Jul 21 2008
Dear Ms. Briggs,
Once in a while there comes a book that sweeps you off your feet, a book you fall in love with so completely that it is hard to do justice to that love in a review. Alpha and Omega and Cry Wolf made me feel that way.
Because of the way I read them — first Alpha and Omega (from the anthology On the Prowl), then Alpha and Omega again, and then again Alpha and Omega, then Cry Wolf, and then more bits and pieces of Alpha and Omega and favorite parts (which means a good portion of the book) of Cry Wolf — and because they follow the same main characters and the same romantic relationship, it is hard for me to separate the two. I am, I think, going to have to review both together.
Here I sit, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, trying to explain the euphoric grin I’m wearing. If someone had given me a bare bones description of Alpha and Omega — “Alpha werewolf hero, sexually traumatized heroine who possesses special abilities she is unaware of, and instant attraction between mates” — I might have written it off, thinking I’d read that before. But I would have been wrong, and I’d have missed out on the start of a wonderful series.
A waitress at an Italian restaurant in Chicago, Anna Latham is also a werewolf. Three years ago, Anna was changed into a werewolf against her will. To say that Anna’s wolf pack mistreats her is an understatement: the alpha of her pack, a werewolf named Leo, not only takes some of her earnings, but he has allowed the men in the pack to beat her and to pass her around.
After being raped repeatedly, Anna finally found a way to put a stop to the worst of the abuse, but the threat of being brutalized further is still hanging over her when she sees an article in the newspaper about the disappearance of a young man whom Leo had held captive. Though she is terrified of werewolves, and of dominant werewolves most especially, the article galvanizes Anna into calling Bran, the Marrok, or alpha of all of North America’s werewolf packs, in the hopes that the young man who has disappeared can be saved.
Bran tells Anna that he already knows about the situation and has dispatched someone to Chicago to deal with it. He suggests she avoid her pack members, who may retaliate against her for calling him, and meet the man he has sent at the airport. Anna forgets to ask Bran for his investigator’s description, but at the airport, Anna recognizes the man immediately.
Charles is a werewolf whose force of personality is such that people can’t look away from him. Half Native American and nearly two hundred years old, Charles is also Bran’s son and one of his roles is to act as his father’s enforcer. He’s described in Anna’s POV as having long dark hair, gold ear studs, “youth-taut, teak-colored skin,” and “an expression that was oppressive in its very blankness.”
If Anna realizes on instant that Charles is a werewolf even more dominant than Leo, Charles takes only a little longer to realize that Anna is a werewolf as well. His first assessment after that is that she is a submissive, which is what Anna believes herself to be, but a moment later he realizes that she is something far more unusual: an omega werewolf, capable of calming dominant werewolves.
The wolf in Charles (whom he frequently refers to as “brother wolf”) is drawn to Anna immediately and wants her for his mate. But the human part of Charles is more cautious and wants to get to know her better first. He senses that Anna is afraid and tries to set her at ease with only partial success.
The attraction between Charles and Anna unsettles both of them, because it is something neither of them is used to and it thwarts their goals to, in Anna’s case, keep out of the way of any dominant wolf in order to avoid abuse, and in Charles’ case, keep a level head while investigating Leo’s pack. Anna’s fear of him infuriates the wolf inside Charles because it’s evidence of what she suffered. She senses the rage beneath his controlled exterior, which creates a kind of vicious cycle.
Alpha and Omega is set in the same world as the Mercy Thompson series, but unlike Moon Called (the first of the Mercy books and the only one I have read) , Alpha and Omega is written in third person and in sections alternating Anna and Charles’ viewpoints. Perhaps for this reason, it seemed much more relationship-focused and romance driven to me than Moon Called.
Charles and Anna both experience powerful internal conflicts; Anna as she’s torn between the part of her that feels safe with Charles and the part that fears him, and Charles when his usual control over his emotions slips and possessive and protective instincts toward Anna threaten to get in the way of his ability to find out what is going wrong in Chicago. His position as Bran’s second requires him to establish the guilt or innocence of Anna’s pack members before executing guilty parties, rather than give in to his wolf’s need to strike back at them for hurting her.
