Friday, June 13, 2008

Review: Lover Enshrined by J.R. Ward


Nicola: I don’t believe I’ve ever been quite this obsessed with an author or series. Well, unless maybe if you count Nancy Drew in fourth grade. But even then, I wasn’t treating a new book like a rock concert, waiting in line for tickets at 3 am on opening day.

Well, OK, I didn’t get in line at 3 am. And I even managed enough strength of character not to go to work late so as to nab the book at 9 am when the store opened. I waited until 6 pm – NINE HOURS LATER – to read it after work. (I did however completely neglect my children, my husband and my house, and I had an asiago pretzel for dinner in the bookstore café.)

JR Ward writes long books. I promised myself that I would pace myself, that I wouldn’t blaze through it, that I would savor it and pick up on all the juicy little tidbits that are strewn through all the books like easter eggs in a video game.

I finished it at 1:30 am the same night I started it.

Sigh. I am weak.

O’Donovan: There is nothing quite as much fun as anticipating a book with a friend, then devouring it while getting your friend’s commentary (and, in Nicola’s case, I got her urgings to hurry the hell up so we could talk about it already). Actual e-mails we exchanged on Tuesday, when I bought it:

From: O’Donovan
To: Nicola
Subject: Re: Annoying co-blogger again

Just cracked Lover Enshrined and I’m already going, “oh, maaaan” over the glossary. I wish it didn’t drive me so crazy. Ok, on to the good stuff.

From: O’Donovan
To: Nicola
Subject: Oh, no

Ok, I just got to the definition of “phearsom” and I actually let out an anguished cry.

From: Nicola
To: O’Donovan
Subject: Re: Oh, no


Stop reading the glossary, OK? You’re just torturing yourself

Actual post and review

O’Donovan: “Alpha hero, my ass.”

If I had to give you a four-word review of Lover Enshrined, that’s what you’d get. If I got the more-traditional-in-Internet-terms six words, I think we’d be looking at:

“Phury? Meh. Cormia? OK. What’s next?”

Nicola and I are united in our overwhelming … excuse me, wait. I can’t even use “overwhelming” in an ironic way to describe the romance portion of this book. I was under- everything, except –excited. I was definitely overexcited about the next JR Ward book, but I’m putting my excitement on ice until we get over this awkward stage. Growing pains, you know.

Nicola: I have to say, Phury has always been my least favorite Brother--which is a little like saying that he’s my least favorite 5 carat diamond, but anyway. I was willing to give this book the chance to change my mind… but it didn’t.

O’Donovan: Ward has a funny little tic that I love: She dedicates her book to the hero, and writes a personal note from author to character. In the note for Lover Enshrined, she tells Phury he’s a gentleman.

As those of use who love (or have loved) bad boys know, that’s officially the kiss of death.

On paper, of course, Phury looks like an interesting proposition. He’s a drug addict (and that’s worked in romance novels before; see Eloisa James’ The Taming of the Duke). He’s a twin (ditto). He’s painfully, pathetically, tragically in love with his brother’s faithful and loving wife. (I know I’ve seen this in a romance novel before, but I can’t think where.) He’s just been given the key to a heavenly harem, with the catch that his chief concubine is an extremely reluctant political tool. He’s a fricking vampire warrior.

So where did it all break down?

I think the simple fact is, Phury is tough to like. He’s a Boy Scout, and not in a good way. He’s like a Boy Scout who really needs therapy and also some better written sex scenes, who needs to embrace his dark side through something besides passive-aggressive agonizing, corpse mutilation and drug abuse. Preferably — this is a romance novel, after all — something sexier than all of those, but still a little twisted, a little dark, a little opposite of the Boy Scout.

Instead, we get very little resolution and a whole lot of “and then he got over it and they moved on to the next thing” solutions, which are something I particularly despise in romance novels.

And Cormia. I had hopes. In fact, she had some cool, half-developed stuff going for her (like building elaborate architectural models out of peas and toothpicks, as if she were some kind of weird POW whose only outlet is training rats in the Brotherhood’s mansion). But Cormia, like Phury, never amounts to much in this book, although it looks for a couple of seconds like she and the young John Matthew might develop a bit of a thing. Alas, nope.

Nicola: If Cormia were a secondary character, her development would be stellar. I like the arc. But I felt like I just didn’t see enough of it, or enough of her and Phury dealing with each other.

