Write Divas is kicking off our first ever Diva Chat round table discussion the wildly successful paranormal romance series, Black Dagger Brotherhood by J. R. Ward. In 2005 Ward published Dark Lover, the first of the Black Dagger Brotherhood books. Since then, the series has grown to include eleven books with a twelfth planned for 2014. The series is about a race of vampire warriors who live among humans while defending their own kind against the Lessers, de-souled humans bent on the total eradication of the vampire race.
Each book focuses on a different vampire warrior, his gift and curse and his love interest while continuing the entire series story arc. And while the series is meant to be read in order, one could pick up any book and be able to follow along.
Black Dagger Brotherhood SeriesDark Lover – Wrath and Beth (2005) Lover Eternal – Rhage and Mary (2006) Lover Awakened – Zsadist and Bella (2006) Lover Revealed – Butch and Marissa (2007) Lover Unbound – Vishous and Jane (2007) Lover Enshrined – Phury and Cormia (2008) Lover Avenged – Rehvenge and Ehlena (2009) Lover Mine – John (Tehrror) and Xhex (2010) Lover Unleashed – Payne and Manuel (2011) Lover Reborn – Tohrment and Autumn (2011) Lover at Last – Qhuinn and Blay (2013) The King – Wrath and Beth (2014)
Diva Chat Panel
Janine, Chief Executive Diva
Favorite/Least Favorite: I stopped after Lover Eternal #2 and don’t have a favorite.
Lauren, Sexy Chief Operations Diva
Favorite(s): Lover Awakened # 3 (Zsadist), Lover Unbound # 5 (Vishous), Lover Avenged #7 (Rehvenge), and Lover Mine # 8 (John Mathew).
Least Favorite(s): Lover Enshrined # 6 (Phury), Lover Revealed #4 (Butch), and Lover Unleashed # 9 (Payne-which was so bad I had to struggle through it.)
Jen, Fabulous Chief Financial Diva
Favorite(s): Lover Unbound #5 (Vishous), Lover Eternal #2 (Rhage), and Lover at Last #11 (Qhuinn and Blay)—in no particular order.
Least Favorite(s): Lover Revealed #4 (Butch)—huge fan of Butch, not so much a fan of Marissa. I’m looking forward to other opinions on the lack of really strong females as mates for the males.
This series is hugely popular with women and romance readers—eleven books since 2005. It is one of the few vampire series out there that is still holding its own in a market flooded with vampire books and a population of readers whose interest is waning. And yet, this series is still just a popular as ever.
Vampire Myth: How is it the same / different from others?
Lauren: The similarities are: only can really go out at night. Sunlight doesn’t kill them right off, but they are very weak from it to begin with until they are killed after a while. It’s not instant like other vamp novels. Plus they don’t sparkle. The all have fangs, but they can’t be made, they are born. No immortality, but they can live for hundreds and hundreds of years. They have fast regeneration when injured and aren’t affected by human diseases.
Jen: The blood-drinking is the same, and their unmatched strength. They don’t interact with humans, as a rule.They are alive and mortal, however—they are born and die as vampires—and the blood of another vampire of the opposite sex is the strongest for them. Human blood is weak. The aren’t predators; the Brotherhood are the protectors of their race. They serve and protect their king.
Janine: I too liked that the vampires didn’t interact with humans and didn’t need them to survive. For me it removed the horror element of the vampire myth because they ceased to be a threat to humans.
Lessers: What are they and why do they work?
Lauren: The Lessers have many different distinctions from the Brotherhood. They also serve as traits that the Brothers can identify them such as: they smell like baby powder, overtime they start to lose the coloring in their hair, impotent, they bleed black, oily residue and can only be killed or sent back to the Omega by stabbing them in the heart. But they aren’t dead, they can be reincarnated. Only V and Butch together can absorb a Lesser’s “spirit” and kill them for good.
Jen: Lessers are the undead—humans who have been ripped of their hearts and humanity—who serve The Omega. He is the incarnate of evil, the devil as compared to The Scribe Virgin, the vampire’s benevolent deity. Lessers are the antagonists, the ever-present bad guys, necessary as they create a constant conflict with the Brotherhood.
Janine: Because the Lessers were human at one point, their motivations and actions are believable because the reader has to recognize those baser human instincts. It’s what makes them such a believable antagonist—we understand them. And because of that, they are a formidable adversary in the mind of the reader.
