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Patricia Briggs writes one of my favourite urban fantasy series featuring Mercy Thompson so when she began a spin-off series, based on a successful novella which was included in a paranormal anthology, I couldn't wait to get reading. Sadly, that first book didn't really live up to my expectations largely because I found it difficult to reach any sort of empathy with either of the main protagonists. I persevered, however, and read the second only to again find that, for me, it fell short and I'd more or less resolved not to bother with book three. Despite those intentions, I did buy it and discovered that maybe things are beginning to look up with this series after all.
Since werewolves 'came out' to the world, Charles Cornick has been employed by the Marrock, the alpha of all alphas, to act as his Enforcer. Charles is a dominant alpha, whose job is to ensure that members of the werewolf packs of North America keep within the code of behaviour the Marrock has proscribed but the job is beginning to get to Charles. As the code of werewolf ethics has been tightened up, he finds he's having to kill werewolves for quite minor disobediences and their spirits are not only haunting him but threatening to destroy his mate, Anna. In an effort to help Charles come to terms with his demons, the Marrock sends Anna, Charles's mate, on a mission to help the FBI seek out a serial killer and orders Charles to go along as her protection. Maybe dealing with a non-werewolf situation will allow Charles time to heal whatever ails him.
I absolutely love the Mercy Thompson series and I think that is probably at the root of the problems I've always had with this spin-off series. Anna, the heroine of the Alpha and Omega books is the complete antithesis of Mercy and as such, she's taken some getting used to. In fact, it's taken until this third book for me to warm up to her and to Charles, her mate.
Anna is an omega which, simply put, means that she is able to calm other werewolves, although her ability is often mistaken for being that of a submissive from the very bottom of the werewolf pecking order. When she was originally introduced in the first book of the series, Anna was a badly abused werewolf, used as a punching bag, and worse, for other members of the pack until she's eventually recognised for what she is by Charles and subsequently rescued from her ordeal. I guess what I'm saying is that Anna comes across as very much a beta personality and a submissive and therefore her character has always previously been somewhat subsumed by that of Charles. Again with Charles it's taken a while to warm up to his character as he comes across as very cold and aloof and the relationship between Charles and Anna has always seemed rather an unequal one. I'm pleased to say that in this latest book, the partnership seems rather more evenly balanced.
Anna is deeply concerned for Charles's mental wellbeing as he is clearly suffering but he's closed down the mental bond between them and refuses to allow her to share his worries. Anna has grown some backbone since the series began and she confronts the Marrock about her concerns. Although at first the Marrock, who is also Charles's father, is dismissive of Anna's concerns, he soon learns that what she says is true and he sets about trying to help his son regain his stability.
Now in Patricia Briggs' werewolf world, there are many other kinds of paranormal folk, including the Fae, and this story deals quite substantially with them. They come across as a rather dangerous and disagreeable species who merely tolerate both humankind and other paranormals. The latest person to have been taken by the serial killer is the daughter of a Fae and a human. The killer's modus operandi is to keep his victims alive for some time before he kills them and during this time he likes to torture them in very unpleasant ways. These aren't described in lurid detail but there's sufficient information to make some passages a little stomach-churning.
What I enjoyed about this book is that the author managed to produce a very creditable crime mystery alongside the development of her principal protagonists and if you discount the paranormal natures of many of the characters, it would still pass muster as a decent crime novel. There's no doubt that Patricia Briggs is a more than competent writer and she's produced a fast paced and exciting story which kept me turning the pages. She's also given more warmth and humanity, for want of a better word, to Charles and Anna and in this book they've become more appealing because of it.
The secondary characters in the book were well rounded and believable (in as much as any character in an urban fantasy can be described as such) and even the most minor players came across as more than two dimensional. Bran Cornick, the Marrock, in particular, is an intriguing character who appears not only in this but in the original Mercy Thompson series, too. I'd love to read more about him and from little hints the author drops throughout both series, I think this may well happen eventually.
Although I didn't enjoy the first two books anywhere near as much as this third one, I would advise anyone considering reading it to begin at the beginning with Cry Wolf. Fair Game can be read as a standalone but there is a lot of background that will be missing otherwise.
Rumour has it that both this and the Mercy Thompson series are going to have a major shake up with their next books, causing them to take an entirely new direction. I may have begun this book expecting it to be the last I'd read in this particular series but because of the development of the characters, the pacing of the story and the hint of major changes to come, I shall certainly be reading book four. The series may not have struck me as a howling success to begin with (pun intended) but it's certainly shaping up to be so from now on.
1. Cry Wolf
2. Hunting Ground
3. Fair Game
Paperback price: £5.19