A Selfless Hero
Lover Eternal is the second novel in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J. R. Ward and centers on the brother named Rhage and his romance with Mary. Rhage is the brother who has a beast inside him that is a punishment for his ways as a young vampire. He's described as blond, 6'8", with a tattoo on his back of the creature that lives inside him. Ward gives very little back story on Rhage, except to relate that as a youth he was brash and careless and offended the Scribe Virgin, who punished him with his demon. So Rhage is a big, nasty vampire who gets bigger and nastier when he fights the Lessers and the demon comes out. In Rhage, Ward has created the bad boy with problems that works so well in romance books.
In addition to a demon inside of him, Rhage, introduced to readers of the series in the first book also with the nickname "Hollywood", is also a consummate lady's man. Having sex is one of the two ways he keeps the monster inside of him under control (the other way being fighting and killing Lessers). Even in the first book, Ward insists on moving Rhage toward the good side with comments about finding a good woman to be with so he doesn't have to fuck every third woman he sees. Of course, how he plans to control that demon in a mundane, committed relationship isn't presented as a concern, at least not until he meets Mary.
Ward introduces her as a woman who is a suicide helpline counselor. As the females in romance books seem to always have to be caring and/or intelligent, Mary fits. (Both is usually the goal with the investigative reporter who cares about the everyman and works to expose the injustices done to him or the health care professional who also cares about the everyman, but does so with tending to the physical pain instead of the societal.) Mary meets a young boy who has been calling her on the helpline just to hear her sweet, caring voice. Mary and the boy join Mary's friend Bella, who readers a short time later find out is a vampire, but a civilian, not part of the Brotherhood or the ladies of the Scribe Virgin group, and Bella arranges for him to be taken to the Brotherhood because of a marking on him that indicates he's a vampire warrior.
Mary is possibly the least appealing female lead/heroine in literature, great and not-so-great. When she is introduced in the context of a love interest for Rhage, one of the first things that is mentioned is that when he first encounters her, he smells that she is sick and possibly dying. Ok, stop right there. Time for true confessions. I seem to have the ability to smell when people are sick (no, I'm not a vampire), and I can tell you that the smell of a sick person is vile. There is nothing sexual about this smell. It's an odor, and in my experience, it smells like decay. But Ward wants the reader to believe that this is a turn on of some sort. Actually, what turns Rhage on is her voice, which enchants him. That works, but what about the smell of her sickness and impending death (readers learn she has leukemia for the second time)? Why include the information about him being able to smell her in this way at all? Ward uses this to show that this hound who admits at one point that he's had eight women in that week alone is truly, deep down, a caring man. It works in that way, to an extent, but what it does overall is make Mary exceptionally unappealing as a love interest in a romance. Sickness isn't sexy. Cancer is extremely unsexy. But that a mad, bad, dangerous-to-know warrior sees past her sickness and wants to take care of her--well, romance writers see this as sexy as all hell. I'll accept that I may be quite unique in my disgust with this storyline because of my ability, but the sickness thing is quite off putting.
Despite the fact that Mary is ill, she is still quite strong emotionally, which sets up the conflict of the story since Rhage falls for her and immediately wants to take care of her. She seems whiny while he seems chivalrous and gallant. He has to accept a punishment for bringing her to the Brotherhood compound when Lessers are able to find out where she lives because he is careless on a date with her and has to save her from them, leaving her purse and all her information behind. The man is whipped by his fellow brothers for bringing her home (punishment courtesy of the Scribe Virgin, who it seems has a particular dislike for this Brother), and all Mary can seem to muster is petulance toward the other brothers for doing what they have to.
Strangely, though, the love scenes between these two are convincing, and even charming at times. However, this is mostly due to Rhage as Mary never leaves the whiny, sick thing behind until the very end, after he has offered his happiness to the Scribe Virgin in exchange for her getting better. Twice in the book he endures excruciating pain for her. No doubt, that's sexy. But she transforms from sick love interest to cured love interest who is as annoying as before.
Ward shortchanges this Brother character compared to the others. Wrath got Beth, a bright half vampire and daughter of a Brother. The next brother after Rhage in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Zsadist, gets Bella, a vampire from an aristocratic family. Even Vishous, the most twisted of the Brothers, gets a human surgeon named Jane. But Rhage gets a sickly Mary who seems to bring nothing to the table other than her frailty.
