Anna is worried about Charles – ever since the werewolves were revealed to the world, the laws have been enforced with brutal, almost draconian, strictness. And Charles is the enforcer of those draconian laws. The killing always wore at him – but not nearly as much as the deaths he feels are unjust
A serial killer case with the human investigators asking for werewolf help presents an excellent opportunity –Charles can help stop a killer rather than being one, helping the authorities for some good PR for the werewolves (and some careful education) and remove a monster from the streets. A monster who is apparently targeting werewolves and the fae.
This book added a few pieces to the world setting here – elements I’d seen from the Mercy Thompson series but get to see much more closely with these books since we’re closer to the decision making. We get to see the conflict that arises after the werewolves are revealed to the world, the difficulties this causes, the way the werewolves have had to change and the problems that has caused. The idea that werewolves are now having to avoid anything that could make them look bad (including loss of control when very young) leads to what is considered an almost draconian rule. There’s lots of interesting political nuggets – like trying to declare werewolves an endangered species as a sneaky way to have them classed as animals rather than humans.
And Charles is the one to enforce it. I would say this is some decent character development with Charles – and it is; after all he is viewed by the werewolf world as the ultimate boogeyman, the executioner who comes for you when you are bad, the monster lurking and that reputation hurts him – and gives him a terrible self-image. This knocks on with Anna because he’s worried about not being good enough for her, that he’s too blood stained or that she will be especially horrified by his death count (especially since, as an Omega, she’s one of the few werewolves who doesn’t face the wolf’s urge to kill). My only question with this development is that it’s old ground. Charles has been going through the exact same issues since he and Anna first met, so I want to know when he’s actually going to make sufficient progress on them – not necessarily to get over them, but at least not to shut down and decide that Anna is going to think he’s a terribad monster.
What is great development is how it shows how these things can wear on any person, but also how these issues mix with the political realities of the world they’re in. This is a minor theme of the book - with Bran trying to juggle everything and realising that, frankly, he cannot, something has to be sacrificed. And that sacrifice may be his son. The political and the personal are difficult things to balance especially in these fragile times which involves a clot of co-operation with people they don’t necessarily
This all fits excellently with the ending which is both supremely complicated and satisfying – showing off both the injustice of the human justice system and still giving us immense satisfaction of the bady guys being well and truly finished off. But it also fits the political vs personal theme – was the ending a mistake on the part of the actor? (Behold my dancing around the spoilers!) As much as it was satisfying, did they allow the personal to overwhelm good politics? The fact it was maintained or returned to in the book looks good for the rest of this series
There were two elements of this otherwise great story that I didn’t particularly like.
Firstly, towards the middle or middle-end, I got lost. We had a lot of characters from a lot of different agencies, from the wolf pack, witches, we had clues we past crimes and current crimes and relatives of victims – we had a whole lot of things going on that it felt like we jumped and I’m not sure why. Going back I can parse what everyone did and why and where we ended up, but that first reading left me feeling like I’d missed something and got turned round. I want from A to D and had to go back and figure out where B and C went – B and C were still there, but it took a second look to find them.
The second issue is the conflict between the two storylines. Anna and Bran are worried about Charles so have decided to give him something to do where he can be the hero and he doesn’t have to be the evil bad executioner all the time; this is a great way to help him get through his issues. He is being a hero by investigating a serial killer – so we have Charles issues and Anna’s worry about those issues in the middle of a police investigation and many raped, tortured and dead people. Part of me wants to say that using such a severe crime scene as therapy is… self-absorbed. Especially when Anna does the holiday thing and tours Boston all light and carefree after they’ve done very little in the way of police work. I get that there’s not much they can do and they’re primarily there as a resource and they certainly don’t want to give the impression they’re taking over; but a little more agonising about how they’re unable to help, or trying to do more, or overtly lamenting that they couldn’t do more – some sense of urgency or importance in the early-middle of the book would have helped a lot.
The Alpha & Omega series does a great job of subverting many of the tropes that so dogged the Mercy Thompson series that is set in the same world. Anna is strong and challenging and while so many werewolves duck and cower before their dominants (which has caused so many terrible dynamics). In fact, she openly challenges Bran in an awesome fashion and when he tries to pull the “I am Alpha RAWR” game she shrugs it off and is not impressed. If he doesn’t listen she thinks, she considers and she approaches things from a different angle. In a world of RAWR WEREWOLF she is the firm, quiet “no, think” that gets a lot done.
She also views the whole werewolf dominance thing very differently – because she doesn’t personalise it, she introduces it to others as a strange cultural quirk it’s just polite to work around.
Some of the issues continue – I still see no reason why female werewolves need to be super-duper rare (that’s actually a genre issue not just a world setting issue), for example. I’d also like to see a book where Anna isn’t considered a super special prize to be targeted and kidnapped or hunted which is an ongoing theme. It’s like every villain in the world wakes up and somewhere on his checklist (near the top) will be to kidnap Anna. It’s a requirement – I think it may be union rules. Somewhere out there a bald guy is stroking his white Persian cat, has dug his piranha pool, hired his shockingly inaccurate minions and is now arranging for Anna’s kidnap.
We also had another good female character in Leslie. FBI agent, intelligent, careful, quick to learn and use what resources are open to her without prejudice, wisely suspicious of new agencies popping up die to supernatural paranoia. She’s fair and brave and sensible with good instincts and her own history with the fae. I like her, I’d actually quite like to see another spin off series with her – because she has excellent potential.
There are no LGBT characters but there were several POC. Leslie is a Black woman and has a regular presence in the book – she’s even a POV character (which brings a nice human view over the world setting which we don’t get anywhere else). The Alpha of the local pack, Isaac, is also Black. He’s rash and young to be Alpha, but he’s also very sensible for his age, much better than many Alphas much older than him as is clear on a few occasions and even gives Charles some much needed advice and a wake up call. He’s young, but he deserves to be Alpha and makes Boston another location in this world I really want to watch and see more of.
And, of course, Charles is a Native American. There’s still a lot of “special woo-woo” around Charles, but there’s also some research into history and tribe rather than just making him a random, ill-defined Native American. He remains one of the greatest powers in the world setting as Bran’s son and enforcer.
This series is starting to get deep and involved around the edges which I think is definitely what is needed, something to explore the wider world setting while the Mercy Thompson series is a much closer, more personal tale. I think it makes the two series work extremely well together (I wouldn’t normally mention another series as much as I am doing here except they do really work well in bringing 2 different angles to the same world). I really do hope it keeps this up with Anna challenging and more of the greater world being revealed – so long as Charles shows some indication of getting off the angst train