"Envy," J.R. Ward

Pros: Delicious romantic pairing; tense story; author does a great job of sounding like her characters
Cons: Definitely read the series in order; even characters with depth have moments of seeming like raging stereotypes; some of the “voices” of her characters were too over-the-top for me; a little too much misunderstanding
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

Thomas “Veck” DelVecchio, Jr., is the son of a famous serial killer. Dating isn’t exactly easy for him—between the girls who think he’s a curiosity or just want to bed a quasi-celebrity, and his father’s “groupies”, he’s learned to keep any relationships quick and uncomplicated. Of course everyone watches him, wondering if there’s anything of his father in him. As a homicide detective, he’s doing his damndest to prove there isn’t—while fighting some serious inner demons that constantly push and prod him in that direction. Demons that won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

After Veck punches a reporter for trying to sneak a picture, he has Internal Affairs watching his every move, in the person of one Sophia Reilly—the first woman to make him think past the end of the night. Unfortunately, he now thinks he tried to kill someone, and she’s his only hope since she seems to believe he’s innocent. And to tell the truth, he can’t really remember—he blacked out when it happened, and gets a splitting headache any time he tries to remember.

But that’s hardly the toughest thing going on in Veck and Reilly’s lives. The forces trying to push Veck into following in his father’s footsteps are real. So are the forces trying to save his soul—he’s just become the latest game piece in a particularly high-stakes game between Heaven and Hell.


 

As anyone who follows my reviews knows, I’m of the mind that installments in ongoing series (particularly ones that might go on for more than, say, three books, and that aren’t clearly labeled and numbered on the front cover) need to be able to stand alone as well as possible. You never know when a reader will pick up your book, and if she can sink her teeth into it and make sense of it from the start, you just might have a new reader who will go back and start the series from the beginning. Also, these days print runs are often small, so the beginning of a series might be out of print while the series is still ongoing—meaning new readers may not have the option of starting at the beginning.

Mind you, this is tough to pull off, and some authors do it better than others. J.R. Ward’s Envy, the third novel in her “Fallen Angels” series, doesn’t do a great job of this. I never did quite figure out the exact nature of the game between Heaven and Hell, why it takes the form it does, why the particular players are involved, and what abilities and limitations they do and don’t possess, all of which definitely made it a bit harder to figure out what was going on.

One of the things I both liked and disliked about Ward’s writing and characterization was her ability to make third-person narrative project the voice of the person whose viewpoint it’s following. I particularly liked it when she followed Reilly or Veck, because the differences between them are noticeable and interesting without being exaggerated for effect. On the other hand, it felt over-the-top when applied to the heavenly hosts, and made it difficult to concentrate on the scene rather than the language. Partially as a result of that, I had little interest in the scenes involving Jim Heron’s angelic supervisors.

There was another thing about her characterizations that I both liked and disliked. Ward seems to take a stereotype as a base in many cases (particularly in the case of the non-human entities) and then build in some depth from there. The depth is good—I absolutely adore the demon’s obsessive nature, and some of the ways in which it affects her. But there are scenes in which only the stereotype shows through, and it grates.

The romantic pairing of Reilly and Veck, further complicated, of course, by the fact that they really should not get involved, is a delicious one. They’re interesting characters that mesh in wonderful ways. My only dislike was the fact that the inevitable misunderstandings sometimes seemed too much. I love the way in which Veck is manipulated as the game piece in this wager—it actually makes for a rather interesting tale in which it’s easy to see Veck going either way, which can be tough to do well.

All in all I absolutely enjoyed this book, but I do wish I’d read the series in order, and there were pieces that felt too exaggerated.

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