Sunday, May 3, 2009

Lover Avenged by JR Ward - Full Review

Those of you who've followed this blog for a little while will not be surprised to know that I bought Lover Avenged early last Tuesday morning and spent every spare minute reading it. The only real surprise is that I was able to put it down Tuesday night and finish it up on Wednesday. I'll say straight up: I liked it. Flawed, but still a great story.

There's a lot going on in this book, like all of the BDB novels. A number of side plots and series arcs add to the complexity-- and the page count. A typical book so far would have the main romance plot, a couple of ongoing series arcs, a secondary romance plot building up, and a tertiary romance plot just hinted at.

The main difference with LAv is that rather than giving us ideas of what might happen in the book after next, Ward returns to the beginning and continues Wrath's character development. Which I loved.

Is It Really a Romance?
A question that has been bobbling around Ward's readership since, oh, I suppose since Lover Unbound came out: are these books really romance? Or are they urban fantasy?

Since this is my blog, you get to have my opinion (did you think you wouldn't?) : The answer is YES. Unequivicably, every book that Ward has given us has included a hero, a heroine, conflicts to their relationship, and a resolution to those conflicts leading to a Happily Ever After. Ergo, ROMANCE = .TRUE.

In pure urban fantasy, there may be romantic elements but you don't get that romantic HEA in each book. Great examples are Patricia Briggs' Mercy, who spends a couple of books deciding who she wants, Kim Harrison's Rachel, who may not ever decide at this rate, and Jenna Black's Morgan, who--well, let's just say her romantic life is interesting.

The BDB is an ensemble cast -- the best books include a hearty helping of life as a part of this close-knit family, and where that's missing, the book fails. (cf: Phury. "Fail" is a strong word, I know. Still-- my blog. Deal.)

So for my money, as long as the core romance is there, I don't mind having it share the spotlight with lots of other stuff going on, as long as it's well organized and well orchestrated. For the most part, I think LAv succeeds in this.

The Romance
In an earlier post, I Heart Book Gossip commented that there was too much other stuff in the book and not enough romance. I actually enjoyed the other stuff going on but I agree that the romance was a bit weak, and here's why: both Rehv and Ehlena are underdeveloped as characters, and I didn't really feel the chemistry between them.

As far as Ehlena goes, that's really nothing new for Ward; I feel that way about almost all of her heroines. We get that she's tough and kind and brave... and that's pretty much it. What's her favorite color? Does she read or have a hobby? Enjoy classical music or hip-hop? Does she like being a nurse or was it her only choice? Dunno. Her whole existence is defined by her father's illness and then, her feelings for Rehv. Even Cormia was better developed (though I have to say I always found the peas-and-toothpicks thing more than a little WTF).

Now Rehv... see, as a survivor of a number of years in writers' workshops, I can't shake the feeling that he is suffering from a told-us-didn't-show-us problem. We get told a lot what a bad-ass he is. We see him rough up (but not kill or permanently injure) a couple of minions. There's the issue of the DOAs that overdose on his "product."

Even with all that though, Rehv himself always seems, well, not evil. Not bad-ass. A teddy bear at heart who's forced by circumstance into heartbreaking choices. Our primary insights from his point of view are the love he has for the women in his life and the loathing that comes from his situation with the Princess. In this book, I don't ever see any glee, any high, any pleasure he might take from inflicting pain, which I gather is what makes the symphaths such a problem. There were some tantalizing hints in previous books -- his freaky scene with the Princess in Enshrined; the fight scene in the alley in... uh, Revealed I think -- but no closure in this book.

So while, yes, I think the book qualifies as a romance, it's not a *great* romance.

What Exactly Is a Symphath?
My biggest complaint is that, as mentioned before, I still don't really understand what a symphath is. What makes them so evil. So they can read emotions, so what? Vampires can read thoughts. Symphaths can manipulate emotions, so what? Vampires can wipe out memories. Seems like a very similar skillset. Why "sin-eater?" Call me a literalist, but I don't know what they mean by this... and I want to.

