Monday, March 25, 2013

Lover At Last by JR Ward

Why I read it:  I received a review copy from the publisher.  I read and enjoyed the first few books in the series and I own all the rest.  But, I stopped reading the series at Phury's book - it was sooo long and the series was heading away from PNR and more into urban fantasy territory.  I have been hearing about Qhuinn and Blaylock for a while now though and I was so excited that a mainstream publisher was printing an m/m romance.  That, in itself would have been enough to make me want to read it.  I caught up on the series using cheatsheets put together by Decadence at Book Thingo.  Fair warning, my opinion may be is no doubt coloured by not having read all the books in the series.

What it's about: (from Goodreads)  Qhuinn, son of no one, is used to being on his own. Disavowed from his bloodline, shunned by the aristocracy, he has finally found an identity as one of the most brutal fighters in the war against the Lessening Society. But his life is not complete. Even as the prospect of having a family of his own seems to be within reach, he is empty on the inside, his heart given to another....

Blay, after years of unrequited love, has moved on from his feelings for Qhuinn. And it’s about time: The male has found his perfect match in a Chosen female, and they are going to have a young- just as Qhuinn has always wanted for himself. It’s hard to see the new couple together, but building your life around a pipe dream is just a heartbreak waiting to happen. As he’s learned firsthand.

Fate seems to have taken these vampire soldiers in different directions... but as the battle over the race’s throne intensifies, and new players on the scene in Caldwell create mortal danger for the Brotherhood, Qhuinn finally learns the true definition of courage, and two hearts who are meant to be together... finally become one.

What worked for me (and what didn't): This is a long book - nearly 600 pages - but if you expect wall to wall Qhuinn and Blay you will be disappointed.  There are various plot threads advanced - a little bit from Beth and Wrath, some from Xcor and Layla, Layla and Qhuinn, Assail and a new lady by the name of Sola, Trez and iAm, the lessers, Wrath's reign, changes to the laws - it's all happening.    In amongst it, is the romantic culmination of Qhuinn's and Blay's story.  

Assail was, for me, a totally new character and I found him quite intriguing.  He is a mercenary businessman and a drug dealer but I expect Ward intends to turn his character around a la Revhenge.  Similarly, it is obvious that there are plans for Xcor and Layla and I suspect that in the end, he will be in the fold as well, somehow.  I don't know how she's going to do it though.

I think fans of the series will enjoy the progression of the overarching storyline - albeit slowly - apart from the epilogue, the book takes place in just 2 weeks.  

It is difficult to talk about the book without giving away spoilers.  If I was writing this review next year, well after the release of the novel, I would possibly be less discreet, but as it is, I feel I have to be careful not to give too much away. 

The main reason I read the book was because of Qhuinn and Blay.  They are the "Sam and Alyssa" (or perhaps, the "Jules and Robin"?) (Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooter's series) of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.  Readers have been aware for a long time that they belong together, but they have had to navigate a torturous path to true love. 

If you're a fan of the "Big Mis" trope, this book will work better for you than it did for me.  Me, I find it difficult to understand why people can't just have a straight out conversation.  So many times throughout the book, the couple's problems could have been resolved by some simple words, but so many times, things were left unsaid or what was said was misconstrued and the couple remained at cross purposes.

There are plenty of sexytimes in the book and I don't think the book can be regarded as "tame".  I don't think Ward pulled her punches because the main characters were men.  On the other hand, I don't think Ward writes excellent m/m sex.  There was an element of romance missing from the sex - it was aggressive, rough and fast for the most part - although they have a minuscule refractory period so things got started again almost immediately most of the time.  I was left feeling that there was little to mark that the sex was between two men - which is perhaps a bit cryptic - there were definitely 2 penises peni cocks involved.  And good golly good gravy, there was NO LUBE (or should that be lhube?).   Absolutely I can understand no condoms - vampires don't get STDs but lube is essential  - or, if it isn't then that needs to be explained in the text (and if so, ew). Added to the no lube, there was no preparation before anal penetration.  None. Ever.   (Is that too spoilerish? Sorry, it has to be said.)

I have had a couple of spoilerific email discussions with fellow reviewers who haven't read as much m/m as me.  I think that for those readers who have read little or no m/m romance, the sex scenes are likely to work better, because those with limited m/m exposure may have a different comfort zone (I know I did, when I first started reading m/m).  So, what bothered me may be just Ward catering to her audience?

