Isaac Rothe is a black ops soldier with a dark past and a grim future. The target of an assassin, he finds himself behind bars, his fate in the hands of his gorgeous public defender Grier Childe. His hot attraction to her can only lead to trouble – and that’s before Jim Heron tells him his soul is in danger. Caught up in a wicked game with the demon who shadows Jim, Isaac must decide whether the soldier in him can believe that true love is the ultimate weapon against evil.
Can the phrase “sophomore slump” be applied to the second book in a series, even if it’s not the author’s second book? I don’t know, so I’m just going to roll with it. But before I roll any further, let me say this. Crave is not a bad read. Not at all. I enjoyed myself for the hours that I spent in Jim Heron’s world. There were no egregious grammatical howlers, continuity disasters, or any of the other marks of a Bad Book. The only problem with the book is that J.R. Ward has set the bar so impossibly high with most of her other books, it takes a truly stellar book from her pen to make the grade. Many other authors only wish they could write a book as good as Crave.
Crave is the second offering in J.R. Ward’s Fallen Angels series. For those of you familiar with the Warden’s work, this series, although not exactly a spin-off, is set in the same world as her other, better-known series, The Black Dagger Brotherhood, namely that of modern America with a heavy patina of the supernatural overlaid on the familiar. For those of you new to Ward’s writing, here are three words to describe her style. Gritty. Violent. Erotic. If that, plus angels and demons and the struggle between good and evil, sounds like your bag, then read on!
Jim Heron has been tapped to decide the ultimate fate of all creation. Seven souls have been designated, souls that could turn to the light or fall forever into darkness, and Jim’s interactions with each are to be key in deciding their fate. An ex-black ops soldier who spent years doing the government’s dirtiest, most secret deeds, Jim was acceptable to both sides because his own soul was balanced on the line. Both sides are playing for keeps, though, because whichever garners the most souls will rule over the Earth, destroying the other entirely.
Since Jim already has one cosmic battle under his belt, Crave is able to get right down to business, rather than devoting a lot of page space to Jim’s struggle to suspend his disbelief in the supernatural and accept his role in the fate of the world. As in Covet, however, Jim suffers from some confusion about what, exactly, his mission is supposed to be. But in Crave, the confusion is even more profound than before, and comes to light very late in the game, which left me feeling a bit like I had been the victim of a bait-n-switch.
This book seems to suffer from a bit of an identity crisis. In the first Fallen Angels book, the premise of the story and the roles of the characters were very clear. Narrative tension was created in large part by the moral ambiguity of both of the main characters. Jim Heron was tapped as the pawn in the final cosmic chess game between good and evil specifically because both sides felt he could be counted on to act in their best interests. The other main character, the first soul of the game, was a borderline case whose internal tension resulted from the unexpected entrance of a truly good woman into his life. But this formula doesn’t really work as well in the second book.
The shape of the game changes dramatically in Crave, because Jim’s butt has been firmly nailed down on the side of goodness and right. Additionally, the other main character, Isaac Rothe, is not cut from the same cloth as Vin DePietro, Jim’s target in Covet. In fact, none of the characters really are. Unlike in the first book of the series, I didn’t have the feeling that any of the characters really grew as people from the first page to the last. They were all the same people we met at the beginning of the story, with more experiences and information in most cases, but none of them were much changed in any essential way. In fact, despite nominally being the main character of the series, Jim takes a decidedly secondary role to Isaac and his burgeoning relationship with his lawyer.
It is clear to me that this is supposed to be the same sort of scenario as in the first book – good woman saves scary guy. But it just didn’t work for me. First, Isaac had already “saved” himself before the book ever started. Like Jim, he had been part of the shadowy black ops core that perpetrates dark deeds all over the globe. But Isaac walked away before the book even started. He had already decided he didn’t want any part of that life. And the tension caused by the attraction between Isaac and his lawyer? Instead of the much more interesting conflict of a good person falling in love with a not entirely good person and vice versa, with all the internal conflict that engenders, in the case of Isaac and Grier, Isaac feels like he’s not good enough for Grier for socio-economic and educational reasons. Isaac is Grier’s walk on the wild side, and Isaac resists the mutual attraction because he feels he is too much of a heel to even think of touching such an amazing specimen of womanhood. Ho hum.
Furthermore, I could not ever really decide which of the seven deadly sins was supposed to be represented in Crave, or what exactly the title had to do with the story. In Covet, it was pretty clear that Greed was the sin being exemplified, and the title made sense. But color me clueless for this second story.
Despite these problems, Crave has many things going for it. Both Isaac and Grier are very likable, if static characters. For the first time, the setting of one of J.R. Ward’s books shifts away from fictional Caldwell, NY, to the fascinating city of Boston, and the change of scene was invigorating. Ward also does not shy away from tackling sticky emotional and familial issues, in this case the effects of a family member’s self-destructive spiral into drug addiction. Weightier issues like this provide a little plot ballast to counter-balance the butt-kicking and the hot-n-heavy action, which of course, are their own sort of enjoyment. No one does them better than Ward, although both butt-kicking and hot-n-heavy seemed slightly perfunctory in comparison with her other novels.
As always when I read a J.R. Ward book, it took me a while to adjust to the vernacular of her rough, tough male protagonists. This slang lends itself particularly well to narration, rather than reading, which is one reason I own most of these books on audio, rather than in printed form. But after a period of adjustment, I was able to follow the dialogue without having to backtrack and re-read anything, and the idiom is both colorful and highly entertaining. Whether it accurately reflects the way any group of people actually talks, I can’t say. I certainly haven’t met them if they’re out there, but that really doesn’t mean anything.
Regardless, such quibbles did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. It is far from the best book J.R. Ward has ever written, but it was a perfectly enjoyable way to while away a couple of hours. Just don’t expect Crave to be another [insert your favorite Brother name] story, or even the same sort of caliber as Covet. Enjoy it for what it is, and keep your fingers crossed for a return to top form in Lover Unleashed, the next BDB novel coming out in March 2011.
You can visit J.R. Ward on the web at her homepage, which has tons of interesting information about both her Fallen Angels and Black Dagger Brotherhood series, as well as her books written under the name Jessica Bird.
There will be a chat with J.R. Ward for Crave on Friday, October 15th at 8:00pm EST. This is the link to the chatroom, which will be open about 15 minutes before the start.
Don’t miss Covet, the first book in the Fallen Angels series, either!
This book was purchased by Elvie.