Every morning for over forty years, my cousin has eaten a chocolate frosted Poptart™ for breakfast. Every morning. I once asked her if she didn’t get sick of the same thing every single day, and she just shrugged, saying she likes what she likes. If you like J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, you will probably like the first installment of what is supposedly a new ‘legacy’ series, Blood Kiss. I, however, found it as appealing as my 14,600th chocolate frosted Poptart.
Blood Kiss follows the latest group of recruits training to become Black Dagger warriors, members of an elite army of vampires who protect the race from evil beings known as Lessers. Specifically, we meet Craeg – a commoner vampire with a modest, working-class background – and Paradise, a female vampire with blood lines so aristocratic and pure she practically belongs in a museum. Craeg and Paradise survive the initial Navy SEAL-like torture orientation meant to reduce the number of recruits from sixty or so to the handful with enough fortitude to warrant consideration. Over the course of the next few days as they begin their training, the two try to resist their physical attraction, they fail and engage in a lot of phone sex before doing the real deal, then Craeg has a mental breakdown when he discovers that Paradise is so far out of his class that she’s almost a different species.
Meanwhile, old timey characters Butch and Marissa suffer a major marital rift when it becomes clear that Butch isn’t enough of a sharer for his mate’s needs. After a female vampire shows up at Marissa’s battered females shelter so beaten up that she actually dies from her injuries, Marissa struggles to cope with the violence and cruelty that people will inflict on others. Given Butch’s years as a human police detective, he’s seen it all. But he is too emotionally wounded to open up to Marissa. As the couple tries to solve the mystery of the female’s murder, they miss connecting with each other emotionally until… they don’t. Then they have hot sex and everything is all good again.
Throughout all of this, we meet a bunch of other vampire recruits with weird names and sad-sack background stories, all lined up in a neat queue just waiting for books of their own. Throw in a few cameos from past BDB warriors and you have a boilerplate J.R. Ward novel.
Seriously, I made a check list to see if we’d hit all the requirements I’d come to expect.
Giant, strapping male warriors using silly, twee slang like “nakey” and “convo”? Check.
Affected inner dialogue that shows up way too often? Check. This time, it was the use of drawn out words like Aaaannnnnd and Ammaaaaazzzing and Okaaaaayyyy, and text-speak abbreviations like NFW and FFS. I find this to be the equivalent of spelling out Scottish brogue. People may think like this in real life, but it doesn’t translate well on the written page.
Characters that are dark and alternative, demonstrated via multiple piercings and copious facial tattoos, emphasized by kinky sex fetishes? Check.
Constant references to current pop culture phenomenon and name-brand dropping so pervasive you wonder if Ward has signed product placement contracts? Check.
Couples who bond immediately, only for one or the other of them to determine that they can’t be together for Reasons so that they fight the connection, only to realize that it’s pointless to fight the mating instinct? Check.
Communal living in which new mates come to live in what must be a Versailles-like mansion so that we can see the clique in action? Check.
It’s all there. Everything I remembered from the original BDB series is all there.
One thing that I imagine has been present in these books all along but which I’ve only just realized with this latest edition is how… hmmm, not sure if ‘elitist’ is the best word… Ward’s vampires truly are. They think humans are not much better than disgusting, sentient rodents. Human women are generally depicted as dirty sluts who sleep with anyone and everyone, and human men are always weak slimeballs who ogle vampire females before trying to assault them. And we are constantly being assured that the human servant doggen who seem to be not much more than glorified slaves, are oh-so-happy to serve that it’s a true honor to do so. Really, this vampire species has got a bit of a nasty racism problem.
Technically, you could read Blood Kiss as a standalone since it’s supposedly starting a new series. However, there is so much reference to characters and episodes in all of the prior BDB books that I imagine a newbie to the world would be annoyed and confused beyond all measure. For example, the character of Lassiter is so over-the-top ridiculous that unless you know some of his history, you may assume that Ward is simply stream-of-consciousness writing whenever he shows up in a scene. Too, there is a lot of reference to an obviously important tragedy in vampire history – the Raids – and since I stopped reading the BDB series before those happened, I had no idea what was involved.
I will say one positive thing. There are no Lessers in this book. There is reference to them, but thankfully we do not have to endure any glimpses inside their twisted brains.
You may wonder why I even chose to read this book in the first place, given my open hostility to J.R. Ward’s writing style. To be honest, I loved the BDB series when it first came out. Until Vishous’s story (ugh, ghost Doc Jane), I was totally hooked (if not a bit irritated by some of Ward’s writing ticks), and I still count Lover Awakened as a true DIK.
But I got really sick of the sameness of the stories, and what I was once able to overlook in the writing style because of the stories being told, I could no longer ignore and I gave up on the series completely. I picked up Blood Kiss hoping that maybe a tangential story line might offer up something new and refreshing and rekindle that initial spark. A strawberry frosted Poptart, if you will.
Sadly, this is not what I found. If you love J.R. Ward, then by all means, enjoy Blood Kiss and all of the books that are sure to follow (Blood Vow is already out, with Blood Fury to come in Jan. 2018). You will find all of your favorite ingredients baked into a perfectly predictable pastry. If you are hoping for something new, then don’t waste your time.