Book: “Wild Sign” by Patricia Briggs
Publishing Info: Ace Books, March 2021
Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley
Book Description: In the wilds of the Northern California mountains, all the inhabitants of a small town have gone missing. It’s as if the people picked up and left everything they owned behind. Fearing something supernatural might be going on, the FBI taps a source they’ve consulted in the past: the werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham. But Charles and Anna soon find a deserted town is the least of the mysteries they face.
Death sings in the forest, and when it calls, Charles and Anna must answer. Something has awakened in the heart of the California mountains, something old and dangerous — and it has met werewolves before.
Previously Reviewed: “Burn Bright”
Review: If you go back and read my review of the previous book in the “Alpha and Omega” series, you’ll see that I was…less than thrilled with that entry. My concerns from that book spanned both this series as well as the “Mercy Thompson” books. But as my review earlier this week demonstrated, that series managed to sidestep the implications of the events in “Burn Bright.” But I was always a bit more concerned with how the next book in this series would do, given that Bran is more of a main character here. And, well, Briggs tries to walk it back a bit, I guess. But unfortunately the distraction offered in the main plot just introduces another frustration of mine.
Old things live in the dark wilds of the forest. And if you stay on the path, maybe you’ll miss the dangers lurking there. But when an entire town’s worth of people go missing, what lurks in the shades of the trees leaves a mark to big to ignore. Anna and Charles are called into action to track down the mystery. Where do you start, though, when all of the victims seem to have vanished into the air leaving behind no trace? Clues exist however in rumors of a powerful force that once lived there centuries before and may have faced werewolves before.
So, I did like this book overall. It’s hard, however, to write a review without taking up tons of wordcount on how this book deals with the fallout of the previous one. Or getting sucked into a long commentary piece on my frustrations with one particular aspect of it that I’m beginnig to struggle with more and more. So…I’ll try to write a fairly general bit before getting into any of that.
Overall, I liked the villain at the heart of this story. Its powers and backstory were very unique and interesting and left me guessing for much of the story. I was able to piece a few bits together early on, but there were a number of genuine surprises throughout that really helped build towards the final conflict. The action and threat-level felt high when it needed too, and there was a underlying sense of doom that pervaded the book in a really nice, creepy way.
I also liked what we got from Charles and Anna. Brother Wolf, the personified version of Charles’s wolf half was given more to say/do here and it was almost like having an entire third character. Might be a bit unfortunate, though, when your wolf character is more interesting than the two humans. Not that Charles and Anna are bad characters, but they still seem a bit dull and one-note, especially in comparison to the characters in the Mercy Thompson series.
The book also introduces a few chapters from Leah’s perspective. On the surface, this is a good thing. The story largely has to do with events in her history, and it’s great seeing inside the head of a character who has been at the heart of so much conflict earlier in the series and even in the “Mercy Thompson” series. It seems clear that by doing this Briggs is attempting to respond to the criticism of the previous book. Her history is such that Bran’s actions in her life are highly criticized by both Charles and Anna. Briggs also seems to try to build up a more true relationship between Leah and Bran with Bran needing to deal with his own past actions and open up to Leah more. It’s all well and good, I guess, but, really, it just makes the previous book’s “reveal” about Bran’s feelings for Mercy feel more about of place. This book not only doesn’t address that but seems to want to just paint over that with some alternative history in which Bran does care for Leah and that whole Mercy thing…never happened.
But when diving into Leah’s history, Briggs steps right into another big problem that I have. I’ve already struggled with the fact that both of Briggs’ leading ladies has a history of being a rape victim. Several SFF authors have written about how pervasive this particular trauma is within the genre and how unfortunate that fact is. Here are two of my favorite pieces, one by Seanan McGuire and one by Sarah Gailey. Each tackles the topic much more thoroughly and eloquently than I can.
Unfortunately, this book not only includes another rape attempt on our main character, but gives the only other POV female character we have a history of rape as well. Now all three POV female characters we’ve had in both series have experienced this particular trauma. Beyond that, the topic is placed firmly at the center of the conflict in this book. I wouldn’t have a problem with that fact on its own if it wasn’t for this established history of using it for our two other main characters. It not only begins to feel a bit much, but Briggs is falling into the exact trap that McGuire and Gailey discuss in their pieces: that somehow rape and sexual assault are almost necessary traumas that female heroes must go through in the ever-chased goal of “character development” and “added depth.” And in Leah’s case, particularly, it almost seems to be used as a way to excuse her abusive treatment of Mercy in the past. The entire thing reads as lazy and uninventive at best and as exploitative at worst.
So, there you go. Another book in this series that’s hard to evaluate based only on the merits of the story itself, but instead gets stuck in challenging topics that outweigh much of the rest. At this point, I’m sure I’ll still continue to read this series if there are more to come. But I’m on high alert now with this author and if these topics continue to come up in this manner, it might be time to throw in the towel.
Rating 6: A solid story is marred by the unfortunate, recurring use of sexual assault as a character-building tactic.
“Wild Sign” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on this funny-titled one: My Vampire Book Obsession Book Boyfriends
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