Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Shadows by JR Ward

The Shadows (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #13)The Shadows by J.R. Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, this is my review of the latest Ward book. I love this time of year, and the traditions that come alone with it as a long-time JR Ward fan. It's a big part of why I enjoy this series so much.

Sorry, but this is a really long review. I had a lot to say!

Possible Spoiler Disclaimer: I will warn readers that while I really tried not to use overt spoilers, you will see that there is an emotional shock that comes in this book, but I don’t reveal exactly what it was. Readers beware!

The Shadows is the telling of the story of the two s’Hisbe brothers who have become unofficial members of the Brotherhood’s growing family. Trez is running away from his destiny, written in the stars, as the future mate of the Princess of the s’Hisbe. He’s done everything he could to disqualify himself, but the time is growing short and he can run no longer. iAm has stood in the gap for his brother for many years, trying to keep his brother from going over the edge of oblivion to the exclusion of having his own life. But the time is coming when he won’t be able to save his brother. Trez is stone cold in love with the Chosen, Selena, but for many reasons, a happy ending doesn’t seem to be written in their destinies. Will iAm ever get the chance to build his own life, and to make decisions that aren’t dictated by his sacrificial love for his brother?
With a storyline that like, you know there’s going to be major drama.

Drama is JR Ward’s calling card. When I read one of her books, I automatically expect it. It’s hard, at the same time, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it often does, very hard. I deliberately took my time reading this, preparing myself for the emotional blows sure to come. Not at all sure that there would be a happy end by the last page. I know a lot of people weren’t happy with this book, and I was prepared that I might not be, or that I might like it and find myself an outlier in saying why I liked it. So, it was emotionally stressful for me to read it. Another reason to take my time.

Some have argued that Ward has moved away from her initial writing of romance. I’m not sure I agree. Even in her earlier book, there was always a sense that not everything was settled, and while there were committed and happily mated couples, troubles could be lurking around the corner. Yes, the books were shorter and they focused more on the romance, but there was always something more, and plenty of drama. As the series has progress, the books have expanded, and with them, the storylines. And yes, the drama quotient. At times, it’s wearying how the storylines get dragged out and she introduces yet another set of new characters instead of giving more resolution on current storylines. This book was not different in that regard. And there were parts of this book that ripped my guts out and gave me a headache that was just a shade below a migraine. I wanted to slap one particular character super-duper silly. And I wanted to shake another one. I wanted to rail at the capriciousness of life, and ask the whys. But at the same time, I was satisfied at the end of the story. Hence my rating.

My opinion won’t be popular on this book amongst many of my friends. Largely, I really enjoyed this book. While there were some parts that were terribly sad and that made me sob like a big old baby, I felt that JR Ward delivered the quality of storytelling I appreciate about her writing. I’m not the one to tell you if she messed up specific details. I love this books a lot, but I don’t always remember which hand of Vishous glows or which eye of Qhuinn’s is blue versus green. To me, I don’t find that terribly important. I do care about the stories and the emotional journey. I don’t care if she rewrites some aspects of the storyline, because that’s to be expected in a long-running series. As an artist, one’s creation will evolve, and Ward views these people as real, probably as real as they seem to me, but probably even more real. And real people do change.

I will say this as well, I believe in eternal life. I believe that life doesn’t end on this plane. I believe that death is an enemy in that it steals love ones away from their beloveds, hopefully not forever, but sometimes it is forever. Our mortal bodies fail us and we leave this life and go to another place. I’m a Christian, so I believe that Heaven and Hell are real. For the Brothers, it’s the Fade. But I think the pain is the same, knowing that you won’t see a beloved again in this life. And when one is dying, it’s facing one’s mortality, and the question of whether what you’ve believed that whole time was real or not.

My two cats (that I had for pretty much their whole, long lives) died this past fall, and it broke my heart to pieces. They were older and I should have been prepared. I work in animal medicine, and I lost my dad about ten years ago, so death is not new to me. But it still wrenched my soul to lose them. It’s funny what people say and don’t say to you when you lose someone. I had people say some things that were quite ugly even though they didn’t mean it that way, and that didn’t help my emotional healing. I also had people who ministered to me in my grief, and understood exactly how I felt. They can’t know how much they helped me, but I say a prayer of thanks that God put them in my path at the right time.

I think this book touched me because I saw one of the characters go on that journey. The stages of grief were so tangible to me because of my recent loss (and quite honestly, I also lost a church friend recently, so I was dealing with that as well). I could feel what it was like for this character and the pain of losing a person, but also the fact that they could not ever have regrets about having loved that person, for however short that time was. It’s real for me. I don’t know, but I’m thinking that Ward went through a loss recently, and she wrote this from her heart. I connected with that, and I can see why she didn’t change the ending to a “happy, joy, joy” one that would be expected. Sometimes, that’s not the way life works. Sometimes, you lose people and you have to get out of bed the next day. You have to attend to the ceremonies that come along with the loss and keep one foot in front of the other until you can walk without falling. Sometimes you have to be strong so you can be strong for another person who needs that strength, and put your own needs aside. That was all so real to me, and very well-written.

