Friday, January 25, 2008

Obsessed with JR Ward

OK, I swear, this will be the last JR Ward post for awhile… at least until the next book comes out in June. But you know how when you re-read stuff, you notice different things than you did the first time around? So reading five of them within a couple of days connected some dots for me in a way I didn’t get when I was consuming them the first time through. Some of the themes that arc through multiple books are easier to appreciate the second time around.

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS. Basically, there's nothing here that you wouldn't glean from reading the back covers, but if you're just starting the series, there might be some give-aways.

I’m particularly fascinated by the relationship between Butch and Vishous. It’s a lovely thing to behold, seeds planted and subtly nurtured in quiet but telling scenes through all the books. There is a connection between them that is part brother, part comrade-in-arms, part lover, and yet it is none of these and there is something else there that defies easy definition. I love this scene from the first book after the guys pretty much all go on an old-fashioned bender:

Wrath went upstairs, wondering who’d slept where. He knocked on one of the guest room doors, and Butch answered. The human was drying his hair with a towel. Had another wrapped around his waist.
“You know where V is?” Wrath asked.
“Yeah, he’s shaving.” The cop nodded over his shoulder and stepped aside.
“You need me, boss?” V called out from the bathroom.
Wrath chuckled. “Well, isn’t this cozy.”
The “fuck-off” came from both of them…

Homoerotica is nothing new in vampire literature*; usually it’s a sexualization of the bond between a “senior” vampire and one that he has created or “turned,” with the exchange of blood and the death/rebirth of the new vampire portrayed as a moment of ecstasy. Ward definitely pays homage to this theme, but has her own twist on it, since her vampires don’t “turn” humans.

One of the most poignant moments in V’s character arc occurs in Butch’s book, Lover Revealed, when V accidentally catches sight of Butch making love to Marissa, and it's referred to again as a flashback near the beginning of V's book:

What he’d seen weeks ago and now remembered had been caught by mistake, but he’d macked the scene like a pickpocket anyway, stashing it in his frontal lobe even though it didn’t belong to him.

Weeks ago he’d seen Butch and Marissa…laying together. It had been when the cop was at Havers’s clinic on quarantine. A video camera was set up in the corenr of the hospital room, and V had caught the two of them on a computer monitor: she dressed in a vibrant peach gown, he in a hospital john. They’d been kissing long and hot, their bodies straining for sex. {snip}

It had been beautiful, the two of them together. Nothing like the sex with hard edges V had had all his life. There had been love and intimacy and… kindness.

Although we don’t quite understand why this affects him so deeply until we get his backstory in Lover Unbound, it’s undeniably a pivotal moment for him and there are many emotions at play.

Now that Butch’s story and V’s have been told, and the tension between them largely resolved, I hope we still get to see them interact and watch that relationship mature into still something else. I am truly fascinated. (I know, I said that before.)

O’Donovan notes: You know, until this particular relationship/book, homoerotic imagery in fantasy novels just inspired a big “meh” for me. But there’s something about the tension here – and not just the sexual tension, but the stress-tension on their friendship – that is so evocative of many tense friendships-with-men I have had, and I find it fascinating. Say this for J.R. Ward: Her characters feel real.

What I find especially interesting and curious, though, is that the relationships that have the most intensity (as I read it, anyway) are this fraught one between Butch and V, and the parent-child relationship between Tohr, Wellsie and John, and then between Zsadist and John.

I suspect the strictures of the romance novel format aren’t working in Ward’s favor, in terms of developing a slow burn male-female relationship (although she does a decent job with Z and Bella). I also suspect that I’m reading this from the place where I’m living right now, when friendships and family are trumping romance, and outperforming romantic love on every level. Perhaps because that’s how I’m reading, it makes me wonder where Ward is as she’s writing. Why are her friendships and families so much deeper than her love relationships? Hmm.

Nicola responds: I don’t know that I’d say they’re deeper. They are absolutely more nuanced and layered though. The Wellsie-Tohr-John deal isn’t as affecting, IMO, just because of its brevity, at least so far. Another one with potential is the Bella-Rehv sibling link.

