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Thursday, May 13, 2021

'Wild Sign' Alpha and Omega #6 by Patricia Briggs


From the BLURB: 

In the wilds of the Northern California mountains, all the inhabitants of a small town have gone missing. It's as if the people picked up and left everything they owned behind. Fearing something supernatural might be going on, the FBI taps a source they've consulted in the past: the werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham. But Charles and Anna soon find a deserted town is the least of the mysteries they face.

Death sings in the forest, and when it calls, Charles and Anna must answer. Something has awakened in the heart of the California mountains, something old and dangerous - and it has met werewolves before.

The last 'Alpha & Omega' (Charles & Anna) book we got was 'Burn Bright' in 2018, and I think reading this sixth instalment in their spin-off series I really felt that lag ... but I seem to be one of the only ones; everyone else is raving about 'Wild Sign' and particularly ~that ending~ (which I shall get to).

'Wild Sign' on the surface, is offering a tantalising bit of insight and history to one of Patricia Briggs' most controversial characters - mate to the Marrok, Leah. We learn how Bran and Leah came to be mated, under the strangest of circumstances and hardest of times for both of them - and we also learn that some malevolent evil *thing* has likely just awoken, and is calling to Leah again. Bran sends Charles, Anna and berserker werewolf Tag to go and investigate as this awakening has seemingly coincided with a mysterious disappearance of a colony of humans, with heavy Roanoke vibes - from land that Leah once lived on, and not owns but has now returned to in many many years...

This is the central whodunnit to 'Wild Sign' that Charles & Anna need to investigate, with "henchman" Tag tagging along. One of the side-effects of this strange magic ~something~ is a play around with memory and time, so the investigation sees Anna occasionally thrown back into the past when she was an abused werewolf Omega at the hand of her old and sick pack. This offers an interesting contrast and character-development; to see the old Anna alongside the new - who has been mated and nurtured by Charles for these many years.

But I still read Charles & Anna as overly careful with one another. On the one hand I appreciate this - Briggs is an author who treats trauma with the weight it deserves, and just as in 'Mercy Thompson' there are abuses and events from protagonist's pasts that they carry with them, always. They're never forgotten, only reformed in each new situation and with the passage of time. But alongside this were a couple of moments when Anna kept something - relatively minor, admittedly - from Charles, when she didn't confide and tell him. Similarly there was one or two instances when Charles knows that Anna is wary of him and his choices, or else he knows she's trying to protect him (by locking down the mate-bond) and this has the opposite effect to what she intends, but he doesn't tell her for fear of hurting her feelings ... And I just found that slightly ~odd~ that even now, after all this time and how far they've come, that Anna and Charles can still be so cautious around one another and lack that communication.

Maybe that's just me. Anna - like I said - is a survivor, and Charles has gone for many centuries on his own as an active outcast from most of werewolf society, who had to fear him in order to stay in line. These are effectively two 'broken' people now navigating the world together (and - sure - there's no tension if there's no room for growth, I get it!). But I think it's also the lag in book-releases for this series that makes me feel that way? I always tap back in (in this case, after a 2-year break between books!) expecting us to be further along in this epic love story relationship, and then little stuff like this reminds me; "Ohhhhh, okay. No. We're still in relationship infancy here."

In terms of other characters, I was also kinda disappointed here? Tag is great and funny, but I feel like we only got surface-level stuff with him. I was also really bummed that werewolf Asil didn't feature much at all in this book, and after he was sort of in the middle of the whodunnit in 'Burn Bright' and betrayed by a fellow pack member. I *love* Asil, he's one of my faves and a character I'd genuinely love to read a spin-off series for (like; knowing how much of Asil's character is built around the tragedy of losing his mate long ago, ~imagine~ if a new mate-bond called to him!?! ... though I admit, this could also be my pining for a story similar to 'Blood Challenge' book by Eileen Wilks, and the Benedict/Arjenie relationship.)

Bran and Leah really seemed primed to be at the centre of the 'Wild Sign' story too, but once again Briggs veers away from going too deep with these two - seemingly determined to keep Bran mysterious and ruined - and so they barely feature. I can't say I'm such a Leah fan (who is?) or overly invested in finding out her backstory, but I was kinda bummed when 'Wild Sign' failed to overly deliver on fleshing out her character in the here and *now* overly, and the tantalising bit at the end felt very tacked on. I know Briggs has said that Bran is too hard a character to spend much time with - he's too old and all-knowing, temperamental and it wouldn't work to dig deeper there for his mystery overall, but ... give us *something!*

And now finally - that ending that I've seen a bunch of people get excited over. Ummmmm. Again - is this ~just me~ who pulled the "meh" face throughout it all? <spoiler: highlight to read> 
Look; Samuel is still one of the biggest disappointments in this series, to me. From where he started - in this tragic and intriguing love triangle with Adam and Mercy - to the complete cop-out of Briggs saying "oh yeah, he had an old fae flame who was his actual true-love and now she's back in his life! Yay!" Samuel is the epitome of after-thought. So it almost makes 100% sense that he appears in the freakin' epilogue here and with another convenient "Oh yeah, Ariana and I had a kid and we can't keep it for ~reasons~ so now I'll be Uncle Samuel and you can raise this kid for me, Charles & Anna. Peace-out!" Like ... WHAT?!? Confession: I also 1000% forgot his mate's name was Ariana and what she was all about. That's how little impact Samuel has had on this series since Briggs effectively wrote him out. And also how little I care for any fae storyline or character. So: MEH. <end spoiler>

Am I excited for the next instalment in this series (that'll probably come in 2-3 years?) Sure! Absolutely! Do I still love these characters and want to keep hanging out with them? Yes! But do I need a *little* more give-and-take in the development overall? Heck yeah.

(I'm yo-yoing on this one, I know)

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