Patricia Brigg’s Alpha & Omega books have become a comfort read for me. I especially enjoyed the last two books, ‘Dead Heat’ and ‘Burn Bright’. I slipped into ‘Wild Sign’ expecting more of the same but, about a third of the way through the book, I almost set it aside. It made me realise what trigger warnings were for because it pulled a couple of my own. I wrote a post about my thoughts trigger warnings and reading about abuse in ‘Wild Sign’ but decided to continue on with the book.
I finished it yesterday. It was an above-average Urban Fantasy story with a strong ensemble cast that I know well, a set of deeply evil opponents, some well-done fight scenes and a slightly uneven pace. But I never really got past the abuse. Mostly because the more I read, the more abuse there was.
I understand that it’s reasonable, maybe even necessary, for a writer to write bad guys who are fundamentally evil. Without them, how would we know who the good guys are? Especially when the good guys turn into wolves and that kill efficiently and with a certain amount of glee. Patricia Briggs gives us two sets of evil to contemplate here: the Hardisty witches who we’ve met before and who only become worse on closer acquaintance and another, mysterious force that steals memories and feeds off fear and pain. The catalogue of their crimes includes abduction, rape, enslavement, torture, mind control and the sex trafficking of children. Their victims include the two main female werewolves in the ensemble cast. The ‘solution’ to the problem involved traumatic, life-changing violence.
Normally, I’d add that none of this nastiness was gratuitous but, in a way, it was all gratuitous. This whole plot pivoted on using power to make people helpless, to take away their dignity, and to subject them to physical and emotional abuse that robs them of their sense of self. So, no there weren’t any exploitative scenes of sex or violence but why choose this plot?
I know I’m not being entirely fair here. The Alpha & Omega series has always been about abuse. Anna was a long term victim of sexual and emotional abuse. Charles is constantly placed, by his father, in a role that demands so much violence from him that he had begun to see himself as a monster. This was never a cosy storyline. But, up to now, the thrust of the story was about Anna and Charles helping each other recover from that abuse. In this story, that element seemed to be lost. The relationship between Anna and Charles was still given prominence and was still essentially mutually redemptive but most of the story emphasised vulnerability and the permanent nature of the scars that abuse leaves.
So the Alpha & Omega series is still on my reading list but I won’t be assuming that it’s a comfort read anymore.