O’Donovan: I think the thing that’s getting me about the Wellsie-Tohr-John thing is that it’s really the only adult/“child” interaction we have in the books.

I would dearly love to see (beyond the snippet we’re granted in the epilogue) how life changes around the frat house mansion once Bella and Zsadist’s daughter is born. I hope vampire babies are just especially good, because – as any parent of small children can attest – it’s basically sleep deprivation central for the first two years or more. Really, would you want your spouse going out and fighting superhuman evil on less than a good day's sleep? OTOH, they have Fritz and Co., and Fritz can fix anything. I used to want a house elf, but now I want a Fritz.

Oh! But all of this reminds me that one thing that I do love about this series is that, because the brothers are so wrapped up in each other’s lives, we continue to see their stories develop after the big reveal of “I love you/let’s get married/happily ever after.” It’s not something we’re often granted in romance novels (Stephanie Laurens being an exception), even in novels with recurring characters.

Nicola responds: Absolutely. I’ve said several times that I thought Wrath’s story was the weakest. Why is that? When I re-read it, I liked it just fine, but what it lacks is that connection and day-to-day interaction between Wrath the other Brothers. As king, he is necessarily somewhat removed from them, and since he took himself out of the fighting roster upon ascending the throne, he added another measure of distance. V and Butch and Rhage, Phury and Zsadist. Each of the other guys has a network and hierarchy of bonds with the others, but Wrath is removed from it. Not sure there’s any getting around that, given the structure of the Brotherhood.

Oh, and I totally want a Fritz. The bottomless money resources are pretty appealing too.


The mythology around the Scribe Virgin’s Chosen is a little muddier for me, though it looks like we should get a little more background on that with Lover Enshrined. I get the sense that the rules of “the other side” are not quite as well-defined as they are for the Brothers, like there’s definitely more making-it-up-as-you-go-along happening. Why “Scribe Virgin”, when she is neither a scribe nor a virgin? (Discuss among yourselves.) The SV is emerging as an actual character, with her involvement in V’s life and the intriguing mention of his twin sister Payne stashed in a closet in suspended animation--and the title of the next book makes me think that maybe she’s the one for Phury). It’s hard to reconcile the warrior’s bonding instinct with the role of the Primale. And why wasn’t Wrath tapped for the job, since he has the purest bloodlines? I know, this was explained, but it still seems wrong to me – a big deal was made of the fact that Wrath is the last full-blooded vampire on earth, and the various characters are always going on and on about how “pure” the blood is from one vamp or another. Ergo, SV probably should’ve chosen someone from Wrath’s line to mate with, doncha think? Sigh. I suppose I’ll have to let that one go.

O’Donovan: Is it wrong that I imagine the SV as the creepy little girl from Poltergeist? I know she’s supposed to be this stunningly lovely woman who glows, but all the veiling and so forth just make me think, eek, creepy stunted child-woman-crone under a sheet. I can’t imagine her developing into a sexual character in this series, but I do like the development of her relationship with Vishous; my jury is still deliberating over the Big Surprise of Payne’s existence. On the other hand, it’s an interesting cat to set among the pigeons.

As far as the “purity of blood” issue goes, I honestly think about hemophilia and royal inbreeding and hybrid vigor and all that stuff when it comes to the Chosen. Let’s have some mongrel blood! It’s a shame that Butch is all spoken for.

Nicola responds: But Butch is of Wrath’s line! Though I guess it’s pretty dilute naturally since he didn’t go through transition on his own. The future of The Chosen has some potential as a story element now that the psycho Directrix has been deposed.

O’Donovan: I guess the whole cloistered nun theme leaves me a little cold, and they just don’t seem very … vampirey … to me. And if they are vampires (as they should be, because they’re (a) SV’s creation and (b) fathered by members of the Brotherhood and by the Chosen) then (c) I want to know what they eat.

Nicola responds: Good points. I’ve been wondering that myself. Maybe the SV has some kind of magic that she works.

