Changing direction

14 Apr

I wasn’t going to write about the issues with the mis-marketing of The Shadows, the latest in J R Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood.

Mainly because I’m grateful Ward’s decision to finally admit that she doesn’t want to write romance cemented my resolution to stop wasting time on books that, while crackalicious¹ to read, have fallen too much into hate-reading territory.

And seriously, as fragile as my reading mojo is, why should I submit myself to that?

Also, because there are plenty of other people writing about it–see Gabby’s lovely rant at BookThingo, Casee’s review at Book Binge and Tez Miller take on her blog. (Reader beware: spoilers for the novel in all three links.)

Why, then, are you reading this?

Because I realized that many unhappy readers are not aware that they can return the book, or how to go about it.

Let me go back a bit.


I really enjoyed the first four, perhaps five books in the series–yes, they are over the top and and Ward’s writing tics are quite annoying, quite quickly, but when they first came out ten years ago? Oh they were different from a lot of the paranormal we were used to. Even Kresley Cole’s own brand of over the top paranormals were a full year away.

I was made aware of the first book, Dark Lover, shortly after it came out–probably through this oh so pointed and mocking post by sorely missed SmartBitch Candy²–and became instantly addicted.

Yes, I ranted all over the place about all the annoying shit one usually does when talking about Ward’s books. I.e., all the male characters sound exactly the same; whether a thirty year old Boston cop or an eight hundred year old vampire king born somewhere in Europe, there is no change in tone or phrasing or anything. Female characters with little to no agency.

The contradictions within the series–sometimes in the same freaking book!–drove me up a wall. The stupid h’s dropped everyfuckingwhere. The obsessive brand dropping. The lingo. The writing tics–gah, not one character appears to understand that questions should have, you know, a question mark at the end.

The blithe racism of a world-building that includes a race of servants whose only ambition is to serve their masters–and which goes unacknowledged throughout the series–is breathtaking, and that’s if one manages to ignore the blatant, huge and insulting cultural appropriation in the way the male protagonists talk and dress.

And I could go on and on, ad nauseam.


Despite all that, there would be moments between characters that would completely blow me away, and for the most part, those early books were one-sitting reading for me.

However, by the time the sixth novel, Lover Enshrined, came out, I was getting ready to bail. At the time, I wrote (in part):

While the first five installments are mostly paranormal romance, this novel seems to take this universe in a slightly different direction, more into the urban fantasy saga with romantic elements subgenre.

And yet, I liked Lover Enshrined. I liked it enough that I read it in one session, pretty much inhaling the thing.

I liked it despite all the many things that bothered me, and for the life of me I can’t point to any single thing and say, “I liked that, that was good.” I really don’t know why I liked it; I only know that I did.

Not a week later, I wrote this follow up post, to try to unpack what exactly makes these books so easy to read, and why so many readers who are fed up with the many, many issues in the series still felt compelled to read the next one, and the next one, and the next one after that.

(By the way, no dice, I still don’t know what makes these books so addictive.)

Through the years I’ve tried to wean myself of this shit, with little to no success.

Then I found the perfect solution: I got the books for my sister–who is thoroughly addicted and far less critical of them–so I ordered them, read them, raged about them, and passed them on to their rightful owner, both of us happy.


And so it was for the past however many books (four or five at least, all the way up to The King), with everyone involved happy with the arrangement.

Then, I saw Gabby’s rant, and followed the link to Ward’s blog over at GoodReads, and realized that I can finally wash my hands of Ward and her bullshit.

Seriously, posting a “woe is me, my pet died” and “but the characters tell me what to write and I have no control over it,” on fucking release day, with condescending insults to all the romance readers who make the series a success, without ever acknowledging how shitty it is to market fucking urban fantasy as paranormal romance?

Fuck you, Ward, and the horse you rode in on.

No way I’m wasting any more of my sister’s (or my) hard earned cash on stroking your ego.

Mind you, she is not the first author to do this–way back in the dark ages of romanceland (2007 for those of you too young to remember), Karin Slaughter killed off a main character. It was, let me tell you, quite the shock, and caused more than a few waves. (And hey, please note that Ms Slaughter, who lost a decent number of readers, wasn’t even writing a romance series!)


So, anyway.

