Dead Heat, the Alpha and Omega Series, and Patricia Briggs’ Magical Ability to Pull Compelling Characters Out of Thin Air

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Genre: Urban fantasy

Synopsis: Charles Cornick is the son of North America’s werewolf leader, and acts as his enforcer. He met Anna when she called his father to report wrongdoing in her pack, and his father sent him to investigate. After he and Anna wrapped up that incident together, they became both a couple and a team, taking on the problems of werewolf politics together.

In this book, they aren’t on a job. Charles wanted to take Anna to meet an old friend of his, and to say goodbye to him. Unfortunately, werewolves aren’t the only magical entities out there, and another player attacks the family of that old friend. Which means that Anna and Charles, instead of having a nice yet bittersweet vacation, have more lives to save.

Series: Fourth book in a spin-off series, begins with the novella “Alpha and Omega” in the anthology On the Prowl.

POV: Third person multiple, told mostly from the perspectives Charles and Anna.

Romance: Anna and Charles are married.

Preview: Prologue and chapter one. 

The Alpha and Omega series begins in a novella, where protagonists Charles and Anna first met. Since then, they’ve become a formidable team capable of covering each others’ weaknesses.

Anna started out insecure and traumatized, with a strength that she’s been conditioned to hide away. She’s been coming into her own ever since leaving her former circumstances. And her existence has been making the case for communication and listening skills ever since. People tend to like her, because she cares about everyone and (more importantly) she listens to them. She listens first, before trying to get people to agree with her. In this world with its werewolf dominance hierarchy, it’s nice to have a character whose first response to conflict isn’t posturing, it’s getting everyone to calm down and think. And who doesn’t take orders from anyone, but is just so nice and matter-of-fact about not taking those orders, rather than defiant.

I also really appreciate that sometimes Anna is shy or uncomfortable with certain social situations, but other times she easily engages with others, even getting them to confide in her. Because it’s nice to see something I see in the world around me reflected instead of oversimplified.

Charles has been standing on his own for quite some time–perhaps too much on his own, for too long–before he met Anna. He had to build an image of himself as a gruff enforcer, brutal and efficient. He is the threat that his father uses to keep his werewolves in line, so Charles plays the part, hiding his humor and his intelligence and any desire to reach out to people behind a solitary countenance. Most see his intimidating facade before anything else.

Neither Charles or Anna are exactly social butterflies, but on the surface, it seems like Anna is the more social of the two. And yet, that’s also oversimplified. Anna tends to connect to new acquaintances faster and more easily than Charles, but even that isn’t a given. Certain people, Charles will connect with rather quickly as well. And Anna is coming out of a few years of isolation from anyone she might have been close to, whereas Charles is hundreds of years old. He acts like he’s solitary, but wherever his work takes him, we run into characters who’ve known him for a while, and who know exactly who he is beneath the image he shows the rest of the world. And who care enough to test his new wife to see if she also sees who he is under the pretense. I like this more nuanced portrayal of our characters and how they connect with people.

This book itself is another solid addition to Patricia Briggs’ body of work. When it comes to long series following a single protagonist (like the kind we usually get with urban fantasies), I tend to drop off within the first two books. Either the plot stops being interesting, or I get tired of the characters, or the book keeps teasing a payoff without ever providing one, or something. There are a few urban fantasy mainstays for me, though, because the authors keep the story going and continue to take the characters to new and interesting places.

With eight books to her Mercy Thompson series and four and a half to her Anna and Charles series (all of which I’d read), this is way beyond the point where I would start to lose interest in another author’s work. But reading one of Patricia Briggs’ novels is like coming home. It’s so easy to fall back into that world, and see what else she’s going to give us.

Dead Heat follows a mystery that’s a piece of a larger puzzle. We can see how this fits into the overall world the characters reside in, and how it sets up the ramifications that are going to have to come out of this later on down the line. And it’s nice to get that glimpse, but the story very much grounds us in this current crisis. Because despite the bigger picture, it’s so easy to care about the people whose lives are being threatened by this danger now. One character in particular, I’m glad pulled through the circumstances threatening her–there was a point where the story set her up to be just another victim, and I’m so glad she managed to overcome her circumstances, seemingly through pure force of will.

Despite the tense circumstances, there were also some quiet scenes to balance them out, which led to some heartwarming moments. For instance, there were a few nice segments of character work that happened over the characters’ fondness for horses. It was a scene to release tension after some major stuff had happened, and the author’s own personal knowledge of horses came through (I say as someone who doesn’t share that knowledge). Between the obvious love for the topic that went into the scene and characters’ playing off each other, it was particularly endearing.

And it leaves me wondering, how does Patricia Briggs manage to get me so invested in her characters so quickly, anyway? Many of these people had barely showed up on the page when I started caring about them.

The Anna and Charles series is particularly demonstrative in the author’s talents in this way, as our two protagonists are in a completely new situation with new secondary characters every book. And yet, those characters always stand out, and I always want to see more of them. What I’m saying is, this book is awesome, and this series is awesome, and I’ve always been happy with every Patricia Briggs book I’ve ever read–which includes some of her earlier fantasy novels, in addition to her current urban fantasy series. I’m happy.