Covet by J.R. Ward
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Okay! That was a very interesting book. First of all, I applaud Ms. Ward for trying to do something different and tackle the whole Heaven versus Hell theme. I liked her spin on it, although the unfolding of theology is slightly different from what I'm used to. The reviews are mixed on this one. I can only speak for myself, but I loved it. I did one thing that really helped me to go into this book with no preconceived notions: I didn't look for more Black Dagger Brotherhood. If a reader does that, they will probably be disappointed. Be happy with the cameos, and take it from there. Be open to something different, and I think that will help.
This is a very different kind of story from the BDB. It's pretty ambitious too. Although the WARDen has been accused (maybe for good reason) of abandoning the paranormal format and going into urban fantasy, I really do believe this is urban fantasy with a strong romance. I will concede that the latter BDB books are urban fantasyish, but I still consider them primarily paranormal romance. This is the opposite. This is obvious right away, with the strong narrative focus on Jim Heron, who is the main protagonist, although not the romantic hero. That is Vin diPietro. Personally, I kind of like the hook about a guy recruited by Heaven in the Great Game between Good and Evil. He's got seven souls to save, and his mission starts now. It's fresh and interesting. And I love a story about "G. v. E."
Okay, so what did I like about this story?
First and foremost, I loved the protagonists: Jim and Vin. They are strong characters, both deeply flawed, but good men at heart. They are very similar in the fundamental ways. I liked how they seemed to click as friends. They had an ease between them that transcended their so-called socio-economic dividers. I think that Ms. Ward is great at depicting relationships between men that seem authentic (at least to me). She has tough guys, but they aren't all "I'm too macho for feelings." They are men with dreams, broken and intact, hearts, souls, and feelings. Like real men. I liked that they were both pretty straight-shooters, and had come from traumatic pasts to become who they are when this story starts. Therein lay the connection, I believe.
Vin was a character I loved from first meeting. He made me think of Rehv (who I am crazy about). He's ice cold on the outside (but I always felt like he was a good person at heart). I think he was somewhat remote with Devina, but he seemed to really respect women and treat them well. I like his ethics about not cheating and abusing women. His need for ownership, money and power was fascinating. I could totally see why he had that. It was a sense of false security when he had none growing up. I think there the paranormal elements were obligatory for this story, but it could have worked without him having a demonic influence to make him that way. It was great seeing him get some peace and resolution for his life. I felt so bad for how he had never had those things. Had never known love. I felt his love for Marie-Therese, and why she was what he wanted.
As for Jim, he was the other kind of hero I gravitate to. Sort of the salt of the earth type (despite his past as a lethal assassin). He really had a core of goodness. His way of taking care of Dog endeared him to me and warmed my heart, but I also liked his innate kindness and care for women. I think he found his mission in life, but part of me hopes he'll get a woman of his own one day. I think he is a great choice as the narrative focus for this series.
I also liked Marie-Therese. It was dicey crafting a heroine who turns to prostitution as a lifestyle. For the most part, I think Ms. Ward did it well. She didn't glamorize prostitution, and she didn't make it seem like doing that for a living didn't have an effect on a woman. I definitely believe it does. She didn't make Marie-Therese into too much of a plastic saint. If she was that sainted, she wouldn't have turned to hooking for a living. She even admits that she had options, but she chose that as a quicker way out of her problems (and for another reason that is a spoiler to discuss). I felt for her. I couldn't imagine doing that. We didn't really get offered the opportunity to analyze too many of the other girls, but we do get a glimpse into the other side. Gina is a girl who likes the lifestyle of a sex worker. She's up for it, and has no problem with it. I think there was a little balance there. I'm not sure if I wanted to see more of Marie-Therese, or if I was happy with what I got. I get a strong vibe that this is more of a story about men and their relationships with each other and with the women in their lives. In essence, the male voice is a much stronger focal point in the narrative. Much like the BDB books. But, by and large, I didn't have much of a problem with Marie-Therese. I did see that she was determined not to fall back into the old habit of waiting for her knight-in-shining armor to save her. In this case, he's there, but they will help each other. I could see her attraction for Vin, why he got in her heart. She was afraid that he was the same thing all over again as the man she'd made a mistake over, but I feel that she recognized the essential character of Vin, and that's what drew her to him. I think she was pretty layered. She was a good person, but she had some flaws, and she was passionate and earthy, although that part of her had been suppressed by her troubles in life and current profession. I was happy to see her find Vin (and the promise of future happiness), and I loved seeing her relationship with her son. I think she was too hard on herself, and I hope she learns to forgive herself.
The paranormal elements: I think this was well-done. Her view of angels and demons stays more on the realism side. There aren't wings and halos here. I liked how Jim could tell who was an angel or demon by their lack of a shadow. That was a nice touch. I liked the elements going into the lore and ritual of why Vin was in trouble, and getting him out of his fix. That was well-crafted and intriguing. I think Vin's backstory was fascinating. I'm hoping that he will show up in later books as a resource to the Fallen Angels in their battle. I'd love to see more of him. I liked Adrian and Eddie. I wish I had gotten to know them better. It seemed like I didn't see much of who they were initially, but as the story built, you could see what they were and how they were powerful assets to Jim. I especially liked the role that Eddie played in freeing Vin. I'm intrigued with finding out what Adrian's deal is. What's his power? What happened when he confronted the villain? My hope is that they will have a more prominent part in the forthcoming books.
The romance angle: I'm going to get busted for saying this, but I felt like Vin and Marie-Therese had sex too soon. I'd like to have seen them do more romancing and talking before they got physical. I think this was the tone for their lives prior (although Marie-Therese not by choice). I wanted to see their relationship start in a different manner, setting a new tone from the past. The love scenes were steamy, and I liked that Ms. Ward addressed a crucial issue for them both as far as being safe (considering their pasts). I do feel they had a connection and loved each other, but I probably could have seen a little more courtship outside of the physical, to be honest.
I'm loving Trez. He is the man! Can't wait to read his book! I like the relationship he had with Marie-Therese. He's a good guy. In the prior BDB books, you see him more as a bad MOFO, but he seemed very sweet in this book, although the menace was there when it needed to be.
Oh, can I say I adored Dog? What a sweet baby! He was so cute! I think he was just what lonely Jim needed. :)
The villain was a nasty piece of work. Completely evil and awful. I like to see a genuinely bad female villain, so that was pretty well done. I bet she's going to be up to even more despicableness in the following books. She was also pretty creepy (which I like in a good urban fantasy/horror setting).
What I was kind of 'meh' about: I'm not sure I really bought the execution of who turned out to be Marie-Therese's stalker. It seemed a bit anti-climactic. It played into the story arc very well, but I guess I needed more threads and breadcrumbs to buy his connection with Marie-Therese. It seemed to come a bit out of left field for me.
So, my final thoughts: I enjoyed this book a lot. I did mention some things I thought could have been a little better for me. But, overall, I was pretty happy and impressed with this story. I like this concept a lot, and I think that the forthcoming stories will be even stronger. I think that most fans of JR Ward will like this book. If you don't care for the WARDen's hip lingo and brand name dropping, you will probably hurl the book into the corner. I am used to that about her, and I consider it part of her style. The things I love about her writing are here: her detail, her way of putting the emotions and the heart there. The characters I fall in love with, and their complex relations with each other. She doesn't let me down. And, like I said, I love the big stakes battle unfolding in this book. Long story short, Danielle was a happy camper!
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