I know there are plenty of hordes of squeeeeeeeing fangirls who are defending Ward’s choice to kill Serena off–the only Chosen with a personality, natch! From ‘unique happy ending’ to ‘realistic’ (in a series about vampires who impersonate ’80s rappers–I can’t even with this), to ‘masterful writing,’ there are all sorts of defenses of the book.

And hey, if it makes those readers happy, more power to them, yes?

But what about the many romance readers who have been gutted by it? What about those who pre-ordered it the moment the link went up, who either stayed up to start the book the moment it uploaded to their kindle, or rushed home to get it from the mailbox on the day of release, only to feel utterly betrayed by Ward’s writing choices?

Many in the comments to Ward’s lame post are basically saying to those readers, “suck it up.”

Well, guess what? You don’t really have to. Speak with your wallet. Return that sucker.

If you thought you were buying a paranormal romance novel, and agree that what you got instead was urban fantasy or paranormal romantic fiction or some such shit, contact your book retailer of choice and ask to return your copy for a refund.

I know for a fact that amazon’s customer service people will listen to you if you are clear about your reasons for returning the book (i.e., mis-categorized, mis-marketed), whether you read it to the bitter end or were put off it once you learned how it ended. I’m pretty confident that other book retailers will listen to reason, as long as you are calm, clear, polite, and firm.

Good luck.



¹ Not meant to make light of addiction, but I’m at a loss how to describe the phenomenon otherwise.

² Also worth reading is SmartBitch Candy’s review of the same book, a couple of years later. I agree with her about both the weaknesses and the strengths of the writing, and the comments are amazingly insightful. Still no answer on the main question, though: why are readers who see all these faults, addicted to these books?


33 Responses to “Changing direction”

  1. Kat 14/04/2015 at 8:27 AM #

    Well, you know my thoughts on The Shadows, but interestingly, it came up in conversation with fellow romance readers last weekend, and someone brought up Karin Slaughter and how after that character was killed off, she never picked up another one again. Readers have long memories. We remember books we adore, and we remember the ones that piss us the hell off. 😀

    • azteclady 14/04/2015 at 8:30 AM #

      Oh long memories indeed.

      In the Dear Author thread about the Karin Slaughter book, someone mentioned a Sandra Brown novel, Another Dawn, written back in 1987, and how it was the last Sandra Brown book they read.

      You know why? Because in it Ms Brown killed the hero of a previous book (in the story, he and his heroine had had about twenty years happiness together, by the way).

      We remember and we don’t forgive.

  2. Holly 14/04/2015 at 2:12 PM #

    I actually stopped reading back around book 6. I’m a very anal reader and once she started breaking her own rules to make ass backward plots work, I bailed.

    I would like to clarify this, however:

    “but the characters tell me what to write and I have no control over it,”

    Ward’s characters aren’t actually in control. By her own admission (in this video which seems to be broken now:, a nebulous dark shadow actually downloads the stories into her brain. It isn’t that the characters write themselves, but that she’s being used as a vessel for …some(one)(thing) else. Which is why she can’t change anything, else the shadow being won’t give her anymore stories to write.

    It’s actually kind of hilarious…and terrifying…when you think about it.

    • azteclady 14/04/2015 at 2:31 PM #

      Way back when I had a conversation with a writer who told me that, when the story is flowing well, it often feels like an external source is pretty much dictating it to her.

      Thing is, she always knows this is not so, and she does find ways to edit whatever doesn’t fit, etc.–while Ward is adamant that she has absolutely no control over the story.

      Which, if true… yeah, I would worry.

      PS Is this the video?

      • Holly 14/04/2015 at 2:54 PM #

        No, that isn’t the video. The one I’m thinking of she talks about sitting in her desk chair when a shadowy figure flies in the window, circles the room and then flies into her brain. She received the full story at once and when she tried to make changes to it things got screwed up and the story didn’t work (her excuse for reader outrage over a major plot hole in one of the books…I don’t remember which now).

        No, I did not make that up. I shit you not she actually said that.

      • azteclady 14/04/2015 at 2:57 PM #

        Oh I don’t doubt it at all–and I have a vague memory about having watched it as well.

        If memory serves she mentioned something about sitting at her desk, facing a window, with her cup of whatever, and feeling the presence at her back, while making lots of hand gestures?

