REVIEW: Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs
Dear Patricia Briggs,
Warning: Gushing review to follow. (There are also a couple more serious trigger warnings further down).
I loved this book. I’m an unabashed fan of both your Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega series’. Alpha & Omega is very probably the best novella I’ve ever read and it’s one I’ve re-read a number of times – and I’m not really a re-reader. If anyone was worried that your heart wasn’t in writing this book because you had originally planned to write a full length Tom and Moira story, they can definitely stop worrying. It was just so good. It had all the best elements of your stories all together and it pushed most of my good book buttons.
As much as I loved it, I did notice a few things, which I will talk about in a bit, but for the most part, I noticed them after I finished reading and was considering what to write in my review apart from ohmygodsogoodeveryoneshouldreaditrightnow. When I was actually reading I just loved the heck out of it. And that’s why I went with the grade I did.
This is not a book which can be read as a stand alone I think. There is a rich history to the story’s background and in fact, both the Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega series’ (which are set in the same world) are so interlinked, particularly after the events of Fair Game, that I think readers would miss out if they weren’t reading both of them. I love all the books in each series, some more than others, so I don’t regard this as a bug. For me, it’s definitely a feature.
[ETA: To clarify; while I don’t think Dead Heat can be read as a stand alone book, it’s absolutely fine for those who have read only the Alpha & Omega series and not the Mercy Thompson series. I love both and I personally think doing so adds an extra layer, but the Mercy Thompson series is not required to understand Dead Heat.]
Charles and Anna Cornick have been married for three years. They are happy together and their HEA is never in doubt in this or any other of their stories. That doesn’t mean however that they don’t have things they need to work through, issues which can be difficult for them to discuss and vulnerabilities that they are still both tender about.
Anna wants a child, in particular, Charles’ child. Charles is the only werewolf in existence who was born a werewolf and his birth killed his mother so, understandably, Charles isn’t automatically on board with this idea. Anna loves her mate and she is patient but also very stubborn. This storyline is gently woven through the other threads of the book, picking up here and there; poignant but never belabouring.
Anna still has trauma after her brutal entrance into the werewolf world and some of that trauma she still hides from Charles. Charles is still vulnerable about his role as his father’s assassin and what this has meant for his relationships with others. Anna, as only she can, helps him to understand how he is truly seen and a little of that hurt fades.
Charles, meets up with an old flame in this book. There is no threat to Anna’s and his relationship. None at all. Readers need not worry. But it gets him thinking about love and the nature of it and it all wraps up together with the personal side of the story. Not everything is completely dealt with by the end but quite a bit of it is. I had the sense that, like many (all?) couples, they had challenges still to face, but I was always confident those challenges would be overcome and worked through with fierce love, determination and patience.
None of those things are the main focus of the story. But they are all deftly woven through it and it makes a rich tapestry which completely satisfied this romance reader’s heart. I’m very glad that Anna’s trauma is treated with sensitivity and care and it hasn’t been magicked away. I’m very glad that Charles, the fierce protector, knows that it is best for Anna to be able to protect herself and so he steps back when he knows she can do things herself even though he finds it difficult. He is nevertheless always looking out for her and he will not hesitate to do whatever is necessary to keep her safe. (I love that so much I can’t even tell you.)
“Who hurt you?” she asked, slicing through the two other conversations going on at the table.
“He’s dead,” said Charles, his hand sliding up Anna’s back reassuringly. “I killed him. If I could, I would bring him back to life so I could kill him again.”
Chelsea turned her gaze to Charles for a moment. “Good,” she said, before she had to drop her eyes. Her intensity faded. “That’s good.”
Charles put his lips against Anna’s ear. “He’s very dead.”
She nodded jerkily. “Sorry.”
“No,” he said, his breath warm against her neck. “Don’t be sorry. Just know if anyone ever tries to hurt you again—they will be dead, too.”
And some people had tried, hadn’t they. And yes, she realized, they were all dead. Charles was a big warm presence at her back, better than a solid wall or bars.
She picked up her fork and took a bite of brisket. “Okay,” she told Charles. “Deal.”
Like the previous stories, Anna and Charles work as a team and there is a bit of Anna coming to Charles’ rescue and vice versa – and that is my book catnip – not in the sense of a drug but in the sense of a thing which always makes me very happy to read. Theirs is a true partnership – they help each other and there is no element of dominance/submission. In fact, that’s one of the very very clever things about this series. Anna’s position as Omega wolf means that she is outside pack structure and does not feel the urge to obey any alpha. So Charles’ and Anna’s relationship is not based on a hierarchy. (In the Mercy Thompson books, there is similar thing but for different reasons.) I think this is one of the ways which you stay true to your world building but provide a more modern, feminist, sensibility to the books. I am a
really bad junior grade feminist so I could be wrong on that.)
