J.R. Ward has another bestseller on her hands with the latest installment of her Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Lover Unleashed, otherwise known to fans as the Payne and Manny book. However, Payne and Manny are not the stars of this book, nor is their storyline the main plot of the novel. It is widely known that fans were upset with the ending of Viscious and Jane's story in Lover Unbound. This book is Ward's attempt to solidify V and Jane as a couple by working through many of the problems fans had with their first book. (Namely that V is still too f'ed up to live happily ever after, and Jane is a ghost.) V is half-crazed with worry when his twin sister is brought into the clinic with a potentially paralyzing spinal cord injury. He reluctantly lets Jane bring in her old boss Dr. Manny Manello, even though he hates the guy. V's story progresses with him finally battling out these demons of his past in order to finally give himself over to Jane completely. There is a very touching scene between him and Butch toward the end which is quite well done. Overall, there is a feeling of satisfaction in V and Jane's storyline that Lover Unbound missed.
It's pretty obvious that Manny and Payne have locked onto each other from the beginning. Even though Manny is a human, he gets all "mine" with her and starts spouting off vampire scent. While both characters are likeable enough, there just isn't a lot of drama involved with their love story. The virgin-heroine-having-to-be-taught-sexual-love-from-the-experienced-man thing is rather annoying. It was cool when Marissa was inexperienced because her crazy marriage to Wrath provided an interesting twist, but with Payne, it comes across as cliche. And the way that Manny “cured” Payne’s spinal cords injury? It was so ridiculous that I almost laughed out loud.
There is a new group of male vamps introduced in this book also. In a painfully written flashback, we see Payne killing her father, The Bloodletter, for his abuses against V. (More on the "painfully written" part in a minute.) This sets the scene for Xcor, the Bloodletter's son, to want to avenge his father's death by finding the mysterious woman who killed him. In the present, Xcor and his gang act as a rogue band of brothers, killing lessors and other horrible humans in the old country. Now that the lessors have relocated to the New York to go after the Black Dagger Brotherhood, Xcor and his buddies have no one else to hunt. They decide to travel to the U.S., and Xcor has his sights on Wrath's kingship. I suspect this will be a major story line in the next book.
A couple of storylines were conspicuously missing. Tohment, Lassier and Murder do not show up in this book at all. Several other characters including Xhex, John Matthew, Revenge, Phury and Zsadist get barely more than a mention. Even the lessors had only a tiny part in this book. The Quinn/Blay storyline which has been building now over several books doesn't progress much (to my incredible disappointment); although, we are given a clue that Layla will play a significant part in their tale.
Now, about that painfully written flashback... Let me just say that one of things I love about Ward's writing is her modern vernacular. The brothers all speak with cool street slang which lends toughness to their characters. That being said, the dialog in her flashbacks and the way Xcor and Payne speak in the present made me want to throw the book across the room. Tossing in a "mayhap" or a "verily" every other sentence does not make historical dialog. The only thing it does is give the reader a headache. And why is Xcor still talking like this? He is the same age as the rest of the brothers. How come their speech has evolved while his hasn't? I get it that he has been living in England, but they don't talk like this either! Ward seriously needs to do something about this horrible dialog in her next book or her readers will mutiny.
Overall, I give 'Lover Unleashed'...
Plot –3 1/2 bookmarks (The V and Jane stuff was great, but the resolution of Xcor’s vendetta against Payne was stupid.)
Character Development- 4 bookmarks (Again, mostly do to V and Jane. Payne is still pretty cardboard to me yet.)
Love Story- 3 bookmarks (Again, the V and Jane story developed nicely, but the Payne and Manny story was boring.)
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - I see Wrath almost as a cartoon or comic book figure. Not a real person. Rachel Weisz (Beth), Carrie-Anne Moss (Xhex), Chad-Michael Murray (John Matthew), Tom Felton (Lash), Kirk MacLeod (Phury), a bald Kirk MacLeod (Zsadist), Orlando Bloom (Rhevenge), Kevin Alejandro (Vishious), Brad Pitt (Rhage), Megan Fox (Bella), Mark Wahlberg (Butch), Marion Cotillard (Payne), Joe Manganiello (Manny)