      • Holly 14/04/2015 at 4:18 PM #

        Yep, that one. I’m all for authors doing whatever works best for them, but her explanation also struck me as …well…

      • azteclady 14/04/2015 at 4:22 PM #

        I’ve just spent entirely too much time (at work, too!) trying to find it. So far, no dice. I do remember that the video was released fairly early in the series–third book release, maybe?–but nothing more, and my google-fu is failing me miserably.

      • Holly 14/04/2015 at 4:38 PM #

        I spent a good amount of time searching for it this morning. I wonder why they removed it?

      • azteclady 21/04/2015 at 8:56 PM #

        Holly, I know that RomanceNovelsTV sorta went out of business, and it appears that whatever they had hosted on the website was through a service or hosting. Contrary to YouTube, that other service is of the ‘no pay, no show’ variety. There are a few RomanceNovelsTV videos on YouTube still available, but just a handful, sadly.

        As an aside, I’m sad that Marisa and Maria stopped, I enjoyed the site and the videos a lot back in the day.

  3. willaful 14/04/2015 at 2:17 PM #

    “I know there are plenty of hordes of squeeeeeeeing fangirls who are defending Ward’s choice to kill Serena off–the only Chosen with a personality, natch! From ‘unique happy ending’ to ‘realistic’ (in a series about vampires who impersonate ’80s rappers–I can’t even with this)”


    I didn’t get past the first 2 pages of the King. I’m done.

    • azteclady 14/04/2015 at 2:33 PM #

      I don’t know if you have ventured into the depths of that comment thread, but some of the readers defending the ending as romance are so incredibly earnest in their protestations–so many variations of “true to life” and “but Trez was happy with Selena” (for how many seconds?).

      That kool aid must be truly powerful, lemme tell you.

      • Erin Burns 14/04/2015 at 6:19 PM #

        The dark shadow is upon them…

  4. willaful 14/04/2015 at 2:17 PM #

    Whoops — that should have been, “I’m outtie.”

  5. Erin Burns 14/04/2015 at 6:18 PM #

    So very glad I was able to put this series to bed a few books ago. Even my less critical sister stopped before King. The marketing issue can be tricky. Ilona Andrews’ Burn for me, is somewhat marketed as romance, and really isn’t. But, it does seem like as a series it is going to end up there, so I don’t mind. But BDB’s sea-change in the midst of a series, there is rightful outrage here.

    • azteclady 14/04/2015 at 9:32 PM #

      I expected having the rabid fangirls come out in force to “defend” Ward’s right to write whatever the hell she wants and trying to shush and shame those readers who are upset.

      Which was never why romance readers are upset, of course.

      • Erin Burns 14/04/2015 at 9:36 PM #

        You’re right, it was about the lying, even lying by omission. Seems like there’s a lot of that going around in romancelandia currently. Fortunately for me, the Rabid Ward set isn’t even in my periphery.

      • azteclady 14/04/2015 at 9:45 PM #

        The lying is what absolutely gets me.

        As I said over at Tez Miller’s blog, the timing of her “woe is me” spoiler blog post is a kick in the face to the countless people who pre-ordered this book.

        When Karin Slaughter did it, she let people know well in advance, and gave her readers the choice to avoid the spoilers and brave the book knowing there is something upsetting ahead, or to read the spoiler and keep on with the series, or to read the spoilers, curse her to hell, and never read her again.

        It was still, IMO, a betrayal because, while the series was marketed as suspense, the relationship was pivotal, it tied the books to each other.

        But this? This is all sorts of calculated, cold blooded, manipulative flip-off to romance readers.

  6. kristiej 14/04/2015 at 8:01 PM #

    I read the first few Ward books and while I did find them compelling, there was enough that irritated me to not keep going. One of them the ridiculous number of H’s in people’s name. Plus from all that ive read, i think shes missing more than a few screws. So I don’t feel the outrage that many feel with her latest book.