IIRC, it was alluded to before that symphaths feed off of strong emotions, maybe especially negative emotions. OK, but then what? does it make them stronger, or just get them off? And why would either necessarily be a bad thing? No clearer now than it was before.

When the half-breeds "go symphath," or whatever, what exactly does that mean? Their eyes go red, and...? they can't control themselves? They can't tap into their moral compass? I think we needed to see the consequences of Rehv losing control, even if it happened in the past. Why does the dopamine help? It's been losing effectiveness, what will he do now?

How about feeding? And sex? Xhex and Rhev discussed at great length what a mistake it would be to be with a "normal" when Rhev was feeding Marissa. Is it just that the barb is freaky? We know it can be painful for Rhev's female, but we don't know if it has to be. All these issues, raised as insurmountable in previous books, are hand-waved away.

All unanswered questions. At this point, I don't really expect to get answers. Which ticks me off a little, but I'm letting it go. (for now). Deep, cleansing breath.

Other Stuff
All in all, it's the Other Stuff that keeps me reading. I'm very invested in the characters and the world now, so even if the romance isn't thrilling me, and even if the world-building has plot holes the size of a Brother's.... uh, shoulders, I... wait, what was I saying? oh yeah, I'm going to keep reading. I appreciated that there was more group action in this book.

At first, the subplot around Wrath adjusting to the kingship seemed slightly random. Not that I didn't like seeing him and Beth and their romantic epilogue. But it turned out to be a great choice: it's a logical way to give readers more information about the political state of the vampire society, and I really like how it tied into Rehv's resolution. And may I say, it's about time he ditched all that pansy-ass twiggy furniture.

John Matthew and Xhex's setup continues apace. I have to admit, I'm not a huge JM fan. For 6 books now he's been this pitiable victim, sexless and pre-adolescent. I'm having trouble shifting gears into seeing him as remotely adult, much less an Alpha Hero, no matter how many times I hear about how exceptionally large he is. Lots of fans are disappointed to see his behavior in this book, but I think it's about time he stopped feeling sorry for himself and allowed himself to feel some anger and to take some initiative in directing his own life. I've always had doubts about him and Xhex too, but learning more about Xhex is helping. I'm not totally convinced though.

Yay, Tohr woke up. Finally. I do like how this was handled.

Lassiter amuses me. So far that's about it. I wonder if he'll transition into the Fallen Angels series? I've heard that the worlds overlap, so it would make sense.

Oh yeah, and Lash. Eeek. I'm afraid that Ward might be painting herself into a paranormal corner here, making him indestructible, and then somehow needing to... well, destruct him. If Butch can't vaporize the fore-lesser, I wouldn't think his trick would work on Lash either. Hope she manages to get us out of this satisfactorily.

I think that's about all I can squeeze into one post, though I could go on. And I might, LOL. But that would be a post for later.

Please note -- I updated the countdown widget in the sidebar for Covet, due out 9/29. Feel free to steal the HTML if you want!

What Others Are Saying:
I Heart Book Gossip (spoilers)
Smexy Books (spoilers)
Ms. Moonlight (spoilers)
Good Books, Bad Books... (spoilers)
Happily Forever After (spoiler-free!)
Adventures in Kati-dom (mild spoilers)

(do I get a prize for NOT having spoilers?? heh)


Bridget Locke said...

Nicola-I reviewed LAv here:

I'm still not 100% sure what I felt about it.

As I've said in my previous comment, I think my biggest issue w/ JM IS the complete 180 his attitude took. Not that I especially cared for him before now, but at least he was consistent and now he's supposed to be some BADASS. Um, no.

Also, I missed Blay & Qhuinn. I thought they were totally gypped in this book. *sigh*

So...I dunno. Did I like it? Yes. Could it have been better? DEFINITELY!

Anonymous said...

Great review! I have no desire to read the book, but a continuing curiosity about Ward and the series. I do remember when JM turned (or whatever it is called) and all of the XXXXXXL of his clothes and shoes. Sounded like Andre the Giant!

