Literary Review: Lover Awakened (Book 3) by J R Ward

Title: Lover Awakened
Author: J R Ward
Series: Book Three
Format: Audiobook

The third book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series focuses on the darkest Brother of group: Zsadist. With a past that others could never conjure up in a million years and a devil may care attitude on his life and future, Zsadist appears to be the Brother for whom everyone seemed to believe redemption doesn’t exist.

A former blood slave, the vampire Zsadist still bears the scars from a past filled with suffering and humiliation. Renowned for his unquenchable fury and sinister deeds, he is a savage feared by humans and vampires alike. Anger is his only companion, and terror is his only passion—until he rescues a beautiful aristocrat from the evil Lessening Society.

Bella is instantly entranced by the seething power Zsadist possesses. But even as their desire for one another begins to overtake them both, Zsadist’s thirst for vengeance against Bella’s tormentors drives him to the brink of madness. Now, Bella must help her lover overcome the wounds of his tortured past, and find a future with her…

When I listened to the Black Dagger Brotherhood series for the first time, Zsadist’s story was the one that I couldn’t listen to all the way through. There was just so much going on that I simply couldn’t stomach it. It wasn’t until I was listening to the series the second way through that I was able to listen through the book all the way through and I was glad that I did.

For a novel that I couldn’t finish the first time around, the second try proved to be fruitful in many different ways. Mixing the present time storyline with various flashbacks that described a bit of Zsadist’s history and background with “The Mistress” and Phury, JR Ward did a remarkable job of interweaving the two storylines together without sacrificing flow and pacing.

Over at BookThingo, they have really gone into detail in the background of Zsadist and the evolution of his relationship with Bella:
Book Thingo: Black Dagger Brotherhood Cheat Sheet Part 3
– Black Dagger Brotherhood: Zsadist, son of Ahgony
– Pretrans Training Program

One of the more prominent aspects of Zsadist is that even though everyone saw him as irredeemable (including his brother) he had a voice of an angel… in fact this was mentioned several times in the three books that were released in the series thus far:

His eyes closed, his head back, his mouth wide open, he sang. The scarred one, the souless one, had the voice of an angel. ― About Zsadist’s singing voice from Dark Lover

Heck when Phury felt his life ebb away he thought that it was the angels that were taking him to the afterlife only to belatedly realize that it was in fact his twin:

Singing. Someone was singing to him. How perfect… the angels that were taking him unto the Fade truly did have beautiful voices. He thought of Zsadist and compared the lovely melody he heard now with the ones he had listened to in real life. Yes, Zsadist had had a voice like an angel as it turned out. He truly had. – Phury in regards to Zsadist’s voice from Lover Awakened

Having this theoretical dichotomy in someone that was introduced as the “soulless” brother, is really a token of how life brought Zsadist to the depths of despair and numbness and he stayed in that perpetual anger and pain for centuries thereafter. The “dark brooding knight” if you will… not necessarily the “bad boy” that women have a tendency to be drawn to for a spell, but someone who has been through a lot and the only way they felt that they could keep themselves safe is by reliving the past as a constant reminder or to run from it. Zsadist chose to relive it, choosing to live his life on a kind of continuous loop with no intention of ending it. Though he was very aware of his actions and how it was affecting those around him, he still felt that he could never outrun the past and the history that pulled him into the dark abyss.

The only way (in this case) for Zsadist to be forced to see the light in the darkness was to help someone else from reliving past pains like he did, in this case Bella. Towards the end of the second book, Bella was kidnapped and taken hostage with everyone believing the worst. So when she is rescued it wasn’t without some emotional scarring of her own and the only one that would understand where she was coming from and why she was acting / reacting the way she was would be Zsadist… even if neither really knew why.

However, Zsadist still thought of Bella as pure and whole and made an effort to push her away going so far as to say:

Don’t be a tragedy – Zsadist to Bella from Lover Awakened

Zsadist felt hat Bella wanting to be with him or wanting him to help her pull out of her emotional and mental prison could only end in a tragedy where nothing good could every come out of it.