A word of warning however: The subject of the story is violence and harm done to children. While I didn’t regard it as torture porn at all, the book does not shy away from horrible things. It doesn’t dwell on them either and in some ways, the words are more powerful because of it. Children, many children (albeit fictional ones) have been killed by a certain Fae who has recently been sent out by, apparently, one or more of the Gray Lords specifically to wreak havoc in the human world. When I was reading I thought of Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches Trashy Books. She cannot read books where children are in jeopardy. I think she would struggle mightily with this book. Because children are in jeopardy from the get-go and right up until the end when Charles and Anna sort things out. There is also reference to rape (Anna was raped repeatedly when she was turned into a werewolf against her will – Charles came and rescued her and that is the story of Alpha & Omega). So this book/series will not be suitable for some readers. The book does have a very satisfying ending, however not without some sadness.
The Fae in this world are extremely dangerous creatures. Since the events of Fair Game, the Fae have withdrawn to their reservations and have, essentially, declared war on the human population. Dead Heat is merely one salvo in the war. The overall story is not yet done. The book begins with the Fae child killer released from Underhill and sent out to cause harm. Then Charles and Anna head to Arizona (where this particular Fae happens to be) so Charles can buy her a horse for her birthday. Charles’ best friend, his only human friend, is Joseph Sani. Joseph is very old and very unwell and he would like to meet Anna. Joseph’s family have an Arabian horse stud and Charles decides buying Anna a horse from them will neatly kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. When they arrive, Joseph’s daughter-in-law and grandchildren are under threat from the evil Fae and the action starts pretty much immediately.
On the fantasy side of things, there is more to be learned about how werewolves are changed and about Charles’ magic and Anna’s Omega powers. And the poignant reminder that werewolves can outlive their human family and friends is ever present – which weaves into the more personal storyline between Anna and Charles.
I love the way Charles and Anna are consistent characters but with every book, we find out more about them. The way Charles communicates (or doesn’t) and the way Anna understands him is one of my favourite things about this couple.
There was a long silence, because Charles seldom bothered answering stupid questions.
Anna is fierce. She has vulnerabilities like anyone but she does not hesitate to do what is necessary to protect her relationship with Charles either and I loved seeing her act with confident authority to stake her claim.
[She] dragged her attention off Charles. Anna put her hand on him and leaned toward the other woman, who stepped back; smart woman. “You need to understand something,” she said intensely. “Charles is my husband. You can’t have him. Mine. Not yours. There are lots of nice, unattached men out there, I’m sure. Pick one of them and you might live longer.” Then her body relaxed and her voice regained its usual cheeriness. “Thank you for your time…”
… As they left, Charles turned back toward [her] and shrugged helplessly. Then he put on his meekest face and turned around to follow Anna.
“I saw that,” she muttered at him.
“Saw what?” asked Charles in mock innocence. Brother Wolf was pleased with her claiming of them. So was Charles.
There were a few things in the book which I felt didn’t really go anywhere. I felt it needed some kind of bookend about the Fae/Gray Lords to match the prologue but that didn’t happen. Maggie, Charle’s old flame and Joseph’s wife, still has feelings for Charles which are very complicated. There was one time in the book where this storyline intruded for me but then it kind of fizzled. The book isn’t super long – about 250 pages and I suppose the search for the Fae felt a little too easy in some respects. However there were some other little red herrings which were added and I was happy to see they got some resolution too. While children are harmed during the course of the book, the reader leaves satisfied that justice has been done and, things will be work out. At least, this reader did. There were a couple of other little things which felt a little underdone to me, but like I said above, I really only noticed them when I thought hard about the book afterwards and to go into detail would be a) too spoilerish and b) to overstate their importance. Did I mention that while I was reading I loved this book and wanted to marry it and have its babies?
There is a lot of stuff about horses. I’m not a horse person myself but it felt and sounded very authentic. At the same time, the details didn’t intrude into the story and never bored me. I looked up a few words and let other terminology go off into the ether but I gained the impression that horse people will approve.
Joseph’s family are Navajo (aka Diné) and there are many references to Native American culture and that too is part of the warp and weft of the book. My feeling was that a diverse range of Native Americans were presented – Charles can be considered stereotypical in some ways (he is not a Navajo – his mother was a Flathead, a member of the Salish people) but the Native Americans presented in this book were portrayed in various different ways. As a white person I guess I can’t say with authority that these aspects were handled well, but it seemed to me they were presented without fetishizing, with respect and a deep appreciation of their culture and place. FWIW.
I felt like I got an even deeper appreciation of Charles in this story and my respect for Anna and her innate wisdom grew as well. I love the way this couple are together and I love to see them grow together in strength and love as the series continues. (That’s a lot of love isn’t it? Oops.)
The story had somewhat of an abrupt end. It is clear that the Fae have further plans to cause havoc and pain to the human population – in the book they are regarded as terrorists by the FBI for this reason. I suppose future books – Mercy books, Alpha & Omega books or Mercyverse (Tom & Moira – yes please, pretty please with cherries on top) will continue this story arc and that there is plenty to be discovered in the world you have created. What is extra clever is that this book feels complete even though the reader knows there will be more to come.
I read this book when I was in a bit of a reading slump and just before Christmas which is hectic and full of high stress. At the time, I was finding it hard to settle to read. I had no trouble settling to read this book and it definitely took me away from my troubles and into a different and exciting world for a while – which is one of the points of reading fiction isn’t it?
Grade: A. A definite recommend.