Your claim that it is a ormance has me curious. The RWA definition says that a romance has to focus centrally on the couple. I guess the issue for some readers is that the couple is not the focus. Would you agree?

Mandi said...

Good points! I totally agree about the sympath stuff.

Am I the only one who is a JM Fangirl:) He has had a crap life..I might feel a bit sorry for myself too. I do think he treated Tohr a bit unfairly. And so far Xhex is so different than her other least for now. If she puts Xhex in Keds the next book..that might be it for me ;)

Kati said...

Great review, Nicola. I think my problem with the book (as usual with BDB books) is how much is going on with the story. Not that I mind multiple storylines, mind you, it just seems like one or the other suffers. For me, I didn't buy JM's attitude adjustment. I felt like it was all a ploy to make his and Xhex's storyline more interesting. She just didn't build the reasoning behind it credibly enough for me.

Like you, I couldn't tell you the issue w/symphaths if my life depended on it.

But all in all, I thought this book was better than the last two, and bordering on Butch level for me.

Nicola O. said...

I guess this was the weekend for reviews! I saw yours last night Bridget, and we got completely opposite on a couple things, heh. I think I approve of JM's 180 because 1) he was so freakin' whiny before, it's a vast improvement; 2) the incident with Xhex seemed like an appropriate trigger to allow him to get going sexually, y'know? </contortions to remain spoilerless >

Jessica, yeah, the question is really one of emphasis or focus, I suppose, which is far more debatable. In terms of structure, the romance is the only part of the story that has a complete arc (possibly excepting the Wrath sideplot). In terms of page count though -- I'd concede it's a gray area. I think the biggest problem for romance purists is that the romance kind of sucks, not that there isn't enough of it.

Mandi, I'm being hard on JM I guess, but I just can't "transition" my impression of him, y'know? Plus the other Black Dagger Boys are like 300 years old-- it's weird and inconsistent to me that the new trio just steps into the same kind of story. And I'm totally with you on the Keds, LOL.

Ward overdid the cheese with that scene, IMO, but she must really like it. She excerpted it on the site and if I'm not mistaken Rehv actually says it *twice* in the book. "Diamonds on the soles of your shoes." Ack. (Not quite "ack-barf." But on the continuum.)

Rikki said...

Oh, now I'm not even convinced anymore that I need to read this. I'm a total fan of Rhev's (never thought he was a badass, so what if he's a druglord and a pimp, that doesn't mean badass per se, does it?) and the romance part sounds only lukewarm at best. JM is a whiner and if his attitude turns by 180°, it makes him unbelievable to me.
I nevr got the sympath thing either. It was never explained what's so dangerous about them, and was hoping for more info in this book. If not here, where else?
I must go and check out Bridget's review.

I ♥ Book Gossip said...

Oh Nicola, your so sweet. Thanks for mentioning my comment from your previous post. I love your review. I did one too, but no one reads my posts so I didn't do a in depth review. Truth is the author wanted the Urban Fantasy setting but just didn't incorporate it correctly with the Romance. I'm not a writer, but I think its a one way street when you write these books. Like Lori Foster who had started out with a Contemporary series, she suddenly steers to a weird time travel setting. Series should start out and end the way it began. Overall I was left empty after reading Lover Avenged. Which is really sad because I wanted this to save my heartache for Phury's story. If phone sex is romantic then so be it, but I want the zsa zsa zu and I just wish I could have gotten it from LA. Also I've noticed that we barely know anything about Ehlena. What is her favorite book? music? food? Anything would have quenched my thirst for more.

Overall I was more into iam and Trez cause they seemed much more interesting than everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Great review! You know, I was wondering about the barb and the feedings as well. As far as the romance went, I've concluded that Ward most likely will not write anymore novels the way she did the first three. LA was far better than LU or LE, but yes, it did lack the romance we found in the first three of the series.

Regardless, like you I think she's an amazing writer. As long as she gives me some kind of romatic elements (and I don't mean the kind that went on in LE) I'll be happy. I really enjoy the series.


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