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(or, the Black Dagger Brotherhood phenomenon)

Reader beware: spoilers up to the sixth book peppered willy-nilly throughout, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, please don’t keep on reading. Thank you.

And with that taken care of, let’s dive in.

This here is not a review, and please note that I’m not trying to bash JR Ward—nor complaining about where I want her to take the series or what I want her to write or anything remotely like that.

No, really, that’s not it.

It’s more like a rambling wondering as to why and how this series is still so successful—and there is no doubt it is successful. Not only is it selling like crazy (just count the number of reviews up in the blogosphere) but it definitely engenders strong emotions in the vast majority of its readers (check out the many threads discussing the series).

I don’t know if I can shed any light on the matter, but that won’t stop me from trying. (It never has, really.)

Personally, I am a firm believer that, you either drank the Kool-Aid and will remain addicted—either as a guilty pleasure or as a rabid fan—for a good long while; or you didn’t, and therefore are unable to understand what the big deal is.

Me, I’m still addicted, albeit reluctantly.

Bottom line, though, what is it that makes this series so addictive?

Generally speaking—as in, ninety nine times out of a hundred—faulty world building will yank me out of a story. Now, excellent characterization may compel me to overlook shoddy world building in favor of concentrating on the characters, caring for them, and wanting to know their fate. By the same token, I may enjoy a story where the world building is superb while the characterization is flat.

But frankly, neither is really the case here.

I mean, the world building becomes shakier the more complicated it gets—all sorts of questions from the previous installments pop up again and again, and the contradictions abound.

For example, if only the Primale** can impregnate the Chosen—which was established in Lover Unbound and reaffirmed in Lover Enshrined—then why had the Chosen hoped that Rhage would take Layla—whose needing time was near—in Lover Eternal, the second book? And let’s not even think about the inbreeding! *shudder* and *shudder* and *shudder*

And all those poor abused “h”s! Just imagine trying to actually read these novels out loud—huh?

It is not the characterization.

I know for a fact I’m only one in a long list of people who wonder (and not in a good way) at many of the characters in these books. The more frequent complaints stem from Ms Ward’s heroines and their doormat tendencies, but then there are also the lessers (equal parts stereotypical villain and boring placeholders) and Lash (the stereotypical popular, spoiled, insufferable, rich, only child) and the doggen (Fritz, butler extraordinaire, need I say more?) and the glymera (fancy name for a Regency era London aristocracy transplanted, awkward dress and all, to the present), and the Omega (oh teh eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeebol, it’s so bad) and the Scribe Virgin…

Ah, someone may say, I know what it is—it is the writing!

Well… no.

Beyond the fact that characterization and world building are definitely part of ‘the writing’ there’s this other little thing…

The writing is not all that extraordinary either.

The brand name dropping and the weird slang that all of the characters use (all of them, from males in their early twenties to vampires hundreds of years old, male and female—one voice), often interrupt the flow of the dialogue and the narrative. People like me—and really, I’m not on the endangered species lists, I promise—often have to pause, read again, and wait until our brains find the meaning behind the similes, comparisons, etc.

Then there’s all the tell tell tell and never show thing. For example, from the first book onward we are told that Zsadist is true to his name, a bastard of Olympic proportions. Butch “senses” it pretty much upon laying eyes on him for the first time. All the Brothers say this—and they’ve known him for close to a century. Hell, Phury knows this about his twin. Yet, at no time does the reader see Zsadist behaving in any way that justifies all the mistrust and distance and what not—quite the opposite, in fact.

Drop in a bit of Deus Ex Machina every other book (two examples: Butch has Wrath’s blood and the Omega can travel back in time, and track his son once the latter dies—convenient much?) and I would normally scream in frustration and never look at the books again. (Instead of, you know, re reading each of them several times already, as I have done with the BDB)

So really, I ask again, what is it that makes this series so addictive that I read Lover Enshrined in one sitting—even as I bemoaned the contradictions, and the language, and the characterizations, and the writing?

