Dark Lover

Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino by Emily W. Leider9780374282394

publication date: 2003
pages: 423
ISBN: 0-374-28239-0

I picked this book up as I was wandering through the library. The title caught my eye because it was also the name of the first book of a romance series I sometimes read called The Black Dagger Brotherhood. When I started the book, I knew almost nothing about Rudolph Valentino and the era of silent movies.

Rudolph Valentino was an Italian man born in 1895. He moved to New York City when he was 18, where he became a dancer and an actor in bit parts. His first big break was in 1921 as the lead in the successful silent movie The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. That role led to many more parts and to him being a new kind of sex symbol: the dark and mysterious, maybe even a little evil, lover. He had a short and powerful career and died at the age of 31 of stomach ulcers.

Dark Lover was obviously well-researched. Leider described Valentino’s life in great detail and included several passages about the biographies of the people closest to him, including his immediate family and his wives and friends. Leider also uncovered facts about Valentino’s life that had been forgotten or had been wrongly presented in other accounts of Valentino.

Although Leider’s writing did not sparkle with wit or originality, she did present a fun tone throughout the book, and an undeniable passion for the subject. Here was her description of the negative implication of Valentino dancing for money when he first arrived in New York:

American opinion found nothing strenuous in dancing done by men, whether in ballets or ballrooms. [Russian male dancer] Nijinsky, who appeared in New York in 1916 with the Ballets Russes, was slammed in the press for being effete. To move with graceful insinuation, wear citified evening clothes, show off, and make a woman sigh as you swept her across the floor – sorry, it just wouldn’t do, especially if the woman was picking up the tab. The [dancer’s] slicked-back hair became a symbol of what made him suspect. Instead of being rugged and leathery like a 100 percent American, his oiled hair and manner made him “smooth” and slithery, like the fabled snake in the grass.

The book also contained three different sets of photographs. Leider found some wonderful pictures of Valentino, including a photo of a shirtless Valentino wearing skintight goatskin pants and playing a flute.

For me, the book was about one hundred pages too long. Leider included a lot of detail throughout the book, from her descriptions of Valentino’s clothes and purchases to the summaries of his movies. Someone with more than a passing interest in Valentino’s life presumably would have found the content more engaging. To me, the book seemed repetitive at times and would drag on. Leider never elevated Valentino’s story to be more than just a recounting of facts.

3/6: more good than bad

other reviews:

The Guardian
London Review Of Books
Curled Up With a Good Book

Black Dagger Brotherhood

The Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R. Ward

books: 12 (only 11 were published at the time of this writing, the 12th has since come out)
pages: thousands upon thousands

There are 12 books in this series and I read the 11 that are currently published in a whirlwind. These are the type of books women read discretely on their Kindles. They follow the Black Dagger Brotherhood, a band of vampires that protects the Earth from the Lessening Society. Each book focuses on a different vampire as they find true love and sex. Although each book focuses on a different character, the books all include varying viewpoints.

So many things in these books were stupid. First, the names of the characters: Vishous, Phury, Tohrment, Qhuinn, Rhage, Rehvenge, Tehrorr, etc. Here’s a tip J.R. Ward, you can’t turn a word into a name just by adding an “H.” Two names were particularly galling: 1) Zsadist, which is clearly a play on the word “sadist.” “Sadist” comes from the Marquis de Sade, who was alive in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. However, these vampires were supposed to be hundreds of years old. How could Zsadist be named after someone that didn’t even exist until after he was born? 2) Wrath. You’ve probably noticed that the other names were misspelled. Wrath, however, was spelled correctly. So was that an intentional non-misspelling or does Ward not know how to spell the word “wrath?”

A second major problem was the way the men treated the women and the way the author treated femininity. The men fight, drink, have sex, and are basically brutes. And for some reason, in every book, a woman is ready and willing to fall in love with them. Unfortunately, the women usually don’t get a chance to do anything fun and instead are described as either working, being with their man, or sitting at home.

Also, sometimes the different plot lines were seemingly not on the same time line. The most egregious example involved a character, John Matthew, getting married in front of all the other characters, with Wrath officiating the ceremony. Ostensibly, at the exact same time, Wrath was sparring with, and mortally wounding, Payne, who was then languishing in the hospital with many of the characters at her bedside.

Notwithstanding everything I just said, these books were a lot of fun. I didn’t care too much about the overarching narrative of the series, but the relationships were entertaining. Many of the blooming duos were exciting, especially Qhuinn and Blaylock; however, some were downright boring (cough Wrath and Beth cough). Additionally, Ward actually created a fairly detailed world with an origin story, consisting of the Scribe Virgin; a cogent enemy, the Lessening Society; and its own rules and rituals.

However, Ward’s writing is not what I would call good. For example, here is an attempt at humor:

Great record to break there. Kind of like winning the fifty-meter ass-stroke in the Loser-lympics.

Also, no matter the inner monologue or alleged personality of a character, everyone spoke in the same high-octane, expletive-laden dialogue. But Ward did display a passion for the plot and the characters that was infectious and had me nodding my head along to sentences such as:

The images of Blay shaking his head was like a scar on Qhuinn’s brain, and didn’t that just carry him right out the far side of the kitchen to the storage room where the cases of alcohol were kept.

If you liked Fifty Shades or any vampire book ever, you will probably enjoy this series. If you’re looking for inspirational literature or marginally appropriate views on gender, then just keep right on walking.

3/6: more good than bad

Reviews of various books in the series:

USA Today
The Examiner