What I noticed about this novel (well the series as a whole but this novel in particular) is that everyone has baggage, some moreso than others… and it takes the right person to comprehend and understand not only the baggage but what it would take to come to terms with it. In the case of Zsadist the only person that could have helped him pull himself from the emotional and mental prison that her purposely kept himself in was someone who not only understood where he was coming from, but in a sad way lived it themselves… even for a short time. When Bella was freed she knew that Zsadist was the only comfort that she had even if he didn’t immediately understand why.

Unfortunately because Zsadist felt wholly unworthy of someone that the considered to be way out of his league he made every effort to push Bella away, going so far as to insist that she would one day wake up and regret ever being with him:

She knew then that even if she mated somewhere down the line, no male would ever take his place. and as unromantic as it sounded, that just plain sucked. Sure she was supposed to triumph over loss and all that, but she loved him and she wasn’t going to end up with him and all she wanted to do was get into a bed somewhere, turn the lights off, and just lie there… for… like… a century.

To Zsadist: “I need you to know something: You told me that someday I would wake up and regret being with you. Well I do. […] After having been burned by high society once, I’m no longer afraid of the aristocracy and I would have been proud to stand at your side. But yes, I am sorry I was with you.”

Because leaving him was a shattering blow. [..] All things considered it would have been better not to know what she was missing.

So Zsadist had it partly true… it is easier to never know what you are missing as opposed to living with the notion of having to let go of something that made you so very happy… and Bella believed that if she had never met and fell in love with Zsadist then the feelings of pain, regret, frustration would never have existed and it wouldn’t have hurt as much. Then again… sometimes it is necessary to know what you are missing because in some ways it would help you to understand what true happiness means.

This is a very touching story, with a bit of action thrown in… a story about two souls that needed to be separated to truly understand what it was that they lost before they could truly be happy together. Life is never easy, it is never meant to be easy. In order to be happy you have to go through the wringer first, you have to find exactly what you are meant to have and to lose it to truly appreciate it… and if you think this is something that it is worthwhile then you would have to fight and claw your way to the prize in order to prove that you are deserving of such an award. Obstacles are meant to be broken through and only those with the motivation, desire and ambition would truly find a way pass them.

Like Butch said:

Want in one hand, shit in the other. See what you get the most of. – Butch to Phury from Lover Awakened

But this book didn’t just focus on Zsadist and Bella… Zsadist’s twin brother, Phury, was also in love with Bella and both brothers were trying to find ways to bring Bella and Phury closer together, but deep down Bella always knew who she wanted. I think deep down Zsadist and Phury also knew whom Bella preferred… but Zsadist always believed that between the two brothers Phury would have been the more acceptable mate in society. However, because Bella was steadfast in her choice, Phury ended up loving Bella from afar eventually turning the wheels of self-destruction. In fact, I would consider this book to be very much the start of the prelude to Phury’s story in Book Six: Lover Enshrined.

And that is JR Ward’s strength and weakness, interweaving stories so not only do you have a primary romance in the book but there are storylines that are developing or being built up for future books:
– Tohrment’s downfall, disappearance and eventual return begins here and continues through the series leading into Book Nine: Lover Reborn
– John Matthew’s loss after finally being with a family of his own and the beginnings of his growth into his transition]
– Phury’s descent from sanity into depression
As much as I love the integration of other characters’ stories and backgrounds as they lead up to their own stories being told in the foreground, JR Ward has to continuously work to strike a balance between the primary storyline and the secondary building plotlines. If she is not careful the secondary building plotlines could take over the novel to the point that the reader wouldn’t feel for the primary characters at all.

Fortunately in the first three books of the series JR Ward hasn’t done that quite yet, so it remains to be seen if the balance would remain as thus or not.

All in all, this has become a favorite story of mine, with reasonably relate-able characters going through relate-able dramas and problems… in many ways I understand the notion of reliving the past in an effort to shield myself from the present, and being self-aware does not help in the “moving on” department at times… sometimes you need that external force to draw you out from the darkness and force you to reach for the light. And even though Zsadist isn’t completely out of the woods yet… eventually he’ll come to terms with everything that has happened and he is with someone who is willing to be with him every step of the way.