I know, I know! It is the originality in the themes and elements and…

No, sorry, not that either.

We are swamped with vampire books these days (romances, urban fantasy, romantic comedies, you name it, we have it, by the dozen) but even back when the first BDB came out there were several ongoing series with vampires with different myths and boundaries. Christine Feehan’s Carpathians and Maggie Shayne Twilight vamps come to mind, but I’m sure many readers out there who read much more widely than I do can name several more.

Okay, what is it then?????

It has to be the Kool-Aid.

**(am I the only one who wants to read primaTe there each time?)


  • Kat
    June 23
    10:49 am

    For me, I think it’s that she manages to write, in almost every book, a handful of scenes that just make me all gooey inside. Something either unbelievably romantic or which rings emotionally true. And that’s enough to keep me buying the next book. Also, it’s a habit now, and I’m seeing it to the bitter end. We shall see if my addiction makes the transition to hardcover.


  • Personally, I’ve enjoyed all the books, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see the flaws, I guess I’m just not as heavily invested in them as others.

    Going slightly off-tangent.

    My biggest problem with the books, is that in all but skin tone, The Brothers are black men.

    The clothes, the speak, the music, it’s all taken from a certain part of the AA culture, yet there is no acknowledgement of this as far as I’m aware from Ward, or the readers come to think of it.

    If an AA author had written those books, with black characters, do we really think they would have sold so well?

    I think the sensible amongst us, surely know the answer to that question.

    The success of these books make a total mockery of the people who will say that they have never read an aa-authored book because they can’t identify with the characters.

    If I thought about it long enough, it would annoy the hell outta me, which is why I try not to.

    Let me ask this, who here can hand on heart say that they would have bought the books, had the characters actually been black? Honestly?


  • BTW, don’t bother responding to the above question, unless you can answer it honestly. Seriously.


  • You could say I sipped the Kool-aid, then wandered off to get myself a soda. 😛

    I read the first one, about a year after everyone else, and liked it (not loved). I read the second one and liked that one a lot more (it was more of a romance, and I loved the Rhage’s beast being tamed by the heroine’s voice set-up) I bought the third…. and have yet to read it. I haven’t bought any more in the series, kept meaning to; just never did.

    On the other, I loved the two Jessica Bird books she put out recently and I’m really looking forward to the next.

    And this:

    Yet, at no time does the reader see Zsadist behaving in any way that justifies all the mistrust and distance and what not—quite the opposite, in fact.

    Drove me crazy! Characters in the book, as well as real life readers would go on and on about Zsadist, and I never saw shown on the page. Everyone was ‘telling’ me he was bad-ass, but *I* never saw it.

    As for Karen’s question, I don’t think the characters’ ethnicity would have made a difference with me one way or the other considering it took me forever to buy the first book to begin with and I was well aware of the ‘hip-hop’ factor by then.


  • Perhaps I’m deluding myself, but I don’t think having the brothers (either all or most of them) be black would have stopped me from reading and loving the books. I mean, there would be no difference in language or behaviour, only in the descriptions–so Rhage would not be blond, and Butch would not be ruddy Irish, but otherwise it would be the same, no?

    I know there are some who hate the mention of Suzanne Brockmann’s Harvard’s Education (both leads are black), and Alyssa Locke from her Troubleshooters books, but I love those books and bought them knowing the ethnicity of the characters.

    On the other hand, I just read Dark Thirst, and enjoyed it plenty without knowing before hand that Lina and Jackson are black.

    I do wonder if Ward wouldn’t have gotten even more flack over the issue if she had made them black, though.


  • Haven’t read them.
    Perhaps she does suspense – as in ohmygodIwonderwhatwillhappennext – really, really well?


  • SarahT
    June 23
    1:28 pm

    Honestly…probably not! I’m not usually a paranormal fan and only picked up the first book in the series because of the phenomenal buzz it was getting. If the brothers were black, I’m betting the books would have been classed as AA Fiction and never achieved the success that they have.

    Either way, my personal image of Vishous is of a black man. To me, the other brothers are white. No idea why!