I felt the term "virginity" was egregiously misused and I was really bothered by all the "manning up" and "not being a girl" and the slut shaming (which was particularly prevalent in the Trez storyline).

What else? I did feel there were lost opportunities here.  The inherent conflict in having a gay member of the fighting brotherhood, the way that vampire society only tolerates homosexuality if it is on the downlow - those things were largely left unexplored.  

There was also a big event (there was more than one but I'm talking - somewhat mysteriously I admit - about one in particular) which happened to Qhuinn and the set up was (for me) a little lacking in detail and the impact, which should have been huge, just fizzled out.  

I would have enjoyed the story a lot more if the last 30 pages or so had've taken place in the middle of the book or earlier and other stuff got explored more thereafter.  (Is that cryptic enough for you? :D)

I have to say that my tolerance for extra "h's" in text is now at an all time low.  What was originally fresh and fun now just looks kind of silly.  Perhaps I'm merely a "grumpy old woman."

Kudos to Ward (and her editors for not asking her to change it) for using "biceps" 100% correctly throughout the book.  It is a sad thing when good grammar stands out so much, but there you have it.

I think fans of the series will enjoy the story more than I did.  But, I also think some fans who have been waiting for a long time for Qhuinn and Blay to get together will end up feeling a bit shortchanged.

The very best thing about this book is that an m/m romance is finally front and centre in a big, traditionally published book.  I hope it happens more and more often.

Grade:  C/C-

Lover At Last releases worldwide on March 26.


KT Grant said...

The biggest issue for me was the lack of lhube or a mention of lhube.

The ending...the last page...last sentence had me almost in tears because I though it was perfect and the best I read out of the BDB books.

I think the readers who don't read LGBT romance or MM, will be fine with this one.

Kaetrin said...

@KB/KT Yes, I think you're right. But as an m/m reader, something was missing for me.

And yes, there definitely needed to be lhube! :)

KT Grant said...

As a M/M reader myself I felt there was too much emphasis on backdoor sex. It's all these two did to have "sex". I wanted a little more variety. I was hoping for some loving on a pool table. lol

Kaetrin said...

I wanted some more fingers and tongues. I could certainly understand Ward not including a rimming scene - the mainstream may not be quite ready for that but there wasn't a lot of sensuality or loving touches and I missed that.

And dude, Qhuinn was NOT a virgin.

KT Grant said...

I think it meant Qhuinn was a virgin in receiving anal.

Kaetrin said...

I know what it meant. I just didn't agree that it was the correct terminology. Quhinn had sex with anything that moved. He was not a virgin. I think the idea that someone is a virgin because they haven't had one particular kind of sex when they've had all (or much of) the others, is outdated and incorrect. That's my opinion. YMMV. :)

KT Grant said...

so when Qhuinn had threesomes, only Blay was his man that joined him?

I also feel the whole situation with Saxton was too pat.

Kaetrin said...

I'm sorry I don't understand the first part. Qhuinn had sex with both men and women prior to his relationship with Blay as I understand it.

I'm not a fan of the Big Mis and the Saxton thing felt a bit manipulative to me.

KT Grant said...

I thought Qhuinn only had threesomes with Blay and only slept with women up to the point he realized he loved Blay?

I maybe confused or missed that about Qhuinn.

Kaetrin said...

From what I read in LaL, I think Blay caught him having sex in bathroom/s with men/a man. In LaL, Qhuinn thinks about how he was imagining it was Blay.

Brie said...

At this point I find the conversation surrounding the books more entertaining than the actual books, but I'm glad to see a mainstream romance author writing an M/M couple.

I think Suzanne Brockmann was setting up an M/M couple to get their own book in that new series she published last year, but she just announced a new series featuring SEALs (*rolls eyes*) that will include minor characters from the Troubleshooter books (*double eye roll*) So I guess the other series wasn't successful?

Regardless, I think JR Ward, Louisa Edwards and every other author including M/M couples in their mainstream romances should be grateful to Brockmann, because she's the one who opened the doors.

Kaetrin said...

I hadn't heard about the Brockmann announcement. I like her TS books and her Seal Team 19 (?) books too. I prefer them to the paranormal stuff in the Darkness book last year actually. I might actually want to read that?

