Dark Lover is the first of J R Ward's "Black Dagger Brotherhood" series (followed by "Lover Eternal", "Lover Awakened" and "Lover Revealed" - the last of these will be released in March 07). It's good, but not necessary, to read these books in the right order as it gives you more of a framework for the world that J R Ward has created.
Her "Black Dagger Brotherhood" are a subspecies of vampire that are warriors - they are larger and stronger than your average vampire and spend their time fighting against the vampire slayers (known as "lessers") who are de-souled human beings. The vampires and lessers slug it out on a regular basis but try to avoid all contact with humans - it's like a parallel mini-culture running in Caldwell, New York, where the books are set.
Dark Lover introduces us to the Black Dagger Brotherhood characters. The book focuses on Wrath who is almost blind and is the king of the vampires although he doesn't actually seem to be doing anything with his position - he's just another warrior like the rest of the brothers. The other brothers are Rhage, Vishous, Phury, Tohrment and Zsadist. Yes, terribly cheesy names which really irritated me to start with although I've now got used to them.
Anyway, in Dark Lover, Darius (another member of the Brotherhood who gets killed just a few pages into the book) asks Wrath to take care of his daughter who is approaching her "transition". In J R Ward's vampire world, vampires start off rather weedy and then when they hit about 25 years old they have their transition which requires them to drink the blood of a member of the opposite sex as their bodies change into full vampire mode. Darius's daughter, being half human, is in danger of not surviving her transition; Darius asks Wrath to provide the blood for it as he is the last purebred vampire on the earth so his blood is the best. He refuses but when Darius is killed he realises he has to do this for the sake of the memory of his friend.
And so we meet Beth who's working as a journalist covering the crime beat - she has a semi-friend in homicide Detective Butch O'Neal (who actually pops up in the other Black Dagger Brotherhood books and is a great character). When she initially meets Wrath she is terrified by him - a leather-clad, colossally tall man who is armed to the teeth. But they seem to get along rather well fairly quickly and she finds herself on the run from the police with him, when they think Wrath is responsible. Will she survive her transition and will Wrath face up to his responsibilities within the vampire community?
These books aren't for the fainthearted who don't like reading about swearing, sex and violence. But they're not just saucy romps, there is quite a lot of characterisation as well as an understanding of human nature and an emphasis on honour and shared brotherly commitment. Although excellent in itself, the next two books are even better as J R Ward got into her stride writing them, but this is a very worthy beginning to the series and I recommend it to the not-faint-hearted.