Aug 24 2009
Dear Ms. Briggs,
Even though I adored “Alpha and Omega” in the anthology On the Prowl, the story which introduced readers to the werewolves Charles and Anna, and also loved the first novel in the series which follows these characters, Cry Wolf, I’m not sure I’m the best person to review Hunting Ground, the latest entry in the Alpha and Omega series. That’s because I have a pattern of tending to lose interest in the second or third book of series which follow the same protagonists, and for this reason, I only rarely read them, and review them even more rarely.
I made an exception for Hunting Ground because when I first read “Alpha and Omega,” I fell in love with Charles and Anna. I felt that I could read about these characters forever and not tire of them. In fact by now I’ve read “Alpha and Omega” around seven times, and Cry Wolf around three.
For readers who are not familiar with them, let me introduce this endearing couple:
Charles is an over two hundred year old, half Native American werewolf. He is dominant enough to be an alpha, but his pack has one werewolf who is even more dominant — Bran, Charles’ father, an alpha of alphas, also known as the Marrok, or leader of all of North America’s werewolves. Because Bran is more dominant than he is, Charles must do as he says. He is his father’s right hand man as well as his executioner. The last is a role he dislikes, one that isolates him from the many who fear him.
Anna, Charles’ mate, is an omega werewolf, which means that she is outside the pack structure. She cannot be commanded by anyone, but she also lacks the alphas’ aggressive tendencies. Instead, her presence has a calming influence on dominant wolves. Anna is a relatively young werewolf, only in her twenties. The pack Anna originally belonged to abused her and assaulted her sexually, and Anna’s recovery from those attacks is an ongoing process.
Anna and Charles’ wolf halves chose them as mates for one another before Charles and Anna had a chance to get to know each other well, and now, a month into their relationship, Charles and Anna are still learning to deal with the new emotions and abilities their bond has given them. Just as Anna struggles to overcome her fear of dominant werewolves other than Charles, Charles must battle his protective and possessive instincts toward her.
Hunting Ground opens at a time when Charles and Bran, his father, are at odds. Bran intends to make the werewolves’ existence public, and before he does so, he wants to meet with all the European alphas and their seconds. But Charles, who possesses some magical abilities due to his mother’s having been a shaman’s daughter, feels intuitively that something very bad will happen if Bran attends the meeting he has scheduled.
With Anna’s help, the conflict between Charles and Bran is defused, and Bran resolves to send Charles and Anna to the werewolf gathering in his place. Charles and Anna arrive at the meeting place, Seattle, even though Charles’ instincts to protect Anna are screaming in protest.
Once in Seattle, Anna and Charles face difficulties and dangers that come from several sources. First, there is Jean Chastel, also known as “The Beast,” a mad, carnivorous werewolf who leads the French contingent. Then there is Dana, a fae and Gray Lord who is a former lover of Charles’, and who will act as moderator of the meeting. Charles likes Dana, but Brother Wolf, his other half, distrusts her, and Anna feels uneasy in her presence. Lastly, there is a group of rogue vampires on a killing spree, bent on capturing Anna.
If that weren’t enough there are also the aforementioned personal issues in Anna and Charles’ relationship. Charles is closing Anna out of their bond much of the time, because he is afraid that as Bran’s killer, he is not someone Anna can truly love if she ever knows all of him. Anna, meanwhile, still finds sex scary when her wolf half isn’t present.
I enjoyed Hunting Ground a lot, but not as much as “Alpha and Omega” or Cry Wolf. I’m not sure how much of that is due to my having already spent a lot of time with these characters before reading this book, when I usually prefer to read about characters I don’t know this well, and how much of it is due to the (mostly minor) problems I had with Hunting Ground.
The first of these is that the first half or so of the book felt episodic to me. Each of the conflicts I described seemed to crop up and then fade away, when I would have preferred for the story to feel more cohesive.
Secondly, it’s my opinion that ongoing series about the same couple face special challenges. If the conflict between the pair is too pronounced in second books, it may seem like the relationship is in a holding pattern, or the couple is lacking in the maturity necessary to surmount their problems. But if the pair resolves all their problems quickly, then the suspense an internal conflict brings to a book can dissipate, and readers’ interest in the couple may also wane.
Hunting Ground shows astute navigation of these waters. Charles and Anna’s relationship has clearly progressed, and they both show maturity, but at the same time, they are both wounded individuals and their scars don’t heal overnight just because they have married. I feel that you struck a great balance between avoiding repetitiveness and not resolving things too fast.
Perhaps it is the romance reader in me, but, even though I recognized how deftly you handled that, I still found myself wanting more focus on Charles and Anna’s personal relationship, especially in the middle portion of the book. I would have loved more in the way of exploring their physical intimacy with one another, too.
Anna and Charles are still wonderful characters, though, and I still cared about them greatly. They are both vulnerable, flawed, but fundamentally good people, inhabiting a dangerous world where only the strong survive.
Eventually, too, my concerns were allayed in what was a fabulous build up to a terrific ending. The various plot lines came together into a cohesive and very satisfying whole. There was a subtle and moving exploration of Anna and Charles’s issues with sex. The ending, in which both Anna and Charles must come to the other’s aid, was as gripping as it was romantic. And I love the way Anna finds her strength growing from book to book.
Although I won’t reread it immediately and obsessively as I did the first two installments in Charles and Anna’s story, I closed the book feeling thoroughly rewarded and looking forward to more of Charles and Anna in the future. B+ for Hunting Ground.
This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers. This book goes on sale on August 25. I hope that the Sony ebook will show up but it’s in the Kindle format for sure.