Maybe she will have a gay SEAL... *happy place*

I love Jules and Robin - but the last novella was a bit of a wank (self indulgent) and All Through the Night, as much as I enjoyed the story, pulled its punches as far as the sex was concerned. Still, she is definitely a trailblazer. I wondered how much of that (with ATTN) was due to publisher restrictions and how much was her? I think things have changed even since then so if she writes another m/m book, maybe she can be as explicit as she is in m/f. Here's hoping. :)

KT Grant said...

Qhuinn had sex with a redheaded man in Tohr's book but I don't think he ever did that before.

I've never read Brockmann, but I have heard of her LGBT books, but the sex scenes are more behind closed doors?

Louisa Edwards is now writing LGBT romance?

Helyce said...

I have to admit, while a huge,huge fan of this series I had many reservations that Ward could pull off an m/m romance and until I read it for myself I'll be quiet about it. She's teased us over several books with unrequited love of Qhuinn and Blay as well as V and Butch (let's not forget-evening though that was all V) and I'm thrilled and give her great kudos for writing an m/m couple in a mainstream romance series.

I've not read a lot of Brockman, but I did read When Tony Met Adam and thought it was cute.

Great review Kaetrin-my copy has not shipped even though I pre-ordered. So not a happy girl today.

Brie said...

Katie, Brockmann was one of the first who introduced a gay couple in a mainstream romance and even gave them several books, but yes, those sex scenes were fade-to-black and way tamer than her regular m/f scenes. But this was before m/m became as popular as it is now, so I'm no surprised that there was pressure to change those scenes (as Kaetrin said) or that she decided to write them that way to avoid the backlash.

Louisa Edwards' first trilogy included a recurrent m/m couple that got their HEA on the last book, but was never the main couple. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that she writes one soon. I really enjoy her voice.

Also, you haven't read Brockmann? *dies* You must read The first three Troubleshooter books right now. Now!

KT Grant said...

Brie: Oh yes, I had read that series with the secondary MM, which I did enjoy although it was very light sex wise.

I heard that Kenyon was planning on writing M/M novella featuring one of her characters from her paranormal series, which I don't read either.

Kaetrin said...

The most recent Jules/Robin novella from Brockmann had sex scenes but the story was crap IMO. All Through the Night had a great story was but much much tamer than her m/f books and that did disappoint me at the time.

When Tony Met Adam had it all and I thought it was well done, even though it ended abruptly and I wanted more of the story - the sex was romantic and hot and present on page.

I would like to read an m/m story from Kelly Hunter after reading her KISS book (The One That Got Away) earlier this year.

Anonymous said...

There was another Jules/Robin novella? The first was a letdown. Food poisoning is not sexy (but great for my vomit book list). I love the tenderness between Jules/Robin, especially given Jules's profession.

I didn't notice the lack of tenderness in Lover At Last, but maybe it's because I don't read m/m books. I was amused by the erections popping up everywhere in the story, and aside from the technical issues around anal sex that you mentioned, I thought the sex scenes reflected where the relationship was at that given point.

And thank you for lhube. I cited you in my review. :D

Kaetrin said...

@Kat - the first novella was All Through the Night and there was a novella last year called Beginnings and Endings. Loved the first (apart from the no sex), hated the second. :)

And, you're welcome for lhube - I'm surprised Ward didn't coin the term herself! LOL

Unknown said...

Great review!

I so missed lhube too!!!

Also, why did it always have to be doggy style? why not hot sex while they kiss! That would have been awesome!

When Blay was imagining it was him in Q's arms, they were both having sex with women...

Q did fuck a man, only that redheaded guy as a surrogate for Blay...

His ass was virgin... he wasn't a virgin per say... but Blay did take his asshole's virginity IMHO.

Kaetrin said...

Hi Larissa :) There was at least 1 man though yes? And I'm sure he'd had anal with girls too. I personally don't agree with such a narrow view of virginity, but I guess that's my pet peeve! (All those people saving it for marriage who have oral and anal and dare to call themselves "virgins" on their wedding nights - it bugs me.)

But, yes, I think it would have been wonderful to have more caressing and some face to face romantic sex than just the hot bangin'.

Unknown said...


I totally understand your point!! Qhuinn could have just said that Blay was the first guy he had done that with instead of calling it virginity as well.

People that say that annoy me soooo much! LOL