wendy Livingston

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