While it doesn’t have the elegance of Butch and V’s relationship, I am really enjoying John’s story throughout the books. Once Ward has exhausted her backlog of characters – Rehvenge, Tohr, John, and, I suspect, Dr. Manello-- we can potentially look forward to a new generation of warriors, with Blay and Qhuinn (the detail about his mismatched eyes is intriguing), and probably a few more of their classmates. I figure that Payne and Xhex deserve their own books, but they may end up as mates to one of the males. I’m interested to see where Ward takes us with the world of the symphaths, too.

O’Donovan: I’m waiting (eagerly) to see if the female vampire protagonists (which I think Xhex and Payne are poised to be) will (a) merit their own books that don’t star members of the Black Dagger Brotherhood as the hero and (b) if any of the female characters will ever form bonds that are as interesting as the male characters’ bonds. I also want to know if the Black Dagger Brotherhood will ever include women. (That seems unlikely, somehow, but shouldn’t there be a more equal female group, a strong female group? The Chosen obviously suck at this and, in a society governed by a quasi-goddess, you’d think women and female relationships would be, uh, bigger, stronger, more intense, more impressive.)

I will also be thoroughly bummed if Xhex and John end up together – which will feel like Xhex only “earned” a book as an accessory to John, when she’s pretty interesting in her own right, and ditto for the Payne/Phury connection – although my money’s actually on Payne/Rehvenge or Payne/Manny, because I think Phury’s going to end up with the Chosen from Lover Unbound.

Nicola responds: I think it just gets back to the fact that Ward’s men are a million times more interesting than her women. I suspect if you compared her heroines to any other popular author’s, they’d be fine, but up against these magnificent men, they definitely suffer by comparison.

Xhex doesn't seem right for John, to me -- something about her androgyny and his past kind of bothers me, not that she isn't awesome. And yeah, it would be nice to see the women doing something other than rich-woman-charity-work. I mean, I SO cannot see Xhex planning a solstice ceremony involving a bunch of apples. You feel me, sister?

O’Donovan: Uh, true. My sister. </pulls on shitkickers, goes to fight lessers >

Nicola again: You know what would be cool? I think? Is to follow John’s generation for a century or so and let them fuck around and procreate all over the damn place before they get all crazy-bonded. If we can extrapolate that 200-300 years is about right for the males to mature enough to fall in love, and they’re only 25 when they hit transition, I think it would be kind of inconsistent to have them falling straight into The Brotherhood. Though John is an exception, of course.

O’Donovan: From your lips to J.R. Ward’s editors.

Nicola again: Oooh, or locate another pocket of warrior descendants that have been isolated somewhere else geographically. Because really, 6 guys in the whole wide world? ain’t so many.

O’Donovan:More of J.R. Ward's heroes? Nothing to hate about that.

*I googled up some links to articles about homoeroticism in Dracula, Nosferatu, and Interview With a Vampire, but there's a billion items of varying literary depth, and none stood out as just the right link. If you're interested in that tangent, I trust your google skills are up to it-- there's plenty to choose from.


Hoola Tallulah said...

OMG spoilers! spoilers! *Shuts eyes and runs away>*

Nicola O. said...

Are you making fun of me, Hoola? :p

Ward announced that after Lover Enshrined will be Rehv's story, titled Lover Avenged.

Rumors are circulating that Xhex and John Matthew will be some kind of item.

Anonymous said...

Scrolled to the end because I've only just finished the 3rd book, and I caught way too many glimpses of stuff in your posts that I don't know about yet.

I'm her to tell on my spousal unit who is currently reading the 3rd book. He was looking around for something to read so I handed him the first book and when he looked askance at me, I said, "If it was called 'Brotherhood of Blood' you'd have no problem with it." Then I clinched it by saying "Three words: sex, violence, vampires." He's completely hooked on the series now, and we have had some fun conversations about the book.

Thanks for spicing up my marriage!

Anonymous said...

I'm totally fascinated by Butch and V's relationship as well. I've discussed it to death, re-read all their scenes to the point any of the novels falls open to those pages on its own, yet I'm not yet tired of it. These two are my favorite pair of the series even though they're not a true couple :). I hope we still see them interact in future books too. Their banter is irresistible and their deep connection is incredibly moving.

Mary M.


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