Charles and Anna’s falling in love is a joy to behold because it brings them both out of their shells — Anna gradually finds more and more courage, while Charles, who has always held most werewolves at arm’s length for fear that he might someday be required to kill them, starts to allow himself to get close to another person.
In Jane’s review of On the Prowl (where reviews of the other three novellas in this anthology can be found) she said “Anna, despite her emotional and physical trauma, is able to respond to Charles’ physical demands in a relatively short amount of time. I recognize that this is an anthology but perhaps the characterizations of such a damaged individual like Anna should be saved for a longer writing form.”
While I can understand Jane’s reaction, my own was different. Anna’s physical response to Charles in Alpha and Omega is limited to one or two kisses (sex, which is a whole other ball of wax, is dealt with in Cry Wolf), and even that response, I saw as being partly due to the wolf component of Anna. The story does have a happy ending, but I didn’t feel that Anna got over all of her issues, just that she was on the road to recovery and I had some faith that she and Charles would find a way to make each other happy.
Alpha and Omega is not perfect — I figured out the source of the problems in Anna’s pack before Charles did, and thought the novella felt compressed and ended a bit abruptly — but when I enjoy a story this much, perfection becomes a lesser concern to me. I was blown away by my own emotional response and that was more than enough.
After reading Alpha and Omega for the third time, I was dying to read Cry Wolf. Before I proceed to review it, I suggest that readers who want to remain in the dark about the outcome of Alpha and Omega read no further, since is virtually impossible to review Cry Wolf without including a few spoilers for its prequel.
(Speaking of spoilers, readers who haven’t yet read Moon Called and would like to do so should be aware that there some of the things mentioned in Cry Wolf are major spoilers for Moon Called.)
Cry Wolf begins with a prologue set in the Cabinet Wilderness of northwestern Montana. Walter Rice, a hermit, saves a graduate student from a monstrous beast and gets injured in the process.
Then the story picks up again in Chicago where Alpha and Omega left off — only a day and a half after Charles and Anna first met. Charles is in his wolf form in order to recover faster from his injuries, so it is Bran who assists Anna in gathering her belongings from her apartment to prepare for moving to Montana. Without Charles at her side, Anna becomes afraid again — of Bran, and of the members of the Chicago wolf pack, who show up at the apartment to help her move.
After an unpleasant confrontation with one of her pack members, Bran and Anna return to the Chicago pack’s headquarters to discover that the wolf who is Charles has torn apart the silver-barred holding room he was left in. But in Anna’s presence, Charles calms. Nevertheless, Bran feels that Charles should get checked out by his own pack’s doctor (who happens to be Charles’ half-brother Samuel), so he whisks Charles and Anna to his private plane and flies them to Montana without giving Anna time to say goodbye to her boss and her neighbor in person.
In Charles’ Montana home, Anna is overwhelmed by the tastefully luxurious surroundings, which contrast sharply with the cheap and flimsy furnishings of her own apartment. She feels out of place and wonders what she is doing there, in the home of a man she’s known less than two days, and whether she has any other place she can go.
In one of many romantic moments from Cry Wolf, a wounded Charles shifts back to human form even though it endangers his recovery, because he senses Anna’s ambivalence and wants to try to convince her to stay. On seeing how hurt Charles is, Anna becomes more concerned for Charles than with her own circumstances, and she calls on the wolf part of herself so that she can help him.
Usually it is the humans who choose each other first and the wolves who take a long time to bond, but in Anna and Charles’ case the reverse is true. Their wolf halves are absolutely certain of their feelings for each other, while their human selves are still somewhat thrown by those intense feelings. This internal conflict is beautifully delineated in some of Anna’s ruminations:
Hers. He was hers, whispered that part of her that didn’t worry about human concerns. Whatever fears Anna had about the rapid changes in her life, her wolf half was very happy with the events of the past few days.
It felt awkward, this needing. Awkward and dangerous, as if what he was might reach out and swallow her whole–or change her beyond recognition. But she was too tired to fight it or even figure out if she wanted to fight it.
Charles, too, is at times overwhelmed by his new emotions. Playing the piano at a funeral, he is astonished by his response to her:
She opened her eyes and met his. The impact was so strong he was amazed that his fingers continued playing without pause.
