Long running series eventually (inevitably?) become more about providing fans an opportunity to connect with favorite characters than they are about providing great stories. In Burn Bright, the fifth book in the Alpha and Omega series and fifteenth novel in the general Mercyverse, Briggs delivers a story about witches, traitors and alliances that is pure devotee-centric entertainment. Because this series is deeply interconnected you won’t want to read it without at least reading the first five books in the Alpha and Omega set.
It begins with a phone call. A being runs through the woods, hearing his mate’s voice say, “Call the Marrok, Right the hell now.” He makes the phone call, but is not answered by the Marrok, who has been away helping to rescue the captured Mercedes. It is instead answered by his son, Charles.
Charles had been filling in for the Marrok while he was on the rescue mission but is less than thrilled to be doing so now while the Marrok transitions his time away from mission to vacation. In spite of his reluctance to play substitute, when the call comes in from the mate of one of the Wildlings (wolves too feral to live in a pack but too sane to kill), he heads to the woods with his wife Anna to see what exactly is happening.
What’s happening is a kidnapping. Charles finds the wolf who’d initiated the phone call, Hester, in a cage. He and Anna manage to take out her assailants and rescue her, but additional hostile forces arrive during the escape. Adding stress to an increasingly difficult situation, Hester’s mate is a powerful Fey. He’s barely stable under the best of circumstances and these aren’t the best of circumstances. Trying to outwit a group of determined kidnappers/killers while making things look as though they’re under control when they clearly aren’t is a challenge even for a duo as dynamic as Charles and Anna. But as he dodges bullets and evades attackers, Charles can’t help wondering just what the hell is going on. Why is someone putting these kinds of resources into Hester, who hasn’t had contact with the outside world in years? A lot of money is being spent on the operation, from silver bullets to magic infused guns to trained personnel and even a helicopter. Who the heck has that kind of money? And is it coincidental that all this is happening while their powerful leader is gone, or is there a traitor in their midst?
Like most of the books in this series, this is an action oriented story full of magical fights and multi-player battles. There is the usual loving banter between Anna and Charles, we get to spend time with favorites such as Asil and meet some interesting new people like Wellesley but mostly, there is movement. Someone is always heading somewhere urgent. There is also a lot of paranormal politics. All werewolf packs are carefully balanced communities of lethal, easily angered killers, this pack especially so since it contains many of the most lethal, most unbalanced of the North American wolves.
Those superlatives are part of what turn this from a well-balanced narrative into an exceptionally well-written work of groupie fiction. Everyone is the most something – Anna the luckiest and most uniquely talented, Charles the scariest, Leah the bitchiest, Bran (the Marrok) the most powerful, Asil the most enigmatically scary, Mercy the most desirable, legendary, cleverest and rapidly becoming the most Mary Sue of them all. The werewolves themselves are tough, scary and powerful which means their ‘most’ characters have to be even more than that. And we keep finding more ‘mosts’, in Wellesley and Hester and her mate.
Typically, strong mysteries lift titles in this series beyond fan fodder but in this case the lynchpin of the puzzle doesn’t quite work. It depends on a well-established loner character divulging private information, which doesn’t just go against character but also against common sense. Then the entire ending is driven by deus-ex-machina: the right person is healed at the right moment, the right memory flows to the surface at just the right time, the power is there just when it is needed. It’s all a touch too convenient.
The good news is that the story is engrossing right up until it begins to unravel at the end. Additionally, the author’s complex, brilliant world building saves the novel from being bad or too silly. Those familiar with the Mercyverse can’t help but be awed by how Briggs continues to construct something new and intriguing in a market saturated with same old same old.
Additionally, fans will thoroughly enjoy time spent with familiar characters, notwithstanding that every once in a while, we aren’t thrilled with what happens to them. The romance between Anna and Charles remains strong and the price of admission is worth it for the book’s closing scene between them. It’s also nice to see minor secondary characters, like Tag and Kara, make appearances, even if those appearances are brief. They lend a comfortable familiarity to the text that gives a kind of homecoming feel to the whole story.
The action which drives the story is also well written. You feel in the thick of the battle but at the same time it doesn’t take so much page space that you want to shout ‘Enough, already!’ An excellent job of balancing between conflict and quiet is done.
Burn Bright is a must read for its intended audience; it will very much be a page-turning pleasure for fans. However, it is definitely not the place to begin if you aren’t familiar with the series – that would be the novella Alpha and Omega – but I promise by the time you work your way through the excellent beginning novels and get to this one, you will find Burn Bright quite enjoyable.