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.)
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!)
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.
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?