If she knew how strongly he felt, she’d have run out the door. He wasn’t used to being possessive, or to the savage joy she brought to his heart. It ate at his control, so he turned his attention back to the music. He understood music.
When Anna was raped, she drew on her wolf’s strength to help her get through the assaults. The wolf half of Anna blocked out some, but not all of her memories. With Charles, Anna’s wolf feels happy and powerfully attracted, but when the wolf half lies dormant, intimacy is far more difficult for Anna, as in this poignant scene:
She inched her hand forward until she could feel the sheets warm from his body heat. She rested her fingers on him and her body froze in panic. She was glad he as asleep, so he couldn’t see her pull her hand back and tuck her knees over her vulnerable stomach. She tried not to shake because she didn’t want him to see her like this: a coward.
She wondered that hope was so much harder than despair.
Anna also hates that she feels dependent on Charles, a man she’s known only for a few days, for physical and financial security. She is ashamed of her fearfulness while at the same time disliking the predatory aspect of the werewolves, Charles and herself included.
When a powerful older wolf named Asil whose long-dead mate was also an omega werewolf makes a play for Anna, things become even more complicated as Charles has to fight back the territorial instincts of his wolf.
But this complication is eclipsed by an even bigger threat when the same “monster” who attacked the grad student assaults another man, Jack, who realizes his attacker is a werewolf. The problem is that Jack could expose the existence of werewolves to the rest of the world and bring humanity’s wrath on the werewolves in the process.
With all of North America’s werewolves at risk, Charles dreads that his father will order him to kill Jack, who is guilty of nothing more than having been attacked and wanting to speak the truth. Though Charles is his father’s hit man, it is not a role he enjoys, and the thought of having to kill an innocent witness, something he hasn’t had to do in a long time, and never with Anna present, fills him with dread.
Anna, meanwhile, struggles to fully accept what being a werewolf means, and there is a part of her that resists integrating into werewolf society. She is ambivalent about staying in Montana even before Bran calls Charles and Anna to come see him and she realizes that Charles might kill the injured Jack.
Luckily for Charles and Anna, Bran does not require Charles to kill Jack, but the reprieve comes at a high cost: a wounded Charles must go into the wilderness with Anna at his side and track down the rogue werewolf so that the injured man will keep silent. And Charles knows that he may have to do the thing he dreads most: kill a weaker werewolf in front of the woman he loves.
I don’t want to say much more about what happens when Anna and Charles go into the mountains so as not to spoil surprises for readers. I will say that I found Cry Wolf immensely enjoyable and riveting.
Like Alpha and Omega, Cry Wolf is not perfect, but once again, I hardly cared.
There is plenty of danger, suspense and drama when Charles and Anna encounter danger in the mountains, and the threat to werewolf-kind was extremely compelling. We also learn more about the mysterious Bran and about werewolf society. The world-building is excellent, and the villains have understandable motives.
My biggest caveat is that secondary characters are present in many of the later scenes, and the romance reader in me wanted more of Charles and Anna alone. Although there was huge progress in Anna and Charles’ romance, I didn’t feel that all of Anna and Charles’ relationship issues were resolved, and I’m hoping very much that this means they will be explored further in the next two books in this series.
Because of the way I read Alpha and Omega and Cry Wolf back to back, it is also hard for me to judge how much Cry Wolf stands on its own. I think readers who skip Alpha and Omega will still be able to understand what happened in that story but since Anna and Charles’ relationship is so rich, I would hate for anyone to miss out on its beginnings.
The best romantic fiction explores what it means to love another person. The best speculative fiction explores what it means to be human. Cry Wolf does both. Yes, Cry Wolf is a ripping good yarn, but it can also be read as an allegory about the dangerous edge that we all possess at times.
I was talking to a friend the other day, and I summed up my thoughts about Alpha and Omega and Cry Wolf this way:
A lot of what makes both the novella and the novel is the tension between the wolf aspects of these people and their human aspects. There is a line Cry Wolf where Anna thinks about how all werewolves are monsters. I think part of the arc of the series is going to be about the heroine having to accept that aspect of the hero and of herself. She does not want to be a werewolf; she was changed against her will. To her, it’s a horrible thing to be, so in a way, they are books about accepting that we all have a horrible side.
And about finding love in the face of that knowledge.
A for these two.