Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Omega (War of Alphas #1) by SM Reine

When the Genesis struck, Deidre died. So did a huge amount of the world population. Afterwards she – and they – were reborn into a completely new world. The old systems were destroyed and the people who came back were different – the supernatural of legend were no longer tiny remnants clinging to the edge of society, they were everyone

Deidre is a shapeshifter – though she has no idea what kind since she never shits. As an Omega and with her family dead, she fell through the cracks in the new world that emerged; a world that was largely build and shaped by Rylie, werewolf Alpha and revered leader of the new world. Albeit that part of the new world who were supported when the world changed – for people like Deidre, not so much

Which makes it painfully ironic when it’s Deidre Rylie turns to when a new threat arises: Stark, powerful Alpha rallying the dispossessed and willing to do anything to claim power

The world comes with an interesting lens of oppression. The upheaval described has left so many people somewhat dispossessed; even while providing a system of benefits. The mere fact there are benefits and support for supernatural who are not part of Rylie’s pack doesn’t change that there’s a clear two tier society that has been created and that those living on those benefits, even if they are generous in some ways, are living difficult lives and ones without a lot of support and understanding. Things that are considered luxuries by the Pack (like the land, space and ability to hunt) are keenly felt lacks in the lives of those outside her circle.

In particular I like how we can see the system developed to support supernaturals is very impersonal and has little understanding of their actual needs, especially those that aren’t part of the major group – such as the hostility Deidre faces as an Omega or even as simple as the food rations they receive being heavy in red meat because it’s all designed around a werewolf’s diet.

Of course, that doesn’t make the alternative any more palatable – Stark is brutal and vicious and violent and many of his followers are terrible people. But many more are simply alone, with few resources and just plain angry. Angry at a system that brushes them aside, puts them as lesser and adopts a rough “that’ll do” plugging measure; while those Rylie has deemed acceptable having  loving, fulfilling family life that is full of opportunities, potential and fully supportive of their supernatural nature; others like Deidre were sent to ill-equipped institutions with a whole lot of closed doors attached. It’s an involved depiction and does a lot to explain why a lot of basically decent people are taken in by Stark

And there’s more – because there’s a lot of nuance here – Stark’s followers don’t especially know what it is to be part of a pack or a group or even how to be shapeshifters since most supernaturals are newly created after the Genesis. So when he peddles his vision of brutal hunters and survival of the fittest and unification there’s no real counter message

Surprisingly for me, I even quite liked Deidre and Gage’s relationship despite it having all of the ingredients I dislike. He has a vast amount of angst and they seemed to become invested in each other far faster than I could understand but there’s some nice depth there. Gage’s angst has a strong backing and his complete despair is very understated but powerful and informs every element of his character. There different backgrounds are used as an excellent method of showing the conflict between those who have grown up under Rylie’s wing and those who have made do with the stop-gap institutions she put in place. It works – and it works because both characters are so very real and strongly developed.

On to plot – I don’t even think I can comment yet. This is very clearly the first instalment, the prologue, to a whole new series. It’s not meant to tell a story, it’s meant to introduce a story, introduce the characters and remind us of the world setting. It does all of that perfectly. It does not tell a story arc – it doesn’t even try to. Nothing is resolved, no conflict is particularly developed and no real direction has been set. This is all good – it’s an introduction and doesn’t pretend to be anything but that.

I am left with a feeling that I need to read a lot more of S.M. Reine’s books. She has written many series and they all seem to be connected and set in the same world – and with a lot of character cross over. Each of these series is written in a way that means you don’t need to have read the others, you can keep up without them. But at the same time I have a huge feeling that I am missing so much – not missing plot elements that make it hard to follow, but missing things that would add so much richness and depth to the world if I had. Like I can read this story with Ryley as the de-facto leader of the US who has managed to bring people through the cataclysm, however imperfectly and the story works perfectly. But how much more will I appreciate it having read the Seasons of the Moon series and The Ascension series which have so much more of Rylie’s story and the events in this worl? I don’t need to read these other series to appreciate Omega, but I think that reading them would make Omega better. I appreciate the balance and skilled writing that has gone into making these series stand alone while, at the same time, drawing me into the wider universe.

On inclusion - our protagonist, Deidre, is Black. I had to get a long way through the book to be sure about that (there are hints but it’s a whole lot of ambiguousness in descriptions for a long time – things like mentioning her straightened black hair - but finally does become completely clear later). There are also a number of other POC in Ryley’s pack including her mate.  Several of the members of Stark’s group are also POC, it’s a decent showing.

Deidre also has female friends – Niamh is her closest friend and confident, her room mate is Jolene who has a much more minor role – but nor more so than most of the characters in the book. She doesn’t compare herself against these beautiful women and consider herself lacking nor does she resent or hate them – she seems to genuinely like them and they have their own issues that she respects. Of course, there’s also Rylie who is the major power in the world – she’s not perfect but I like how her decisions and regrets are presented.

There are no LGBT people in this book.

This book was excellent – and an excellent introduction but it also added massively to my to read list. I want to read the next book, I can’t wait to read the next book, the next book is already calling to me. However, I don’t want to read the next book without being far more immersed in this world setting. There are an enormous number of books in this world setting and I think to get the most out of them all I need to read them all; each will improve the others

It’s going to be a lot to read but it’s definitely going to be worth it.