O’Donovan: Yeah, that’s it, precisely. Also, I have to say that I am a sucker for the crazy, weird marking scenes in all of the other books, and that never really happened here, which was another thing that made this book feel like it fell outside of rest of the series. But the biggest sin was that the brotherhood barely makes its presence felt in this book.

Nicola: Agreed! I really, really missed seeing the banter and the relationships between the Brothers. This is hands-down my favorite thing about the series (though the erotic tension is right up there on the list), and it was very noticeably absent in Phury’s book. The rest of the Brothers were far distant bit players in this story which was mightily disappointing to me.

However… it’s no spoiler to tell you that Phury’s story is one of overcoming addiction. I can claim no expertise at all in this matter, but common wisdom is that this is a solo journey – a process that has to come from within, that no one can help you with. I don’t usually get this deep in my reviews, but I could absolutely see that the isolation that the reader feels in this book could be an artistic choice to echo the isolation of addiction and recovery. (Full disclosure: I didn’t get that all by myself. It evolved in a discussion on Ward’s fan message board). But this is another thing that IMO causes some suspension-of-disbelief issues around his involvement with Cormia. Isn’t there some kind of 12-step rule against that?

As for my take on Phury’s character, on the surface he’s this noble, self-sacrificing martyr… and eww. Who likes a martyr? Something that became really clear to me during a pivotal scene between Phury and his twin is that all the worrying, all the caretaking that we’ve seen Phury doing (mostly in Z’s book)… is not about what Zsadist needs, it’s about what Phury needs. And it’s not really working for either of them. The celibacy thing never made any sense to me at all.

O’D: despite their incredibly annoying dialogue (about which I could write a full post, but let me sum up by saying that only tween girls think its cool to have an inside language that uses the –y or –ie suffix on words like “next,” “out,” “fresh” and so on. “Give me a freshie”? Give me a gun.)

Nicola: Believe it or not, I have actually heard a grown-up, hipster-ish male person say, “I’m outtie.” Which pretty much makes me think of belly-buttons, but I’m willing to live with the assumption that what sounds weird to me is actually current slang.

O’Donovan: I will grant that there may be grown-up, hipster-ish males who would say that, but so would Cher in Clueless, and I find it unsexy. But my feelings about slang aside, there is good news. Growing pains happen when you’re going through a transition, and this book is very, very obviously a transitional book.

Ms. Ward seemed to think we were running out of potential lead characters (although, off the top of my head, I count at least three heroes (Rehv, John Matthew, Manny) and four heroines (the Chosen Layla, Vishous’s sister, Jane’s long-lost sister whom I believe we will be seeing again, and Zsadist-and-Bella’s Nalla) that were waiting in the wings before this book even began … and that’s if you didn’t expect Tohr to eventually come back and (one hopes?) get over Wellsie’s death and end up in some relationship.

Nicola: I don’t see Jane’s sister coming into play, personally, though I could be wrong. Also, neener neener neener, I know who the Rehv ends up with, and it’s none of the above. If you want to know, you can hit Ward’s official website message boards, or email me.

Word is that Qhinn will have his own book, and Blay and Lassiter are possibilities. Depending on what the voices in JR Ward’s head tell her to do.

O’Donovan: Brace yourselves, Bridgets: by the end of Lover Enshrined, we have about 50 random Chosen roaming about, looking to reproduce.

Nicola: What’s a bridget?

O'D: It’s the punchline of this joke about my people: What’s Irish foreplay?

Nicola: Uh huh. So. Between Phury’s ascension to the Primale role and some interesting and very specific attacks by the lessers’ new secret weapon, the social structure of the Chosen, the Brothers, the glymera, and the civilians-- not to mention the symphaths, Moors (what exactly are they??) and their various half-breed permutations—is crumbling. Which, given what we’ve seen of the glymera and the Chosen, makes perfect sense to me, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

O’D: Me, too. And I would be unfair if I pretend there weren’t a few things I loved.

I loved the interplay and development of John Matthew, Qhinn and Blay into a little brotherhood of their own, with some fascinating quirks. I loved finding out more (and, frankly, some really dark and interesting and gross stuff) about the symphaths(Nicola: OMG! SO FREAKY!) and Rehv, in particular. Xhex has a really intriguing sexual presence in this book.

