Monday, April 14, 2014

Cry Wolf (Alpha & Omega #1) by Patricia Briggs

Anna has been a werewolf for 3 years – and those years have been spent as the victim of the Chicago pack, a pack that brutalised and tortured her to keep her under control. Until Charles, son of the Marrock, came to town and killed the old Alpha, rescued her – and formed a mate bond with her.

She’s now a member of the Marrock’s pack and is reeling from the changes that have so transformed her life and having to come to terms with how this pack works – how it is not the abusive situation she is used to, but nor is it a haven of peace and tranquillity. There’s also the revelation that she is one of the ultra-rare Omegas and what that means, and that the mating bond with Charles has not yet solidified.

Neither she nor Charles has the chance to assimilate to the changes as a rogue werewolf appears to be killing people, just before the Marrock wants to reveal them all to the world. Charles is the only one he can send to investigate, but things escalate badly when they face an evil far more dangerous than an out of control wolf – but a centuries old threat that could destroy the entire pack.

As someone who is familiar with the world of this series from the Mercy Thompson Series, I found this book fascinating for what it developed. The story was good, it was interesting and it was well written – and certainly pulled me in and was never a struggle to read – but I think the main gem of this book was expanding the world.

Through this book we got to see more detail about the Marrock, his history, what he was and what that means. Through that we also see far more of what goes into being a werewolf – I think one of the problems with writing about such a mainstay of legends like a werewolf is that people have already read so much and tend to take that as a base line. Patricia Briggs has done an excellent job of creating something very original with the werewolves – their immortality and pack bonds – and making that a whole foundation for what it means to be a werewolf. They’re not quirks, or oddities intended to differentiate these from the generic – they’re elements that have created a truly original being and a foundation for their whole society while still paying homage to the mainstays of werewolf mythology. There’s some interesting conflict here that we’ve only seen from the outside – like the nature of being a monster, the need to kill, even the need to put down your fellow werewolves who lose themselves and what that means for your own morality.

This book also opened up witchcraft a little, which has always been something lurking in the back of the series but never really expounded upon to any great degree. These new insights add texture not just to this series but to the world as a whole – it’s one of the joys of reading an expanded universe that you can put the different stories together to create a completed whole without it feeling convoluted.

That doesn’t mean this book isn’t perfectly fine to read if you haven’t read the Mercy ThompsonSeries it’s still fascinating it still has an excellent world and it as a fun, action packed story that is paced well – managing to balance some good action, some great mystery, a few surprising twists and a lot of very concise description of the setting to really bring the mountains alive. I think the characters have a lot of potential – Anna has layers of conflict and experience and learning... but her “growth” often feels like mercurial mood swings. She’s supposed to be gaining on confidence, but she seems to swoop between meek mouse and fierce eagle between paragraphs. I think it’s supposed to be her natural Omega nature pushing through her abused nature but at times it feels… random. The ancient characters also have a pretty good sense of their age which is pretty rare to see done well. And the veteran werewolf was a wonderful and tragic figure.

Even if I hadn’t read the other series, reading this book would pull me in, incite my curiosity and encourage me to read more.

While we still have the ongoing and very cliché dominant-werewolves-who-snarl-and-own-their-women that is prevalent in this world setting (Charles can’t even stand to see his own father with Anna because ZOMG MAH WOMAN!) the emphasis is more on protection. And by protection, I don’t mean “CCTV at work and you better not go shopping on your own, because you are MAH woman and I will keep you safe!” It is much more about caring and protecting than dominating and controlling – it further adds to the texture of submissives and how valuable they are for a pack simply because Dominants are so dominant and have to play their silly games all the time that it’s submissives that give the pack reason to be.

I do feel like there’s some uncomfortable gender roles being pushed – firstly with female werewolves being so rare (which is a trope that keeps coming up in urban fantasy and there’s never really a good reason for it beyond simply wanting to keep the number of female werewolves down in the huge pack of werewolf men).

Then the Omegas – like the uber submissives. They’re so precious and wonderful and calm that they never lose control and their epic calmness even helps bring peace and serenity to raging dominant wolves who, of course, feel the desperate instinctual need

The Omegas we’ve seen/heard of are both female - which seems extra odd given the super rarity. It combines to have all these super-dominant raging, powerful men with a huge protective instinct – and these women who are super calm and serene who both tame the raging male beast and shelter and are protected by them. Which in turn adds to Anna being horrendously raped and abused for years (something which should, apparently, be nearly impossible to an Omega because of the protective instincts) to make her supremely fragile and delicate and even more need of being treated extremely gently and carefully to help her navigate her very reasonable, very well presented fear.

I do like how the Omega exists outside the pack structure – in particular their immunity to Alpha orders and he need to protect without the need to dominate that comes through with Dominants. I hope to see that developed more in future books, especially as Anna finds her feet and is less uncertain, fearful and lost.

It feels like we still have a foundation of questionable gender roles and problems, but then the individual characters and hown they work within and present the system have done a lot to remove the worse element and promote much stronger, more balanced aspects – now I want that to continue in the future books and maybe for Sage to be around more so we have another female character who isn’t an enemy of some kind.

We have 2 POC in this book – with 4 main characters that’s a decent percentage. Asil is free from stereotype, ancient, powerful, impressive and with problems – but problems that are always considered inherent to werewolves. Problems that he humanises well and generally incorporates into a very real and interesting character.

Charles is too reserved to know much of anything about him. He is Native American and there is an edge of Native America woo-woo about him. I say an edge because this is a series and a world setting where woo-woo is prevalent among many races and hardly confined to Charles – and Charles having a different kind of woo-woo compared to Europeans is understandable because there are different traditions. Nor is his woo-woo sufficient to define or empower his character – he’s far more defined by his lethal fighting skills. The flip side is that every Native American we’ve come across in this world setting seems to have some kind of woo-woo and that werewolves tend not to have much in the way of woo-woo, making Charles a little unique. I’d say the trope is more averted than played with though. I hope to see his taciturnity split a little more so we can see more than just that he loves Anna and can fight.

Unfortunately, there were no LGBT characters in this book.

As a stand alone series, this book is an excellent beginning. The characters have been set in place with good, solid foundations and at least a suggestion of depth. The world has been painted in vivid, yet broad strokes, promising both more detail and that there is more detail waiting – and worth waiting for. And the story was a good, fun one that kept me engaged even if it didn’t make my blood fizz and leave me unable to be dragged away from it.

As an add-on to the established series it adds some excellent nuances and insights we haven’t seen before – or have only seen suggested and is well worth reading for that alone.

So either alone or as part of the greater whole, it’s a good, solid read and definitely worth a place on the shelf.