Others may not like how that was done. I respect that. While it sucked that this person died, it was also valuable in the terms of the story. I can’t fault Ward for that decision. I’ve seen her make others in her stories that I was more angry about. I think she handled the situation with grace, even in the most ugly and emotionally wrenching parts. I think she knows that people are going to be angry with her, and she owns it. I respect her for that.
Speaking of things that made me angry, Xcor was a real tool in this book. I had started seeing more potential for him as a future hero in the past few books, but now I’m just annoyed at him and I question his value as a future love interest for a certain person. I really disliked what he did, for numerous reasons. Those who know my tastes can probably pinpoint why, and can understand why I wanted to bitchslap him. It’s not that I don’t understand his character or the whys but it was a jerk move. At some point you have to stop being a whiny baby and say no to the past and declare a better future. I hold out hope that he’ll get a clue, but he’ll need to get a cleansing deep inside and outside before everything will be okay with me.

I continue to like Layla’s character. She’s really growing as a three-dimensional character in her own right. I wasn’t happy about that storyline with Qhuinn at first, but now I’m okay with it. I think it’s an interesting dynamic, and I want to see where things lead with her and her ancillary relationship with Qhuinn and Blay. I just want her to have a Hellren who is worthy of her. She deserves it! I hope the male she’s in love with gets his head out of his rear end sometime soon.

One of the things I absolutely loved about this book was the relationship between iAm and Trez, and how things turned around, and the one who always made sacrifices got to be the one who was put first in a crucial way. iAm is a really classy guy, a worthy male, and while Trez did have some jerk moments in the past few books, I really liked him in this book and felt for him. He proves to be a very worthy male (although I don’t agree with his view of prostitution being okay as long as the women get the lion’s share of their earnings). Yes, they don’t consider themselves black or African American, but I liked that they do represent people of color in this book so well. I also found the s’Hisbe culture fascinating. In some ways, it’s not super well-defined, but it’s intriguing to me. An interesting compare and contrast to the Vampire and Sympath cultures. ‘s’Ex is some kind of dude. On the real! He has swagger like my beloved Rehvenge, and that is a very nice comparision from a reader who is stone cold in love with Rehv! I hope we see more of him. I like one of the new characters introduced very much, which I cannot reveal as a spoiler. Thumbs up for her. That was super-sweet too what happens with her and another character.

A few things I was indifferent about as well. I am indifferent about the Lesser storyline. It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. We’ll see what happens in the next book. I can’t make up my mind how I feel about Assail. I hate drug abuse/activity, so he’s got a major strike against him. At the same time, I do appreciate the pragmatism of his character. I think he truly is amoral, and he sticks true to that. I’m not sure if he’ll turn out to be an antihero or a full on villain. I have this sick appreciation for a good antihero, I freely admit.

I feel like the Band of Brothers storyline was underrepresented in this book, but I think Ward is saving it for the next book and chose to focus on other aspects. It will be interesting to see what happens between Xcor and Throe (and I’m glad that Wrath ain’t nobody’s fool when it comes to that situation). I wish she’d spent more time on the BoB instead of developing the new storyline with Paradise. I don’t hate her, but I can’t say I really care that much about her right now. Having said that, I’ll definitely be reading the spinoff series, even though I think it’s Ward’s bid for the New Adult niche (and I’m not interested in that genre).

So, yes, I think I could go on about this book, but I’ve already written such a long review. It won’t change anything. I’m pretty set on how I rated the book. I own it. I liked this book a whole lot. I enjoy Ward’s writing. I love the elegance of the old races she writes about, juxtaposed to the gritty modern world. I even like the thug slang and urban ways of the Brothers (as odd as some find it). I know a lot of folks hate that, but I feel that it’s characteristic of her writing, and I smile every year when I get to hang out with the Brothers and their ever-growing circle of acquaintances. I think that Ward really loves writing about these characters and that joy is infectious to me as a reader. I wish that some of my favorites were more front and center, but most of them had their day in the sun and it’s time to let someone else take the center focus. I will say it was nice to see more of Rhage and Mary in this book.

I guess I’m always going to enjoy Ward’s book for what they are. I don’t expect her to be a perfect writer. She has her quirks like any other artist, but I think she’s a darn good writer, and I love this world she’s created, even more with each book. I added The Shadows to my BDB hardcover shelf with a feeling of proprietary pride. Enough Said!

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