Genres: Adult, Paranormal, Supernatural
Also by this author: Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #1)
Source: My shelves
In the shadows of the night in Caldwell, New York, there’s a deadly war raging between vampires and their slayers. And there exists a secret band of brothers like no other - six vampire warriors, defenders of their race. Of these, Zsadist is the most terrifying member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.
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…
I remember the Black Dagger Brotherhood series as my best find of 2015 – and I wrote as such, in all my numerous BDB Goodreads reviews that year. The first book, Dark Lover, is definitely the most … well, it suffers from first book syndrome. It’s still awesome and unique and I loved it, but it’s clearly the worst book of the series in its inherent basic-ness, comparatively.
Book two, Lover Eternal, does not, in any way suffer from that same affliction. And in Lover Awakened, this third book, that “first-book-syndrome-nonsense” is actually completely forgotten. This book is absolutely incredible. It was emotional, it was vulnerable, it was aching like a raw nerve, and it completely ripped me apart.
Disclaimer: This book is incredibly emotional and is a great one to go in unaware. If you were at all intrigued by the prior BDB books, I’d recommend just picking this one up now. The rest of this review will contain slight spoilers unless you skip to the “Spoiler-Free” section. So read ahead only if you don’t want to go in blind (as recommended). All bold type is safe you just want to skim. This book does come with some hefty content warnings.
I do apologize for the slight spoilers ahead. It’s not really much you don’t already know if you’ve read the first two books/the blurb, but this is one of those books that I have to talk about.
If you’re at all familiar with Zhadist, you know he’s a scary motherf*cker. His whole body completely scarred up, gaunt, and his dead, flat eyes and shaved head don’t help matters. He was ruined long ago and has nothing but resentment and loathing left. He was kidnapped from his family as a baby, and sold. This royal warrior by birth grew up a servant, then a blood slave of the mistress of the house he worked in, kept in a cell to be fed from, and sexually assaulted for over a hundred years before he was freed and became a member of the brotherhood.
“I’m filthy. I am so very dirty. I am dirty, dirty… Can’t you see the dirt? I see it everywhere. It coats me. It seals me in. I can feel it on my skin […] “I don’t want this for you. All this… ugliness.”
But Zhadist was fundamentally broken, as you can imagine. He’s nothing but a menace to the brotherhood – sure, he kills some lessers, but doesn’t seem to give a shit about any of the Brothers themselves, involve himself in the business of the Brotherhood or do only besides kill, and be an asshole. Nobody wants to be around him, not even really his twin brother, Phury, who was the one to rescue him all those years ago. His internalized self-hatred and repulsion made me ache for him. I felt crushed by it, my poor beautiful Zhadist.
It comes as a bit of a shock, then, when Bella, friend of book two’s heroine Mary, is intrigued by him. She ignores his reputation as a killer (and not just of lessers) and tries to talk to him, where she discovers he is physically revolted by the sensation of touch. But that all happens in book two, Lover Eternal, when Bella got kidnapped by lessers and Zhadist went off the rails. In Lover Awakened, he rescues her, and then their story starts.
Zhadist really was a raw nerve. Far from the closed-off psychopath he’s suspected to be, he’s still trapped in the hellish nightmare he fought his way out of years ago and feels everything so keenly. I can’t tell you how many times I cried in this book. Bella needed comfort and a lot of help after her month in captivity, and Zhadist was terrified to be within an arm’s reach of her… but also terrified to be far away. Watching them wrestling with their demons to be there for each other was so touching. I truly loved how vulnerable the characters were 💕
Sexual abuse seems to be used as a gimmick in several books, a hurdle for a character to get over. But this… this felt real. It didn’t ignore the other side, like so many do, and instead dived into the psyche, the mental abuse. The Black Dagger Brotherhood in general can be over the top. Okay, it’s can be way over the top. But the emotions in this book? Absolutely incredible. Ward handles the dark themes with care, and she does them extremely well. Zhadist really is a loathsome character in the beginning. But his raw pain and reality is nothing short of absolutely moving.
* spoiler-safe *
Zhadist was a bit like a child. Stumbling and unsure at every turn, he tried everything else before he had to suck it up and take care of Bella himself. He messed up often (OFTEN), but gosh, it truly was a wonderful story to read 🥺 They really have something, and at times, I didn’t think they would make it. But then Zhadist would prowl into his brother’s room, and be a rude asshole (aww) and gruff about how he doesn’t know how to work the thermometer and Bella’s cold. He’ll grumble and make asshole remarks, but also be fully logged into Phury’s tutorial so he can make sure Bella is warm.
He, of course, stole the show for me. But Bella, our main heroine, was an extremely likable character and I loved her, too. She comes from a wealthy family within the vampire society (and yes…. vampire society has some archaic views and females aren’t in a great position some of the time. Especially within the aristocracy), but Bella was absolutely unapologetic about what she wanted: Zhadist. I had to admire her strength and grit to keep putting herself out there when he closed off, and to chase what she wanted. She never ran to someone else, but always pushed back.
“If I know what love is, it’s because of you.”
I remember the first time I read this one, four years ago, that I finished Lover Eternal on a road trip, and made my parents find a Barnes and Noble so I could go in and buy the next three books, absolutely rabid and desperate for this book. Then I remember sobbing in the backseat, running out of tissues and damn-near ruining my T-shirt (hey… I needed to use something!). My parents were definitely like … WTF 😂🥺
It’s amazing how JR Ward was able to dial back the camera a bit, and let the world expand so subtly. Dark Lover and Lover Eternal were very insular, within the Brotherhood, but in this one, we finally get to see more of vampire society and the world within which it functions. But the Brotherhood was still very much present! This series is a constantly evolving series, and it’s never just *one person’s* book. I’m focusing on Zhadist and Bella’s story because it’s the main plotline (and absolutely takes the cake), but we still have a lot of interesting side stories. Some interesting scenes with Vishous and Butch, and we learn a lot about Phury. Plus we get introduced to one of my other favorite characters: Rhevenge (Bella’s brother)! This book is just a standing ovation. God 🥺🙌🏼 I need to stop gushing 🤭💖
P.S. I love John Matthew <3 And poor Tohr!!!
Series Reading Order
Other books you may enjoy…
Do you enjoy paranormal/urban fantasy reads? Have you read a Black Dagger Brotherhood book? Let me know in the comments down below, I’d love to hear from you!