Even the stuff that’s going on with the necessary-but-occasionally-yawntastic lesser is pretty interesting in this book, although that might have been in comparison to the love story, and it wasn’t as great as the stuff in Lover Revealed or Lover Unbound.

Nicola: I always tend to skim over the lessers’ point of view – this was the first book where a lesser character pulled me in at all.

My list of “what I loved” is essential the same as O’Donovan’s – the only thing that I didn’t really like was the romance element. Not that it wasn’t there, but I don’t think it was especially well-done.

But let’s get to the point.

Should you read this book?

ODonovan: (Or, if you’re me, should JR Ward have written it?)

I think this book is a lot like puberty. You have to get through it. It’s awkward and embarrassing and none of the romance works right because it, too, is awkward and embarrassing. But you hang in there for the stuff on the other side, which promises to be complicated and sophisticated and sexy as all hell and — this part’s for sure — full of fascinating men.

Nicola: As for me, I am still a die-hard Ward fan and will likely do the same irresponsible all-nighter with the Compendium this fall and Lover Avenged next May. This book really whetted my appetite for the future of the Black Dagger Brotherhood universe… but Phury is still my least favorite Brother.


Nicola O. said...

Arrrgggh.. I am trying to put some white space into this post and yet, it is NOT happening.

What is up with blogger??

Anonymous said...

You guys have put your fingers on some things that bugged me too. The book was still great, worth reading, etc. but definitely my least favorite in terms of the main romantic storyline.

The things that really, really bugged me about this book were the timeline errors. Off the top of my head:

1. Butch's story was 5 months ago, in March. At that time it was 2007; now it is August 2008.

2. Rehv says that Bella's father died when she was 6; Bella says she was 4.

3. Vampires supposedly have 18 month gestational periods; however Bella both got pregnant and gave birth in the fall - that's either ~12 or ~24 months.

4. Quinn's father stepped down as leahdyre 3 years ago, and in his parting speech referred to "the king's recent ascension". Which contradicts every time given in the last 5 books.

5. Prologue was set "25 years, 3 months, 4 days, 11 hours, 8 minutes, and 34 seconds ago". That would put the Omega's son's birth approximately middle of May. Lash was born on March 3rd. Is it another time error, or could the Omega possibly be wrong about who his son is? Given the rest of the sloppy timeline, that's where I'm putting my vote.

Nicola O. said...

I'm going to devil's advocate you, Solla.

#3 -- in the epilogue it is discussed that Bella gave birth early and hints that there will be problems.

#4 -- I believe the "recent ascension" in question here is Wrath. The leader of the glymera isn't a king.

#5 -- I'd need to look, but I'm willing to assume that "today" when the book begins is something other than the literal release date of the book.

As for #2, Ward has said it was an editing error. I don't know about #1. :-)

Anonymous said...

You devil, you, Nicola ;-)

I'll give you #3 - I didn't read the epilogue that carefully, so maybe the baby was 6 months early.

But for number 4, that was exactly my point - the leahdyre said in a speech that happened 3 years ago (it was Quinn's flashback) that Wrath had recently ascended. That Wrath had ascended 3 years ago. No. Wrath ascended about a year ago.

For number 5; we got an exact date of "today" by the date that Quinn had tatooed on him. That was the date I was using, not the release date. Actually, the release date would work better for Lash's birthday being March 3rd.

The thing is, JRW has been so careful to tell us how long there has been between each book. #2 was set a couple months after #1. #3 was a month or two after that, and before the winter solstice. #4 was in March of the next year, and was in "the seventh of the 21st". #5 happened a week or so after #4. #6 is 5 months later, and is in August of 2008. It just doesn't add up.

Anonymous said...

Great review! Each of the brothers is a different archetype, straight out of the 8 Classic Hero Archetypes manuel with no deviations. Phury got stuck with the "Best Friend." Not too interesting in the hero department. Nobody loves a martyr. Cormia and John Matthews, on the other hand, had some chemistry going. I almost wished Ward had gone in that direction, which is a sad statement of a romance novel.

Solla - wow. I definitely don't read books as closely as you do. Kudos.

Nicola - I finished Kushiel's Dart!

Nicola O. said...

Thanks for the compliment, Ciara!

Solla, dammit, now I'm going to have to go back and read them all again and note down all of the mentions of timeframe.

I do remember thinking that the "7th of the 21st" or whatever was referring to July, in the first book, when Butch first came to the Brotherhood, not the timeframe of his book.


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