Burn Bright is marked as the fifth book in Patricia Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series, but I’d wager most of its readers are also deeply invested in the related urban fantasy series that birthed it. For context, the events of the novel take place a short time after the latest Mercy Thompson book Silence Fallen. Both series take place in the same alternate present, in which fae, vampires, werewolves, and other less easily cataloged supernatural beings uneasily share the world with humanity. Sometimes, characters travel from one series to the other. Silence Fallen was directed outward: out of Mercy’s small pack, out of the United States, out of Mercy’s comfort zone. Burn Bright, by contrast, turns inward, leading us deep into forbidden territory, where the most secretive and unstable of magical beings reside. The journey is largely emotional, drilling deep into characters who have heretofore dodged the spotlight.
Let’s sort out the cross-crossing characters, shall we? Mercy, a coyote shifter, was raised in Montana under the care of Bran Cornick, the Marrok—the pack leader of all the werewolf packs in North America. Since then, she’s settled in the Tri-Cities area of Washington state, where her series takes place. When Mercy is abducted to Europe in the events of Silence Fallen, Bran makes an appearance, even though he tends to leave such matters to his son Charles, and Charles’ mate, Anna, both of whom are werewolves—and also the principles of the Alpha and Omega series, which takes place in Aspen Creek, Montana.
Charles and Anna Cornick are the titular “alpha and omega.” Charles acts as strong man and executioner for Bran, as werewolves tend to be an unstable and violent lot; he’s the alpha. Anna is the omega, a rare type of werewolf, neither dominant nor submissive, but somehow both outside and superseding the pack hierarchy. She’s got an uncanny effect on werewolves, calming their inner monster, and is able to stand up even to the Marrok. That’s a big deal, because Bran can sometimes be an autocrat. He is out of town after his adventures with Mercy, and has left Charles in charge. (It’s weird that Bran is “on vacation,” as uber-werewolf pack leaders of North America don’t take vacations as a rule, but whatever.)
Charles gets a call that one of the wildlings is in trouble, and he and Anna head out to the wilds of Montana, in the winter, to find out what is going on. Bran’s pack, and by extension, most of the population of Aspen Creek, is made up of damaged, unstable werewolves, too unpredictable to live out in the larger world. They need Bran’s autocracy (and scary wingman Charles) to keep them in unruly line. But there are werewolves even more fractured out in the Montana wilderness, wolves who have lost the fight between their human and animal natures, or those so old they’re worn down to shadows of themselves, or are holding deadly secrets. These creatures are called wildlings, and constitute the inner heart of Bran’s broken pack. They’re both checked on, and given space, according to their needs.
When Charles and Anna reach the remote home of Jonesy and Hester, a fae-werewolf pair, all is decidedly not well. Hester has been taken by mercenaries, and Jonesy is not keeping it together so well. This is terrifying, because Jonesy is also way more powerful than the pair ever let on, and who knows what his fear and worry might unleash. Charles and Anna end up in an ugly fight with Hestor’s captors, and it soon becomes clear that the Marrok’s pack has a traitor in its midst, someone who has sold out the wildlings for unknown reasons. Charles, Anna, and a small inner circle of the Aspen Creek werewolves must warn the remaining wildlings, and figure out who’s betrayed them. And where the heck is Bran?
Burn Bright travels to the bleak Montana wilderness and inside the heart of the Marrok’s pack. Bran’s mate Leah, always been a bit confounding, ends up taking a much larger role than she has before. Unliked by nearly everyone, including her husband, she has so far has played the foil more than anything. Getting into Leah’s head caused me to reevaluate several relationships I’d taken for granted in earlier books, in ways that were not always comfortable. It’s no small thing to surprise a reader a dozen plus books deep into two series, but Briggs does just that in Burn Bright—not with a flashy revelation, but with a seismic jolt, shifting the ground beneath my feet by mere inches, and reorienting an entire landscape. Well done.