What is your favorite book and why?
Lauren: I would say Z’s book would be my favorite. I fell in love with his vulnerability, especially what he had gone through in his life: being a slave, losing his “manhood” to being a sex slave, finally meeting his mate, Bella, and having a child, and seeing his relationship with his twin brother, Phury. You saw the rough exterior melt and you saw him learn to let go. He’s a beautiful character.
Jen: If I had to pick one—and I hate to—I’d choose V’s book. He’s by far my favorite of the brothers; his character is layered with so much depth. His story touches upon taboos like bi-sexuality and BDSM, and his “scenes” with Butch are by far the hottest ever written. Doc Jane’s ghost makes me groan and roll my eyes with its cheesiness, but their relationship is so intriguing.
Janine: I stopped reading the series after the second book, and I will answer the “why” with the next question.
This series is listed as a paranormal romance, but I’ve heard differently. Is this a paranormal romance series or an erotic paranormal romance series?
Lauren: Now I think it’s more of a toss up. It has many elements of an erotica, and I think with the graphic nature of the sex scenes that it would definitely fall into that category. But at the same time, the world building and character development is more in touch with just paranormal romance. Ultimately, it’s a book that crosses both genres that readers who prefer either or can enjoy.
Jen: I don’t think I’d consider it erotica. It’s very sexual and sensual, but that’s not the focus of the series or the focus of each story line. Ultimately, each book resolves the relationship of one of the brothers, and touches upon the relationships of several of the other primary characters. I think paranormal romance is the best fit.
Janine: When I read the first book in this series, I felt it was firmly planted in the paranormal romance genre. But after Lover Eternal #2, it was clear to me that the series was leaning heavily toward erotic romance. I love the universe Ward created for this story, but the graphic nature of the sex scenes was the deal breaker for me. I’m not a big fan of erotic romance or erotica.
Tropes & Cliches: We know this series has these in spades, but why don’t we care?
Lauren: Cliche, yes, overused cliche, at times. But when we overlook this, we are rewarded with so much in depth world building and character development (of the Brothers at least). I have never read a world as complex as this one, nor seen it be sustainable through so many books. That’s an achievement in itself. Although there is good character development, many of the characters sound the same—Humans like Manny or former Human Butch all talk like the Brothers from the get go. It’s like Ward C&P’ed speech and dialect for all characters no matter their background. Even Butch, with his Boston accent, sounds like the rest of the Brothers. With sayings like “True” or “What’s doing” it all sounds too uniform for each character.
Jen: I don’t necessarily care, because the premise of the series itself is very unique and the story lines are well thought out and different, which is hard to do in a series of eleven-plus books. It’s true that some clichés run amok—Doc Jane is a ghost brought back from the dead, come on—and tropes are used ad nauseam, but each character’s story brings something different or looks at something in a new way that hasn’t been done to death. A blind king holding on to his reign by the sheer force of his will and just a bit of muscle while suppressing his terror of the blindness that threatens his role and his livelihood—you don’t see that a lot. Insight into Wrath’s fears makes it not just the same old cliché.
Janine: I have to agree with Lauren and Jen here. The depth of world building is what compelled me to continue reading those first two books whenever I felt the story or a character was too much of a stereotype.
Does this series belittle or empower women? Does it strengthen negative stereotypes?
Lauren: It agree that it doesn’t belittle woman, if anything it praises women. The male vampires cherish their females above anything, but they don’t really build them up either. Women are looked at as things to be protected because they can’t do it themselves. With the exception of Xhex and Payne, all the other woman are basically helpless until their hellren or another males comes their rescue. While Xhex and Payne are kick-ass in their own right because of their fighting skills in John Mathews’ book and Paynes’ book, both women struggled with their men in regards to their self worth. John Mathew wanted to protect Xhex, but she was so independent that it caused rifts in their relationship. Manny, being a human, to an extent did the same thing. But what I hated the most is that Payne was so able, but yet whimpered to her man the whole book.
Now other females like Doc Jane or Marissa are smart given the fact they are working woman in the health field, but Jane was described as almost simpler in her looks compared to other woman. Is this a fair exchange to be a stronger female character but looked at as almost unattractive? Sames goes to No’one. She’s scarred and broken, but Tohr fell for her. Why is that?
I really wanted Payne to be a fighter alone with the Brothers. Why hasn’t that happened? Or Xhex for that matter?