    I don’t often read AA romances, mainly because they aren’t as readily available as so-called mainstream romances are (i.e. white romances). I don’t live in the US and in order to find them, I’d have to go looking.

    I really don’t care what race a heroine is. And as long as they are good characters, I’ll go for most heroes, with the exception of ones with red hair and Arab sheiks (too macho). My personal preference is for tall guys but I’ll go for an Asian hero as long as I give him an extra few inches in my mind. Yes, I know there are tall Asian men, but I’m generalising!

    Frankly, it’s a great pity that the colour of a hero/heroine’s skin has to be such a big deal. I know there are arguments for and against classifying black romances, but I really wish more books were marketed like Dorothy Koomson’s are. She’s a wonderful writer, has great heroines who just happen to be black, but – for the most part – their race is no big deal.


  • Lucy
    June 23
    2:01 pm

    When read the first chapter DL I must have flipped back to the first few pages 10 times. I couldn’t figure out how I missed the characters being black! Then I would re-read the description of the brothers and be even more confused. I finally had to ignore the physical descriptions and picture them in my own mind as black men. That has worked for me.

    I have no idea why the BDB is crack. I don’t think I will buy the next in hardback but never say never. I may need a fix so bad I can’t wait for the paperback.


  • I refuse to read them for this very reason Karen. Unacknowledged cultural appropriation pisses me the hell off, and I think Ward takes it to a level not seen since Elvis Presley.


  • Dorothy Mantooth
    June 23
    2:43 pm

    Lol, yes, I keep wanting to read “Primate” too!

    And I think they’re so successful because they’re escapist fun. I have fun reading them. That’s really what I look for.

    As to whether I’d read them if the brothers were black…well, yes and no. Like SarahT, I originally bought them because of the buzz. I didn’t like the first one all that much, either, and only bought the second several months later because I really wanted something new to read and it was there in the bookstore. I’ve enjoyed all the books, but never found them to be “crack” like some others have (which is fine, I don’t mean to sound condescending.)
    So if the men were black, and it had still had so much buzz, then yes I would have read them and enjoyed them just as much as I do now. But if the buzz hadn’t been there I probably wouldn’t have tried them simply because they wouldn’t have been on my radar. Kind of sad, but true.


  • SSG
    June 23
    2:45 pm

    Here it is: The BDB is the ultimate boy-band fantasy fodder. They all live in this dorm, they hang out together, they all have huge equipment and great toys, but they lurve wimmin (except for V, who lurves wimmin and mmin). You can pick your fave and switch to another any time. It’s like Tiger Beat for growed-up girls.

    ‘Cause you’re right: Howlingly bad world-building, cardboard-cutout characters, freaky slang, SVeus ex machina and tell tell tell.

    *kisses poster of Rehv above her canopy*


  • Dorothy Mantooth
    June 23
    4:24 pm

    Wanted to add, re the black vs. white issue: I don’t really pay attention to what they look like anyway, because I hate the way they’re described. Multi-colored hair? No thank you, clowns aren’t my thing. Yellow eyes? Makes me think of Scutt Farkas or someone in the final stages of liver disease. Rhage and his “blond god” looks? Nope, don’t like blond men.

    So they look like what I want them to look like in my head anyway.


  • If the characters appropriated a certain subset of contemporary AA culture, what did the long-lived ones look and behave like in the 70’s? In the 40’s? In the 1840’s? Do they shift their cultural appropriation every 10 or 20 years? Were they hippies in the 60’s and had names like Dhude and Surfher Bhoy? In my experience, as people get older, they follow fewer fads and phases and become less tolerant of pop culture. And some of the BDB are really really old. Granted, the BDB aren’t “humans”, exactly…

    *iz curious*


  • Miss Kitty
    June 23
    4:46 pm

    Why? Because she makes you feel for the characters and has you on the edge of your seat, trying to figure out what will happen next.

