The year was 2005, and I was just discovering that you could order books from Amazon and they would show up on your doorstop in a few days. (It was a simpler time.) Thanks to a part-time job, I was flush with cash and ready to spend it all on paperbacks. I even knew what I was after: something with romance, a happy ending and plenty of vampires.
In the fall of 2005, vampires were everywhere. Twilight had been just released and bookshelves were crowded with sexy bloodsuckers. And while I enjoyed the chaste tale of true love, I was looking for something a little more, well, PG-13. Or R. Or, let’s face it, even NC-17. That’s when I discovered J.R. Ward and her Black Dagger Brotherhood.
Holy. Crap. As soon as I got my hands on Dark Lover (the first book in the series), I was hooked. Talk about NC-17. Ward’s vampires are not of the sparkly teen variety. They’re dark, ancient, sexual beings who are passionate lovers and fighters and willing to do anything for the women they love.
Back then, I didn’t know that Ward would launch a powerhouse series with Dark Lover, or that 11 years later she’d have 14 books about the Brotherhood, spin-off novels, several novellas and even a few new series as well. I only knew that I couldn’t get enough of her writing and that I needed to buy any book with her name on it. Since then, I’ve devoured almost everything she’s written, scanned bookshelves for her name, and have stacks of her novels scattered around my apartment. While certain vampires may have lost a little of their luster over the years, Ward’s never have, and her Black Dagger series is better than ever. If you love paranormal romance, sexy sex scenes and devoted alpha men, then you need to be reading Ward. Immediately.
As a huge Ward fan (clearly), I definitely have my favorite books I turn to again and again. Here are my top 10 J.R. Ward novels –- and why you’ll love them just as much as I do:
Dark Lover, Black Dagger Brotherhood Book 1 (Signet, 2005)
The first in her iconic series, Dark Lover follows vampire Wrath, the leader of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. He’s on a quest for revenge, but gets (sexily) distracted by Beth Randall, the daughter of one of his warriors who’s unaware of her half-vampire side.
The Bourbon Kings, (NAL, 2015)
Ward shifts gears with the start of her Bourbon Kings series, a contemporary romance set in the South (with no vampires in sight!). The Bradfords are the richest family around, and no one is more aware of their status than their head gardener, Lizzie King. Years ago she had an affair with Lane Bradford, but they were torn apart. Now he’s back with his social-climbing wife and after Lizzie’s heart once again…
The Beast, Black Dagger Brotherhood Book 14 (NAL, April 5, 2016)
The latest novel in the Black Dagger series also happens to be one of the best. This is a continuation of Rhage and Mary’s tale, diving deeper into their happily ever after and the demons that still plague Rhage — and threaten to drive a wedge between him and his love.
Lover Awakened, Black Dagger Brotherhood Book 3 (Signet, 2006)
Ward’s heroes are always pretty complicated, and Zsadist, the vampire at the heart of Lover Awakened, is more complicated than most. After being used as a blood slave for years, Zsadist is convinced that he can no longer love. But when the human Bella is kidnapped by the Lessers (the super bad guys), Zsadist will do whatever it takes to save her. This novel is a play on Beauty and the Beast, and compulsively readable.
Blood Kiss, Black Dagger Legacy Series Book 1 (Signet, 2015)
The Black Dagger Legacy is a spin-off of Ward’s insanely popular series, focusing on the Black Dagger Brotherhood training center where recruits are taught by the original Black Dagger vampires. This first book in the series follows pure-blood vampire Paradise as she trains and falls in love with a civilian vampire recruit who she knows her father will never approve of.
The Angels’ Share, A Bourbon Kings Novel (NAL, July 26, 2016)
The Bourbon Kings series continues, this time telling the story of eldest Bradford son, Edward. While the first book was much more of a romance, this one makes it clear that Ward is setting up an epic family saga (à la Dynasty) with this series. People die, fall in love, get attacked, get redeemed and so much more in this intense novel about a wealthy Southern family and the people who serve them.
The King, Black Dagger Brotherhood Book 12 (Signet Reissue Edition, 2014)
Beth and Wrath, who we fell in love with in book 1 of the Brotherhood, are back in this tale of love and family. Wrath has finally taken the throne, but ruling the vampires is no easy job. It doesn’t help that his happily ever after is getting threatened as Beth wants a kid and he’s too afraid to bring a child into his dangerous world.
Covet, The Fallen Angels Book 1 (Signet, 2009)
Motorcycles meet angels? Sign me up. This is the first book in Ward’s Fallen Angels series about seven souls up for grabs, creating the final battleground between Heaven and Hell. Vin is one of those souls — not quite good, not completely bad. He falls in love with equally tortured Marie, but neither of one of them realize how close he is to going over to the dark side, or how catastrophic it will be if he does.
An Irresistible Bachelor (Signet, Mass Market Paperback, 2011)
Writing as Jessica Bird, this contemporary romance by Ward focuses on the wealthy Jack Walker and Callie Burke, the art conservator he falls for almost immediately. Only, she’s too far below his ‘station,’ angering his conservative mother. There’s no denying the chemistry between Jack and Callie, even as their futures — and secrets from their past — threaten to tear them apart.
Immortal, The Fallen Angels Book 6 (Signet, 2014)
This is the sixth book in Ward’s Fallen Angels series, this time telling the story of Jim Heron, the man who’s been guiding all the other lost souls toward salvation. Now his soul is up for grabs, and it’s only through love, and Sissy, the woman he saved from Hell, that he has a chance at redemption.