To me, it doesn’t seem that long ago that I met Wrath, son of Wrath, a huge, angry, lonely male, meant to be King of his race, but one that refused his throne because he thought he wasn’t worthy. Love of a woman changed that—to a degree—and his story continued. Yet, as we caught glimpses of the king within others’ stories, it was clear this was a male that was living life only half-way. We’ve all been there, doing what we think life has dictated, surrounded by just enough to make us happy, but knowing deep down something was missing.
The King, by J.R. Ward, is the 12th book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood Series. Like the previous four novels in the series, The King, promoted as the final part of Wrath and Beth’s story, is more an ensemble, chapters flittering between various characters but always coming back to the king and his shellan (that’s vampire speak for wife/mate). There’s been enough grumbling in the last few years at the path Ward has taken her books on to fill a coffin, or ten, but there’s a method to the her madness and she nails it in this book.
While Wrath and Beth’s story is the glue that keeps this book together, the secondary plots and characters provide a parallel to their story that keeps the reader turning the pages. If you set aside your preconceived notion that a romance is meant to focus on one couple, you’ll find that Ward uses her characters to enhance the king’s story, not take away from it.
The story opens with a slight of hand as we encounter Wrath, newly crowned some three hundred years ago (give or take) and set to be mated. Its love before first sight for the new king who is–surprise!–our Wrath’s father and not Wrath the younger. Like his son in the present time, Wrath the elder finds himself surrounded by traitors. His choices in dealing with this treachery molds the male into a king and the role model that Wrath the younger strives to live up to. We move from there to Sola, burglar extraordinaire, a human who found herself in a bit of trouble as her moral compass took a drastic turn a book or two back. She’s caught the eye of vampire drug lord, Assail. Their love appears doomed as they struggle with being of two very different races. Then, we have the Chosen Layla, pregnant with the child of Qhuinn, who is mated to Blay, but falling in love with the enemy, Band of Bastards’ leader Xcor. (Confused? Read the previous book, it explains everything. J) Finally, we’re returned to the Brotherhood compound, where Trez, the Shadow/Vampire, is working overtime to avoid a destiny he wants no part of. He finds himself falling for the Chosen Selena who on paper is his exact opposite but when we dig deeper we find two people very much alike. Four very different love stories, all at different stages, but each laced with the same foundation of love, hope, and destiny that defines the place Wrath and Beth find themselves in.
The King is rich with examples of romantic love. We learn through this eclectic cast of characters that there isn’t one set definition and that, despite being told millions of times through love stories over the centuries, love isn’t boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl encounter conflict, boy and girl overcome conflict and live happily ever after. No, The King gives its readers a shot in the arm of reality, told in different stages, of how love is a journey not a destination.
For those concerned and may have heard differently from the hundreds of naysayers reviewing this book, the Brotherhood is front and center throughout the story. That incredible feeling of family that Ward has created and maintained throughout her series continues in The King. The Brothers and their mates play a vital, and often hilarious, role in this book. Only those who demand every book be about their favorite brother will find fault here. Those that aren’t fans of Ward’s style of switching up storylines chapter to chapter will be disappointed…if they choose to go in close minded. The book flows like a river, moving along smoothly, occasionally encountering a bend, sometimes crashing up against unforeseen rocks, but in the end finding its way to the open sea. If I had one complaint, and I do, it would be Ward’s continued use of street language which over time has become grating on the ears. I would suggest that the Brothers and their mates watch a little less television as they’re clearly picking up vernacular heard only on the small screen.
Despite a few disappointing volumes in the series (Payne and Manny, I’m looking at you), The King brings me back to everything I love about the BDB and Ward’s amazing world that tops my list of fantasy places I’d love to get lost in on a daily basis.