REVIEW: Wild Sign by Patricia Briggs
Trigger warnings (spoilery):
Dear Patricia Briggs,
Wild Sign, your latest novel, is book six in your Alpha and Omega series. The urban fantasy series centers on a werewolf couple, the quiet, deadly Charles and the gentle but stubborn Anna. I’m always up for reading about them, so I eagerly requested an ARC of the book.
Wild Sign begins with Dr. Sissy Connors’s discovery of a small abandoned settlement in the mountains of Northern California. Sissy’s father was a resident of the tiny town of Wild Sign and he wrote her regularly. She has stopped hearing from him and so she seeks him out. All she finds are empty dwellings; no one else is there.
In the next scene, set some months before the rest of the book, a girls’ night out with two other women has Anna noticing that Leah, her stepmother-in-law, is humming a catchy, unidentifiable, haunting melody. Anna also reflects on the strange, difficult nature of her father-in-law Bran’s marriage to Leah.
The chapter after that sees two FBI agents, Leslie Fisher and Craig Goldstein, make a return appearance. They knock on Charles and Anna’s door to propose a cooperative agreement between the Marrok (the werewolves’ leader) and the FBI. Fisher and Goldstein provide Anna and Charles with the results of their investigation into the disappearance of Wild Sign’s residents since as it turns out the land where Wild Sign is located is owned by Leah.
After the agents leave, Bran tells Charles Leah’s singing disturbs him. She hummed an unsettling melody when they first met and for a little while afterward but later stopped.
Leah and Bran’s first meeting took place two centuries earlier, in the same place now known as Wild Sign. Bran was filled with grief for his deceased mate and not thinking clearly. His friend Sherwood Post had fought and (hopefully) defeated an evil being in those mountains but women and children had died there, including a child of Leah’s. Leah, the only survivor, was at death’s door, and Sherwood too was dying. They were bonded and Bran could not save one without the other. He had to make Leah his mate to save his friend.
But it is now clear that Sherwood never truly defeated the evil that lurked at Wild Sign. He has lost all memories of that time so he can’t provide information about it, either. Even Leah’s memories of it are at best hazy and patchy. Bran wants Charles and Anna to poke around those mountains and see what they can learn.
Anna and Charles bring Tag with them even though his berserker nature is a powder keg; he has some resistance to magic and that may be helpful. The three find mysterious and confusing signs in the abandoned town. All the compost toilets have been emptied and the dogs lovingly put down and placed together, as if the residents of the town prepared for leaving—or for death. But their beloved possessions were left behind, as if the people left in a hurry.
In the area’s natural amphitheater, Anna’s mind is invaded by something evil. She reexperiences her worst, most heartbreaking moment, a night when she was about to be gang raped. Bite marks crop up on her shoulder afterward and she does not recognize Charles. All this scares Charles and Tag. Anna’s memory returns later but all three are on edge when they leave their camp to continue the investigation by interviewing the family members of Wild Sign’s missing residents.
Meanwhile, Leah too is on a journey, one that takes her character from a horrific past into what may be an uncertain future.
Did the residents of Wild Sign survive? What will Charles, Anna and Tag learn when they question the townspeople’s relatives? Will Tag keep control of his berserker wolf? What happened in Leah’s past? What is the evil that stalks the people in the mountains, and how much damage will its fixation on Anna cause her and Charles?
I liked a lot of things in this book. Charles and Anna’s dynamic was good, as always. Anna’s past comes back to haunt them, and I loved the way they handled that together. I love how respectful Charles is of Anna’s boundaries and how hard he works to balance his protective tendencies with the understanding that to overprotect her would be harmful.
I love too that Anna and Charles always have each other’s back. Their partnership is a big part of what makes me prefer the Alpha and Omega books to the Mercy books. I’ve only read the first four of the latter but in them Mercy endures scary, painful, and sometimes even horrific things and while Adam is supportive, his support isn’t always there when she most needs it. There to pick up the pieces later, yes, appreciative and admiring, yes. But he’s not there at her back, keeping an eye out for what might be hurting or troubling her, the way Anna and Charles are for each other.
In addition to making the Alpha and Omega books romantic and showing how important thoughtfulness (not just general consideration, but also putting thought into how best to give the other person feelings of happiness and security) is to a romantic relationship, this togetherness helps the reader weather the external conflicts differently. However much one of them suffers in a given book the reader knows the other is suffering along with them, even if (especially if) they aren’t there physically and can’t immediately help.
