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.
A couple of days ago, I felt a strong need for a comfort read – something new that would engage my curiosity but something familiar enough for me to settle in to quickly. I saw ‘Wild Sign’ the sixth and most recent of Patricia Briggs’ Alpha and Omega books and decided that another visit with Anna and Charles would fit the bill.
The book got off to a slowish but comfortable start, reconnecting with the characters I know, sliding in a bit of history that felt suspiciously revisionist to me but seems necessary to the plot and setting up the current mystery challenging Anna and Charles.
Everything was going well until about a third of the way through the book when, by means I won’t explain here, Anna finds herself reliving the worst moments of her life when she was a victim of prolonged, vicious, malevolent physical abuse.
I had a strong urge to stop reading.
It wasn’t that the abuse was new information. This was the situation Anna was in when I first met her in the short story ‘Alpha and Omega’. It wasn’t that the description of the abuse was too much to take. The description was full of threat and fear but we never got to the details.
What I wanted to turn away from was what the abuse meant, the intent behind it and the knowledge of what it did to Anna.
Over the past five books, I’ve grown to like and admire Anna. The gap between who she is and what Justin tried to make her is what made the abuse real to me. It’s easy to use a word like degradation casually but its a word that contains a lot of evil in its intent. Knowing who Anna is now that she’s happy and secure and strong and knowing that that is exactly what Justin was trying to annihilate gave me an inescapable measure of the degree of degradation. That’s what made me want to stop reading.
Fortunately, Patricia Briggs didn’t make me stay in that moment for very long but it’s clear this won’t be a cosy read. This is a story with something twisted and evil at its heart.
I know that making that evil tangible and individual is a large part of what will make this story work but it was a darkness I hadn’t expected when I opened the book.
When I first saw book descriptions being prefixed with trigger warnings a few years ago, I was quite sniffy about it in an I’m a big boy and I don’t need anyone to warn me about what I’m about to read sort of way.
Now I’m not so sniffy. There are topics that touch pain points in my life that I don’t want to read about. Dystopian visions have been added to that list in recent times as politicians in my country have turned hatred into a political currency and venality into to a virtue. Violence against women has always been on my list of things I find hard to read about. Not from personal experience but just because it is an open sore in my society that we choose to live with rather than heal.
So my comfort read suddenly pushed me into thinking about abuse and degradation and the evil hunger that sits behind both and how common it is and how long its been going on and how unlikely it is ever to change and how angry it makes me and how it creates in me a similar hunger for violence… and… and… and… I find myself grinding my teeth and stuck in a loop of impotent anger, feeling like my mind has been tainted.
It seems to me that trigger warnings aren’t as ‘precious baby’ as I thought they were. I need a new trigger warning for books like this: WELL-WRITTEN SCENES WITH PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT EXPERIENCING PAIN.