Possession by J R Ward

A review by Evie Kendal

Warning: this review contains spoilers for the earlier novels in the Fallen Angels series.

Possession is the fifth book in J R Ward’s Fallen Angels paranormal romance series. Set in Caldwell, New York, the series follows the battle between Heaven and Hell in its final round: a race to claim the majority of seven deciding souls.

In the first novel, Covet, the recently deceased former black ops operative Jim Heron was resurrected as a fallen angel in order to play “the game.” His role involves helping the chosen souls navigate a crossroads in their lives, one that usually includes a romantic entanglement.

While both sides of the battle chose Jim for his equal parts good and evil, it soon becomes clear that he is not a neutral influence on the souls: he’s fighting for the side of Heaven. This is partly due to the fact his mother is among the souls currently residing in Heaven who would be cast out should Hell win the final battle and destroy paradise.

Heaven’s aristocratic archangels mostly abide by the Maker’s non-interference policy. However, they supply Jim some assistance in the form of two other fallen angels, Adrian and Eddie. These tough, motorcycle-riding ruffians have a variety of supernatural skills they use to help Jim in his quest.

The side of Hell, in the form of the “devil in the blue dress” Devina, is disappointed in Jim’s obvious favouring of Heaven’s interests. Being evil, Devina has no qualms about breaking the rules of the game and directly interacting with the souls. She also has a major advantage in that while Jim can only rely on vague hints from the archangels to target which souls are in play, Devina knows for sure who she needs to corrupt well in advance.

A miscommunication in the second book, Crave, actually led to Jim fighting to save the wrong soul, only realising his mistake when it was too late. This was an effective way of dealing with a potential issue for the series – how to ensure it doesn’t end prematurely.

With the premise being based on the seven deadly sins but the game being decided by a majority win, there was a risk that only four books would ever be written. After all, it would be a major downer if, in every other book, the hero and heroine got together only for one of them to be sucked into Hell. However, in Crave, Jim helps a fugitive (Isaac Rothe) get the girl, only to discover it was his hired killer (Matthias) whose soul was in play. By the end of the second book, therefore, the sides are one all.

The third novel, Envy, is another standard win for the side of good, however the next instalment, Rapture, is a rematch over Matthias’ soul. This serves as a punishment from the Maker for Devina’s cheating while also providing Jim the opportunity to redeem his mistake. Devina is allowed to keep her original point but after this rematch Jim is beating her three to one.

In her desperation, Devina has started playing very dirty, trading information about the souls in exchange for Jim allowing her to sexually and physically abuse him. Their relationship becomes more and more twisted but Devina soon realises she has actually fallen for her enemy. Jim in the meantime has fallen for Sissy Barten, the virgin sacrifice Devina made to cast a protection spell over her hideout. Jim witnesses Sissy’s soul being tortured in Hell and is going mad trying to find a way to rescue her. To make matters worse for the side of good, Adrian has been severely injured and Eddie has failed to resurrect after being killed.

With Eddie gone and Jim totally distracted, by the beginning of Possession Adrian is concerned they are going to lose the battle. He is particularly horrified that Jim is trying to trade one of his wins to Devina in exchange for Sissy’s soul when he would otherwise be only one soul away from winning. (This is another useful plot twist to keep the series running.) Recognising how Devina is manipulating Jim but unable to do anything to help him, Adrian seeks assistance from the archangels. Worried that Eddie’s soul now hangs in the balance as well, with the “saviour” so far off track and sleeping with the enemy, the situation is looking grim.

In terms of the overarching narrative, the relationships between Jim, Sissy and Devina are central. However, for the episodic narrative of Possession, the romance focuses on Cait Douglass as she tries to start a new life and decide which man is the right one for her. Brought up in a fundamentalist family, Cait has been taught to avoid all indulgences and vanity. After the tragedies she’s learned of in her community, including the brutal murder of local girl, Sissy Barten, Cait decides it’s time for her to live a little. Beginning with a shopping spree and total makeover, Cait is ready to face the world beyond her narrow sphere. Little does she know there is a supernatural battle being waged all around her…

As with all of Ward’s novels, this one shifts point of view often and effectively. The love interests all get the chance to impress themselves on the minds of the reader, each demonstrating good characterisation. While the Fallen Angels series is generally less popular than Ward’s best-selling Black Dagger Brotherhood vampire urban paranormal series, many fans of the latter still appreciate it and the series has many followers in its own right. Although it is true the Brothers are more diverse and appealing than the Angels, at the end of the day you can’t go wrong with an ensemble cast of attractive and heavily armed leather-clad brothers-in-arms fighting against the forces of evil. Nevertheless, DBD fans need to be warned that there are surprisingly few overlaps between the two series at this point (those that do exist are done well though).

In terms of recommendations, if you have never read any Ward I strongly suggest repenting of your sins and immediately consuming the entire of the BDB backlist. When this has been done, and while waiting alongside all other addicted fans for The King to be released, there will be plenty of time to read all five of the Fallen Angels novels available to date. As such, this series fills the same role CBS’s Elementary did while fans desperately held on between seasons of BBC’s Sherlock – providing a substitute of lower quality in relation to its predecessor but one that is interesting and worth exploring in itself. It is also important to remember that lower quality for Ward still represents much higher quality than most paranormal romance authors.

Doing a little pre-reading on Catholic dogma may be beneficial for new readers without any background knowledge of the faith, however for the most part the religious references are explained in the text. It is possible some readers may be offended by the use of sacred imagery in the narrative. If the gratuitous sex and violence doesn’t bother you – let’s just say these angels are not sexless – it’s unlikely this will either. This is a series that is definitely pitched at an adult audience as many of the themes would be unsuitable for children. Its appropriateness for young adults would need to be determined on a case-by-case basis, but Fallen Angels may be preferable to BDB on this score.