It’s a connection that serves as a kind of buffer. If one character is in danger, I know the other will soon pitch in, that he or she is on way to help. I may be spooked and horrified and freaked out (I was all three of these things when I read the book), but I am able to take it because of the way they share their burdens. It doesn’t read like overwrought drama but more like support.
But the thing I loved best in this book wasn’t Charles and Anna, as great as they are, but the Leah and Bran stuff. I have a separate post about it running later today so I don’t want to say too much on that topic in this review. In brief, Leah’s past, which turns out to be quite dark, is revealed here, and the unhealthy aspect of her and Bran’s relationship finally gets interrogated. In the process, Leah’s character is fleshed out.
I *loved* this. It was revelatory yet at the same time consistent with what we’ve read about the two of them and their dysfunctional mating in the past. I have wanted this kind of questioning for so long and it was every bit as satisfying as I had hoped it would be. And now I want more, more, more in future books.
I liked Tag’s interactions with Charles and Anna as well. He’s a character whose presence I enjoyed in a couple of the earlier books and it was great to see him brought closer to the forefront here. I got to know him better and I enjoyed his laughter, his competence, his helpfulness and his loyalty, as well as his dangerous aspect. The protective and kind way he related to Anna and the tension in his interactions with Charles were both engaging.
I also liked the role music played here. Several aspects of it were explored—that it can be eclectic and esoteric, haunting and eerie, defiant and encouraging. Its emotional power was in full force and it added so much to the book.
Did I mention the sasquatch? Yes, there’s a sasquatch in the book and he’s an intriguing character too.
The evil at the center of the plot is unbelievably creepy. The scenes where Anna, Charles and Tag explore the area near their camp and have their first encounter with the villain’s magic are shiver-inducing and terrifying but in a good way. I was so freaked out that it was hard to sleep. The early attack on Anna literally invaded my dreams.
A scary nighttime sequence of scenes that takes place later in the book is also exceptional. The creepy stuff in this book is so, so creepy. The freaky stuff is some of the freakiest I’ve read in Briggs’s oeuvre. This book is as dark as disturbing as any of them.
I often dislike horror so I’ve been impressed more than once with this author’s ability to make me appreciate it; that was the case here too. There is another character, an ally of the Big Bad whom I don’t want to say too much about, who is disquieting and frightening as well.
In the last quarter the villain’s characterization goes a bit over the top. I was sorry to see this happen but even then, the villain’s aura of danger and creepiness remained in place for the most part. The book also becomes heavy around the same time, in regard to Anna and Leah’s pasts especially. Eventually that became an overload for me, particularly as we learn more about the evil being at the center of the book and what it is doing and wants. That aspect was too much for a while—too twisted and icky—and so it came close to overshadowing the terrific relationship stuff. But the satisfying ending brings the relationships back to the foreground.
Some more minor things I noted in my kindle:
1) Why does Anna still not have a job after three years in Aspen Creek? Does she have even a hobby that doesn’t involve Charles? What does she do when Charles is enclosed in the study working on managing the pack’s business holdings? How does she while those hours away?
I get that Anna’s vulnerability and the way Charles has given her so much when she started out with nothing are huge parts of the appeal. But I also think that showing Anna slowly develop a work life or an interest of her own could be a great way to show that she is growing, feeling safer and more secure within the pack, exercising emotional muscles that she never had the chance to use before. There is work that would suit her character—she could be an anonymous composer, for example, in the same way that Wellesley is an anonymous but well-regarded artist, for example.
Right now it seems like Anna’s life revolves around Charles because she has no independent interests. And this book has a coda, that, while exciting in terms of plot, made me worry about the direction in which it could take that aspect of her character in future books.
2) Charles’ old age was mentioned too many times in this book. The big age difference is part of the Anna / Charles dynamic but here his age was pointed out so many times that it stopped balancing well with Anna’s youth.
3) Anna feels protective of a villainous man even after he says things in front of her that show his evil nature. It was obvious he was a villain that her pity for him made no sense.
5) More and more I feel I need to read the Mercy books to be completely in the loop on events and characters from that series that feature or are mentioned in the Alpha and Omega books. I wish the two series were more independent.
I liked this book a lot–more than these five last nitpicks may indicate. A big part of that is Leah / Bran, and I have a whole second post where I geek out on that topic! And since I saved a lot of what I loved for that post, this review may read as lopsided.
Wild Sign got messy and OTT in places, but most of it was effectively scary, exciting, and romantic–with touching loyalty, engaging partnership, sweet friendship, great reframing for added depth, playful kissing, protecting innocents from evil, and an intriguing last scene. I have reread large chunks of it since I finished because those parts were so good. A-.