As with Ward's first Black Dagger Brotherhood story, the dialogue is painful at times and cringeworthy when the other Brothers are referring to Mary, especially when the beast comes out and she somehow pacifies it. As noted concerning Dark Lover, males just don't speak like that. Also a bit irritating is the fact that Ward uses a good portion of this story to introduce the next story in the series about Zsadist and Bella. An introduction at the end of the story would be fine, but those two appear too often in Rhage and Mary's story.
It may be surprising, but I genuinely like this second Brotherhood story. However, it's in spite of Mary and her collective negatives, and mostly because of the character of Rhage, who I would argue is possibly the most appealing romantic hero I've come across. Ward is successful in creating a sympathetic character in him through his demons inside and goodness outside. Unlike what she does to Wrath at the end of his story, she doesn't emasculate Rhage at the end of his. He's certainly not sleeping with eight or more women a week anymore because he's with his true love, but he's still carrying that monster inside of him, even if it has been tamed a bit because of Mary.
However, despite some serious flaws that hurt the story, the hero the reader finds in Rhage is the reason this story is worth the time. Any male who willingly chooses to suffer in order to help another, especially a woman he cares for, is a great romantic hero. The character of Rhage willingly chooses to suffer twice for Mary, and in the end keeps the demon he so desperately looked forward to ridding himself of in exchange for her recovery, even though the Scribe Virgin is only willing to make the deal with him if he agrees that if she cures Mary, she must never know anything of him, anything of how he feels about her. He agrees to losing someone he desperately loves so she can survive.
What else would a male have to do to be more heroic than that?
Lover Eternal J.R. Ward.....(Eternal? I wouldn't hang around a week!)
Lover Eternal was the second book I read in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by Ward.
The ongoing war between the vampires and lessers continues with the Brotherhood on the front lines. Through a twist of fate Mary Luce, wholly human, befriends John, a lonely young man who is unknowingly a pre-transition male vampire. This connection propels Mary into direct contact with the Brotherhood, the vampire world, and the warrior Rhage who becomes enthralled with her in spite of her human status. Of course, sparks fly not only between Rhage & Mary, but amongst the Brothers as human awareness of the vampire world is avoided at all costs. So far, so good....right?
Unfortunately, a number of things abruptly turn the good to ugly for this reader. Within minutes of meeting Mary, Rhage smells (yes, I said smells) that she is terminally ill. This immediately put the "quabash" on my interest in the passionate romance, however this wasn't the worst of it! Ward treads further into mojo-killing territory with graphic descriptions of drain tube scars, trach scars, & damaged organs during the hero's sexual exploration of his woman's body. Not Sexy......AT ALL. Furthermore, reading on one page about the grueling treatments Mary has endured and will undergo once again, her extreme fatigue, and daily fevers------and on the next of her ability to snap right out of it and into steamy, gymnast worthy hot sex left me calling SHENNANIGANS! SHENNANIGANS I say.
Secondly, Mary's humanness and illness prevent Rhage from drinking from her vein. Okay, fair enough, but we all know that vampires must drink blood, and this act of drinking is profoundly intimate and erotic in Ward's series. The solution offered in the novel is that Rhage will drink from another while Mary watches! Excuse Me? And what a generous girl the donor is....she offers to have a menage-et-tois to include the poor, sickly, feverish Mary in the feeding. Thankfully, this offering is refused, but not before even I felt like slapping a bitch around! But Mary.....well, Mary is thankful that her man will get what he needs (and from such a kind and sweet girl, too.).....UGH.
To top it all off, Rhage is cursed to transform into a terrifying, body eating beast when his emotions get out of hand. This dragon-like death dealer is great in combat against the lessers, but is feared even among the other warriors in the Brotherhood. But of course, brave Mary is willing to face the beast to help her man and pets and strokes its scales until it lays down and purrs...(don't ask me people...I didn't write the story).
This is why I recommend reading at least two books in a series before passing it over permanently as I have enjoyed two other of Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood novels. This installment, however, was not for me.