    But even reading others thoughts and reviews, she has committed the ultimate betrayal to romance readers. The thing we all count on the most is the safety in the genre. We feel safe reading it because we know that how difficult it may be to get there, the end will be good and love will triumph.
    But she betrayed and even smashed that trust readers had in her and not for a moment do I believe her nutty explanation.
    I was one of those taken in by death of the previous hero in the Sandra Brown books and I haven’t read any of her books since. It wasn’t so much anger, though that was a large part. No, it was because that trust between author and reader was irrevocably broken. And as you say, when an author does that, there is no coming back

    • azteclady 14/04/2015 at 9:28 PM #

      The thing we all count on the most is the safety in the genre. We feel safe reading it because we know that how difficult it may be to get there, the end will be good and love will triumph.

      You nail it with this, Kristie. When I read a romance I want to know that I’m safe to care for these people, because even if a few pianos drop on them and a few grenades go off under their feet during the journey, in the end they will be happy–forever or for now, but happy.

      Killing off one of the main characters, while selling the book under the premise that there will be a happy ending? That’s taking advantage of the readers trust, and no, that’s not a betrayal we are likely to forgive.

  7. bamaclm 15/04/2015 at 12:55 AM #

    I bought the first book some time ago, just to see what the fuss was about. I have yet to read it; it sank into the depths of the Amazon cloud and it will probably never see the light again. 🙂

    Some of these writers need to submit a First Page over on DA. That’d show them, lol.

    • azteclady 15/04/2015 at 8:19 AM #

      I don’t know it would show Ward much. She’s published over thirty books in ten years, and a goodly number of them had sold like crazy. Her chutzpah in posting that utterly insulting tripe of a blog on release day shows she truly couldn’t care less about anyone’s view but her own. (Not that it bothers me or anything, right?)

      It is a marked change from the early days, when she spent long hours in the BDB forums interacting with her fans.Back then, she very much catered to the more vocal majority there. I’m not surprised that she eliminated all traces of those forums after selling a certain number of books and feeling secure on her fan base.

  8. andarae 20/04/2015 at 6:59 PM #

    I tried with her first book for about a hundred pages. I began reading long passages of it out loud to my partner, who frankly became concerned about my mental health as I chortled and snortled over every ahwfuhl, hihdeouhs, and rihdihcuhluhush character appeared. He took my book away, Azteclady. 10 years of marriage at that point and the man has put up with me waking him at 3 AM to ask him what he thinks bread with pickles baked in would taste like, and he could not handle me reading BDB to him. I still haven’t found that book.

    In a HILARIOUS bit of IRL gone wild, one of our IRL friends started playing World of Warcraft with us. He named his characters Tohrment, Murdher, etc…I’ve never been able to look at this gentleman the same way.

    Peep ya later, homes. I’m outie. *turns on hardcore rap, which turns out to be 2Pac*

    • Erin Burns 20/04/2015 at 7:15 PM #

      Andarae, that’s entirely too funny for words. I don’t think I could have kept a straight face if anyone I knew used those names, ever.

      • azteclady 20/04/2015 at 7:54 PM #

        Agreed–and still laughing.

    • azteclady 20/04/2015 at 7:54 PM #

      Oh dear lord, I’m crying with laughter.

      That cannot be a coincidence–it just cannot be!

      Mind you, my s.o. at the time read the first two or three while I was reading them–which, looking back, was well above and beyond. But he had enjoyed many of the romances I had recommended to him before, so he gave the BDB a very valiant try.

      Poor thing.

      • andarae 21/04/2015 at 8:45 PM #

        I feel like that would be the awkwardest book boner ever, too.

        Also can you imagine if your SO started talking like those guys? What if mine changed his name to Jhonahthan?!
        “Hey hon, where are you headed?” “Gonna go put on my shitkickers, I’m outie.”

        I would probably just have him mindwiped at that point.

      • azteclady 21/04/2015 at 8:54 PM #

        At the very least!

        And I’m still laughing.

        And also curious. Did you ever asked him why he chose those names? I would love to know what answer he gave to that question…

  9. Rhiannon 23/04/2015 at 9:37 PM #

    I remember reading the spoiler Karin Slaughter posted (I am a late comer to her series) and cried, sobbed, and sobbed some more. Seriously.

    How could she? Was it a joke? I was so lost and innocent LOL.

    • azteclady 24/04/2015 at 1:56 AM #

      I had never heard about Ms Slaughter until then, but it goes to show how long negative impressions last that her name jumped at me from the dark recesses of my memory.


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