    As for Black and White… Sheesh, guys, don´t you just love reverse racism?
    A friend of mine is tall, hunky, loves his foul language and rap and HipHop music, baggy pants and “yo, Dano” remarks… only.. he´s old German nobility and very very white.
    One of his friends is named “Tripple D” has a beautiful dark caramel complexion and very much looks like your average black kid in his early twenties.. met him, filed him and then he opened his mouth and what came out was straight a, perfect BAVARIAN dialect.
    (turns out, Daddy was a soldier stationed here, Boyo was a soldier stationed here and in the end, he decided to stay in the land of Bratwurst and Sauerkraut to study)

    I´m not sure WHAT you consider a “typical” black man (or a typical “white) … and what the heck would you think a half black/half white has to behave like?


  • Miss Kitty, there is no such thing as reverse racism. Racism is racism, period.

    I didn’t accuse Ms. Ward of racism. I accused her of cultural appropriation, which is a horse of a different color. I don’t care how many ‘Federlines’ there are roaming about Bavaria, when you take hundred year old vampires and have them talking like Snoop Dogg, that’s cultural appropriation. Actually, from what I understand her vampires aren’t quite that hip. Apparently they’re talking like MC Serch circa 1986, but you get my point. At the very least Serch acknowledges what he does, Ward hides behind the notions that her vampires have no race. Pure bullshit in my view.

    The books are popular at least in part because it allows readers to have the fantasy of black male machismo without having to deal with the much maligned Negro sex, period. Had they been black there would’ve been no ‘buzz,’ indeed they would still be hidden in the Negro section, if they had been published at all.


  • Claudia
    June 23
    5:31 pm

    I only started the series because I got the mistaken impression from one heated board discussion that the BDB was the first successful vamp series about black men. 🙂

    I glommed onto the BDB when I was bored with mainstream romance and extremely bored with my sole vampire series experience as a Feehan fan. I was initially intrigued that Ward gave her alpha vamps unfixable flaws like near blindness, that the SV was so abusive, and that the core characters were centered in contemporary hip hip/rap culture.

    I’ve also always been a multi genre reader and don’t mind the recent lack of romance as long as the books are well executed. Still, I won’t pay HC prices for book I’ll likely just read once now. The quality of the writing has really taken a dive when I consider Ward’s horrible attempts at txt speak, making up slang, and writing dialect.

    I don’t think the BDB could have succeeded as AA books because a black author would have been required to make them so uber stereotypically black the books would be horribly niched. OTOH, JRW or any white author would potentially catch so much flack over cultural mis-appropriation that agents & editors would have rejected the BDB outright and/or suggested making the characters white.

    The different reactions to Obama’s press coverage and recent blog dustups over race in publishing provide good example of how one’s cultural lense affects what is seen. Just think about the different reactions people have when the current president Bush is compared to a monkey vs. when Obama is. The act is eseentially the same, but historical context and intent guarantee blacks and whites don’t interpret the acts the same ways.


  • Hey, Roslyn, I won’t dispute the bit about the fantasy, but I don’t think Ward’s books would have been shelved anywhere but romance–again, I refer you to Suzanne Brockmann’s books with black leads.

    And, because I really gotta share… my Rhage is this gorgeous man… (original credit to lisabea, of course)


  • That’s true AztecLady. Forgot that the shelving decisions are based on the author’s race, not the character’s.

    Personally Claudia, I think Ward still deserves flack for cultural appropriation. Probably the reason she insists that the characters don’t have a race.


  • When I finished reading the latest book of the series, I was complaining to hubby about the things in it that annoyed me. He turns and looks me in the eye and asks, “Then why do you keep reading them?” My answer was simple. Because I liked it, even though parts of it REALLY annoyed me. I couldn’t give him any better reason than that. I liked it. But I will NOT be buying the series in hardcover anytime soon. They are enjoyable, but not at those prices. I’ll be waiting for the paperback version to come out.


  • I noticed a whack-load of problems with the series since DL, but I was willing to overlook them because (1) her heroes are the me-Tarzan-you-Jane types and I do love me some alpha heroes; (2) the sexing was hot; and (3) the romance was as emotionally manipulative as a Harlequin Presents.

