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The wolf and the man
on August 25, 2009
Imagine if the werewolves were considering coming out of the fur coat closet, and held a conference to debate it.
It's a rather boring-sounding idea. But since Patricia Briggs is a truly brilliant urban-fantasy author, she is somehow able to spin straw into gold in the second full-length novel about the Omega werewolf Anna and her Alpha mate Charles. "Hunting Ground" is a solid little bundle of subplots and warring supernaturals.
Sent to the Seattle conference, Charles and Anna encounter lycanthropes from across Europe -- Russians, Italians, the British lord Arthur, and he savage Beast of Gévaudan, Jean Chastel. Warring opinions and old grudges (plus Chastel's general savagery) cause plenty of tension between the various groups, and Charles finds that while Anna's Omeganess eases some of the conflict, she's freaked out by all the dominant males.
But Anna is attacked while shopping with her new friend Moira -- by a gang of vampires using werewolf magic and tactics. Then a couple of attendees at the conference are murdered as well, one by the vampires and the other by a person unknown. Now the fragile peace between alphas starts to unravel and fae magic starts to manipulate them -- and to save his beloved Anna, Charles must uncover who is would do all this.
The previous "Alpha and Omega" stories have been about the world of werewolves almost exclusively, and "Hunting Ground" expands its focus -- we've got the cruel fae Dana, and a cruel gang of vampires. But the focus is still mainly on werewolves -- their subculture, their leaders, and the place of the Omegas when surrounded by a bunch of grumpy Alphas.
The biggest flaw is that the book is a loosely woven affair without much central plot until the last few chapters. But Briggs smoothly juggles the various subplots that run through the book, with vivid, powerful prose ("A creek full of fat trout trickled under a thin layer of misty ice") and slightly tongue-in-cheek dialogue ("Way to kill a defenseless net"). Not to mention some unique quirks, like a werewolf who genuinely believes he is King Arthur reborn.
And she strikes a solid balance between the darkness and violence (bloody killings, werewolf hunts, and some brutal human killings) and the more quiet, soothing moments that Anna brings. One particularly lovely scene has her soothing frazzled alphas through a mellow piano performance, and Briggs' smooth writing carries the effect through to the reader.
Anna and Charles may be mates and spouses now, but they're clearly still getting used to each other. Anna is now strong enough to stand up to the Beast and recovered enough to show her love for her new hubby, but Charles is struggling with his tough-guy image and his "Brother Wolf." And there are plenty of other interesting characters -- the unassuming Angus, the bloodthirsty psychopathic Jean, a cute Austrian Omega, and the charming, loopy Arthur. There's even a pair from one of Briggs' short stories: the werewolf Tom and his blind witch mate Moira.
"Hunting Ground" has a rather loosely woven plot, but Patricia Briggs' lovely writing and vivid characters keep it from losings its way. Definitely one of the better werewolfcentic urban fantasies.