Jen: I don’t think it belittles women, but it certainly doesn’t seem to empower them too much, either. A rare few females are depicted with anything more than average anything. Yes, they’re all beautiful, and some are even strong and powerful, but they take a backseat to the brothers. None of the women are weak, but you don’t see them as the kick-ass females they could be.
Janine: I am a huge fan of the strong female lead, but I also understand that certain genres have elements that readers want. So I tend to “not notice” unless if it really stands out or if the female lead’s weaknesses are mind-boggling. (Can everyone say Bella Swan?) So the weaknesses of the women in the first two books didn’t jump out at me. It’s also been a couple of years since I read them.
It’s been said that this latest book, Lover at Last, about Qhuinn and Blay is one of the most anticipated books in the series. Why?
Lauren: I think that Ward created a suspenseful romance between Qhuinn and Blay that she didn’t do for any other character in the book. The only other character to go through such a transformation was Tohr. His arc carried through how many books? Just like Qhuay. But what I think is great is that you see the seeds of their love affair from the very beginning of the series, or close to it. I also forget when John Mathew got introduced, but it was around that time that we met Qhuinn and Blay. You saw how close the three were, you saw the inner struggles of each man, and you rooted for them all. As they grew and their lives changed, you changed with them as readers, after some time, you wanted them to be more much like Butch and V. What Ward did was create something so natural, who could hate it? I typically don’t read slash, but reading Qhuay now (I’m in the middle of the book) is just as thrilling and romantic as reading any other Brother and their mates. In fact, I’m more invested in Qhuinn and Blay because we as readers have been with them so long. It’s the same for Tohr and John Mathew. They have both been currents in this series.
Jen: One word: Qhuay. We’ve been waiting for this book since J.R. Ward began to tease us with Qhuinn and Blay’s chemistry in Lover Mine (maybe before Lover Mine, I’d have to check). Their relationship doesn’t follow the pattern. Males don’t bond with males, warriors do not pine for other warriors, yet slowly the relationship was established. As a reader, I consider their friendship—in the midst of the nightmare going on around them—one of the strongest bonds written in this series. They are each’s other half. Readers got a taste of bi-sexuality in Lover Unbound when V dreams of a sexual relationship with Butch, and the feedback was an ecstatic yes. Perhaps that cemented the story line. At first their story was going to be a novella, but was later announced to be a full-length novel, to the thrill of readers everywhere. The homosexuality didn’t deter many readers at all; their sexuality wasn’t an issue to me, and I was impressed with the way Ward handled Qhuinn’s battling—and finally facing—that he is, in fact, gay.
Give us one last thing you’d like to say about this series—any topic.
Lauren: When I read a book, I want to get lost in the world. Not all books let me do that. I can easily forget about a book if it didn’t grab me. These book grab me. I read the first six books in a week. I haven’t read something so fast since the Twilight series. The world building, the loves affairs, the strong male characters you can’t help but swoon for… it’s exactly what a woman wants to read. She automatically feels the same as how the Brothers treat their women. In the end, a reader sees these romances and wants one just like it. To be protected, to be loved, to cherished like the Beth or Bella or even Xhex. It’s very attractive to read a strong man being your knight in shining armor.
Jen: The brothers are idealistic-big, strong, and fearless. They love their mates without fail, and they are loyal and true to each other and their king. That, in and of itself, draws the reader to the series. As a reader, I am sucked into the world J.R. Ward has created and look forward to each new title as the chance to learn more about them, revisit my favorite characters, and get lost in the fantasy.
For the divas who stuck with the series, Black Dagger Brotherhood has become a favorite. The story building, rich array of characters, and strong antagonist outweigh the use of clichés and stereotypes. And while most of the Divas will agree that the women in the series aren’t particularly strong or as kick-ass as they’d like them to be, the series as a whole does not blatantly disparage women. Both Lauren and Jen agreed that this latest book in the series, Lover At Last, was by far the one they most looked forward to. The this series is a romance first and foremost. It just happens to have vampires, humans, lessers, and a few deity for good measure.
I’d like to thank the divas for participating in the Diva Chat. Their contributions and insights are appreciated.
If you’d like to add your views of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, please leave a comment below. We’d love to know what you think of the series.
Stay tuned for the August Diva Chat: The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare. The first movie, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, comes out this August 21st and we want to talk about it!