    However, now that JRW’s taken her series on the UF path, I’m done with the series. I’m willing to forgive a lot of flaws for a kick-ass romance, but surreptitiously take away the romance and I’m one unhappy puppy.

    BTW, the Brothers never came across as black to me because the black guys in my world don’t act or speak or dress like that. The Brothers reminded me more of Jaime Kennedy in Malibu’s Most Wanted. They were just trying way too hard.


  • BTW, the Brothers never came across as black to me because the black guys in my world don’t act or speak or dress like that. The Brothers reminded me more of Jaime Kennedy in Malibu’s Most Wanted. They were just trying way too hard.

    You took the words right out of my head. I have never come across an AA male or female for that matter that speaks the way the Brother’s do. The Brothers speak more like tween girls, than any adult male I know.

    I also think that the branding dates the series. It automatically becomes un-timeless with all of the brand names peppered through the books.


  • I honestly don’t know what it is that’s making me want to keep reading the BDB, especially considering that the grammar sometimes makes me cringe, I really just can’t help myself – I may have problems with the word building, the characters (and how stupid and whiny and just so god damn ANNOYING they can be *ahem*), and hell, the stupid grammar (it bares repeating!) but I still continue to read the books. It’s addictive and entertaining.


  • But who is the Malibu’s Most Wanted guys imitating? Of course, they don’t actually come across as black. Most wannabes don’t. But I think anyone can see who Ward is trying to imitate. Elvis didn’t come across as black to anyone who knew anything about black music. He was a watered-down more palatable version of blackness. A white washed version, if you will.


  • But would it be Ehlvis or Elvhis?


  • But would it be Ehlvis or Elvhis?

    Okay, finally something as funny as Mrs. Giggles’ ‘Divine Federlines of the Yo-Yo Brotherhood.’


  • DS
    June 23
    9:58 pm

    Ah, too old– but I never even saw these. I did see the choose your own adventure books in local bookstores yea, these many a year ago.

    What an incredible sump of sexual imagery though. I liked the tiger riding whatever with the mean looking crotch ornament.


  • DS
    June 23
    10:00 pm

    I cannot believe I did this a second time. Sorry, mean for another blog. MUST… ONLY KEEP… ONE… BLOG… OPEN… AT A TIME


  • I just read it for the hot sex.


  • But who is the Malibu’s Most Wanted guys imitating?

    Kehvin Fehderline.


  • One more thing: At the beginning, I wasn’t sure if Ward was going for camp with the Brothers…and, frankly, I’m still scratching my head.


  • Sotheara
    June 24
    12:49 am

    I like the first book a lot so I picked up the second one which was still ok (readable). I stopped after the third and haven’t sipped from that cup since. I have better books to spend my money on.


  • Nonny
    June 24
    12:59 am

    Regarding whether or not I would have read the books were the men black… honestly, skin color doesn’t make a difference to me, and I have read books with black heroes or heroines that I enjoyed.

    That said, I don’t go out of my way to browse through the AA section of the bookstore, because I don’t know what I’m going to find. At least the local bookstores, it’s not like YA that has separate sections for fantasy, series, etc; instead, it’s all bunched together. If I look in the romance section, or the science fiction & fantasy section, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m getting. (Although not always, and I will shut my trap on the “not-a-romance packaged as romance” trend.)

    So, if the books had been shelved under AA, I may not have found them unless a friend mentioned or I read about them online. But if they were shelved with the romance, I still would have read them.


  • Eccentric Bookworm
    June 24
    6:50 am

    My biggest problem with the books, is that in all but skin tone, The Brothers are black men.

    Well the problem is, they’re not. They’re what round here down South we’d call a bunch of ghettofied wiggers (whiggers, perhaps?) If we leave the blood sucking and shapeshifting aside for a moment, what you have here is a group from a subculture (typified by young suburban male, predominantly white) who do their best to ape the behavior of another subculture (typified by young urban gang male, predominantly black or hispanic) without actually fitting into that particular subset.

