I can’t remember if I’ve already outed myself to the MRB readers as a romance genre reader. In real life everyone knows, and are mostly accepting, though I get a few comments about ‘those shirtless dudes’ on the covers.* As a genre, romance is huge, and made up of a multitude of subgenres. Thus finding your way into the genre, let alone into the subgenres can be a really tricky process. One of the large sub-genres that has been extremely popular over the last few years is paranormal romance. Vampires, werewolves, zombies and a whole host of other supernatural creatures have all made their appearance in different iterations.
As it seems with all genre fiction these days, series is king in paranormal romance. There are a number of multiple book series that have made their mark. Some, such as the Anita Blake series (Laurell K. Hamilton) and the Sookie Stackhouse series (Charlaine Harris), centre on a single protagonist and the romance aspect will build over a number of books or the lead character will have a number of romantic partners. Other series, such as the Dark Hunters series (Sherrilyn Kenyon) and the Black Dagger Brotherhood (J.R. Ward) tend to focus on a group of connected people and will (generally) have a new couple with a happily ever after (HEA) per book. If you have ever been anywhere where a conversation has turned to these particular series you may have heard books referred to, not by their titles, but by the central couple of the book. And there is often intense speculation as to the main couple whose story will make up the next book.†
Though this review is eventually going to be about The Shadows, book number thirteen in J.R. Ward’s paranormal romance series the Black Dagger Brotherhood, it seems, in the absence of reviews of earlier books in the series, some discussion of the series as whole is needed. Firstly, if you haven’t read any of the earlier books in the series then DO NOT START with The Shadows. You’ll just end up all kinds of sad and miss out on the awesomeness that is this series. Trust me on this.
The Black Dagger Brotherhood series began with Dark Lover in 2005, a relatively straight up paranormal romance between Wrath, Vampire King who would rather spend his days killing the enemy, a band of slayers known as the Lessers, than dealing with courtly vampire politics. And Beth, an orphaned half-vampire who doesn’t know that she is about to transition from human to vampire. A few scary moments, some lust and we have a HEA with Wrath and Beth riding off into the sunset as a happily married couple—well actually with Wrath taking up his responsibilities as King with Beth by his side.
The series title, Black Dagger Brotherhood, or BDB to fans of the books, refers to the band of leather wearing, knife wielding, hard drinking warriors that Wrath was hanging out with when he was shirking his political responsibilities. Between the first book and the second book they transition from a background menacing presence to the foreground as a bunch of dudes who are tough on the outside and all sorts of angst on the inside. As each of the original members of the BDB pair off we get an insight into each of their characters. Bit by bit the BDB world expands out to include the ongoing lives of previously HEAed pairs, two new vampire races and even an annoying angel who becomes a houseguest in the large communal residence of the King and the rest of the BDB.
Though we get an insight into the softer side of the brothers as they find their ‘mates’, their external lives as vampire warriors remain a mixture of violence, as they protect the rest of the vampire race, and a hedonistic lifestyle that would put the rich kids of Instagram to shame. The books are filled with technicolour descriptions of the luxurious food, clothes, cars and weapons set to an r’n’b/hip-hop soundtrack which can be found recreated as more than one YouTube playlist. The BDB and other male characters are frequenters of bars where they drink whole bottles of alcohol (Grey Goose is the drink of choice) to get a buzz thanks to their super fast metabolism, oh and they are always surrounded by hot women (who are of no interest to them once they meet their soulmates of course).
So if this all sounds a little over the top, it is, and it’s this OTT-ness that is the most enjoyable element of these books. The OTT elements are tempered, however, by the non-romantic bonds of friendship and support created between the characters who are dealing with, well basically, life. From terminal illness, sexual assault, physical disability, family breakdown and questioning sexuality in a culture that is more uptight than the emerging middle classes of Victorian times, there is a great deal of angst to be shared about in the BDB universe. And the brothers are always there for eachother. True some of the ways of showing their support is a little emotionally neanderthalic. And true to the general OTT nature of the BDB and the series’ firm placement within the romance genre, some of the solutions to these problems are definitely miracles that are not likely to be found outside fiction. However, the bonds of friendship between the BDB, and by extension their partners and children, are deep.
As it is clear from earlier in the review I don’t recommend starting with The Shadows if you are new to the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. The central characters of The Shadows have backstory from earlier books which make the events of the book make sense and have emotional impact, and as with all books in this series there are multiple threads of other plots running in the background which are both reward and teaser to the those familiar with the series. If you are interested in starting the series go back to the start and read Dark Lover. And when you fall in love with the series – know that you have twelve more books in this universe to tide you over until the release of Blood Kiss, the first book in the new Black Dagger Legacy series, in December 2015.
However, if you have read the Black Dagger Brotherhood series previously and are debating on whether, or not, to pick up the new instalment. Either due to ‘the controversy’‡, or just a case of series fatigue—do read it. Controversy aside, this instalment is as fun and layered with the elements of this series that you love, and the scene in the restaurant at the end of the book is so emotionally strong that, in my opinion, it made the controversial elements of the book justifiable.
*Which I, of course, sail above in a dignified manner (And yes, if you are thinking a grimacing smile like Elizabeth Banks’s Effie Trinket but with less makeup and more bogan then yep, that would be me).
† There was an awesome Aprils Fools’ this year where Ilona Andrews made a mock up cover and blurb for a book in their Kate Daniels series for one of the major villains (who is un-redeemable even for Andrews’s writing skills) as romantic lead. It even managed to be loaded into Goodreads before people would accept that it was an April Fools’.
‡ Trying not to give spoilers here but the controversy surrounds what the blurb says versus the actual event in the book. Think the main element required for a romance genre novel and you’ll figure it out pretty quick. If you would like to know the details before reading the book – there is lots of discussion in the Goodreads review thread for this book.