    For an example of a white guy that successfully bridges the divide to fit into a subculture where he is the minority (white guy fitting in with “black” culture) see Justin Timberlake. Justin, the BDB are not.

    The success of these books make a total mockery of the people who will say that they have never read an aa-authored book because they can’t identify with the characters.

    And if these were black characters those readers who “can’t identify” would NOT be buying them like candy. The Non Identifying Readers buy these books because they can relate to the E!ntertainment tonight/MTV version of urban gangsta that the BDB present. They can relate to this image because it’s what they see in their suburban neighborhoods; it’s what they see from their teenage sons/nephews etc. It’s not black, it’s not white, it’s just wannabe. Most teenagers grow out of it. The BDB… well they have a few centuries to work on it. We hope.

    And the killing argument: if they really are keepin it real, then where the heck are the collard greens and sweet potato pie?


  • I am still attempting to get into these books but I have to say. If Ward had written them black… well, they would be seen as cartoony (Is that a word?) as they are right now as vampires who Ward says do not have a race. I don’t know if that would have been a good move either because you have to admit the whole slang and style is way way way camp.

    And why make Elvis a negative? Sure he mainstreamed black musical stylings as rock but did that not open up appreciation for the original artists?

    That’s just my opinion.


  • Jesbelle
    June 25
    5:01 pm

    I have to agree with those who have already mentioned this, but the Brothers never read as AA men to me. Teen girls is close, but she doesn’t do the texting right for that either.

    azteclady, as for the unknown source of the addiction, I am totally with you! These books have so many flaws that I have trashed other books for, and yet I keep coming back for more. My friend is staging an intervention to help ween me off the khool ahide. I’ll report back if it’s successful.


  • TP, your comment is ironic considering the conversation going on in the thread about piracy. Having your music stolen and not receiving any royalties or residuals for it doesn’t feel good, I don’t give two good goddamns how much it’s popularized. Many of the true originators of rock and roll died in poverty unknown and uncelebrated while other, much less talented performers stole their work and their livelihood. White skin privilege allowed them to do this in a segregated America.

    As for Ward’s ‘brothers’ not reading like black men are we to ignore her cultural appropriation simply because she does a poor job of it? I think it’s rather disingenuous to refer to them as wannabes because that begs the question, wannabe what? Wannabe black men of course.


  • As for Ward’s ‘brothers’ not reading like black men are we to ignore her cultural appropriation simply because she does a poor job of it?

    Rosyln, I’m not ignoring her cultural appropriation exactly. To me, she does such a poor job of it that to consider the BDB to be black men would be an insult to black men everywhere.

    Like I said, to me, they’re more like B-Rad or K-Fed.


  • But what I really want to know is…why are none of the Brothers’ love interests black? I don’t care about them acting ‘hood’ or whatever. I actually think that spices things up a bit. I just want to know why African-American women appear nowhere in this series.


  • Maggy
    June 16
    8:55 am

    I’m falling away from this series due to the OBVIOUS case of severe internalized misogny J.R. Ward has. Her females are bland Barbie dolls who are almost always damsels in distress. It’s like they’re token characters and nothing more. An excuse to show the male protaganist naked.

    As for the whole Black subculture thing, oh I agree whole heartedly. A goodreads.com group I’m part of has debated this issue before, the lack of anyone who isn’t white… or Catholic in this series is ASTOUNDING. And everytime you think you may be looking at a Hispanic character… NOPE… turns out to be Italian.

    Oddly when she seemed to have a bolt from the blue about this she made up a subspecies called Shadows who are cannibalistsic vampires from Africa and the Middle East. There goes her nattering on about how there are no races in the vampire world. Though… why did she need to make the Black and Arabic people in her series… CANNIBALS?

    Oh note: Her TWO Black characters don’t really talk all that much like the Brotherhood. I’m sure that says something, but at 2am, I’m not sure what that is.


  • […] reader posted this comment on on an old AztecLady thread about JR Ward’s BDB books, and I found it very […]

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