A woman goes hiking with her dog in the northern California mountains, searching for the hidden settlement her father calls home. After a long search she finds the encampment — really a small town — but her father is gone, along with every other person who lived in Wild Sign. Some time later, two FBI agents pay a surprise visit to Anna and Charles Cornick in Aspen Creek, Montana. The agents lay their cards on the table: The FBI is looking for an alliance with the werewolves, and because of past interactions they’ve concluded that Anna is likely the Marrok, the werewolf who rules them all (which leads to an amusing scene with Bran Cornick, who is).
The agents suggest that the werewolves might be interested in helping to investigate the disappearance of the town of Wild Sign, especially since part of the town was located on land now owned by the Marrok’s pack, and originally owned by Leah Cornick, Bran’s mate. What the FBI agents don’t know, but Bran does, is that Leah has been singing disturbing music ever since April, the time of the last communication from someone living in Wild Sign.
Some type of great power is in the area of Wild Sign, and has been for at least two hundred years, Bran explains to Charles, bringing death and misery to the humans it meets. And now it’s waking up again.
So Anna and Charles, along with a third werewolf named Tag, who has some barely-controlled berserker tendencies but also a resistance to magic, take a road trip to the northern California wilderness to investigate the mass disappearance of the inhabitants of Wild Sign, and find out what it has to do with the long-ago, dark history of their alpha’s mate, Leah, and the mysterious werewolf Sherwood Post, who’s been haunting the pages of the last several books in this series.
Wild Sign (2021) is the sixth novel in Patricia Briggs’ ALPHA AND OMEGA fantasy series, or the seventh if you count the 2007 introductory novella, Alpha and Omega (which you should) … or the eighteenth if you include the closely-intertwined MERCY THOMPSON series (which you also should). It’s a pleasure to see the way Charles and Anna have grown and changed, individually and as a couple, over the course of this series. Anna has grown far more confident, and she plays a vital role in increasing not just the peacefulness, but the happiness, of Bran’s entire wolf pack. Even when events occur in California that almost literally take her back to her time with the abusive werewolf pack in Chicago, where we first met Anna in Alpha and Omega, the set-back is temporary. Charles has always been Anna’s protector, but he’s able to watch Anna take the initiative and take pride in her strength.
Tag is an interesting character in his own right, though I didn’t feel that we really got to know him all that well in Wild Sign. The real illumination for readers is in Leah’s newly-disclosed backstory and the insights given into her thoughts and personality. Leah, who’s always been defined by her selfishness and harsh coldness, is clearly in the process of getting a redemption arc here which, well, Briggs has bitten off a lot there. But it’s working for me. Leah’s story is both painful and humanizing for her character.
There’s also a cameo appearance or two by a new magical race in California that (I’m slightly embarrassed to admit) made me squee out loud. They’re a delightful addition to this series, and I hope we meet them again. Less pleasant, but equally compelling, are the black witches, including more of the Hardesty clan that has caused so much trouble for the werewolves in the last few books. They are truly, irredeemably evil … even to their own.
Wild Sign is a fascinating story, hard to put down. But, fair warning, the darkness and horror vibes are especially strong with this novel. The horror includes trigger-warning types of events, like (minor spoilers here) scenes with a mind-controlling rapist and with another old enemy of Charles whose backstory includes horrible crimes against children, incest is implied at another point, and something happens offscreen that I can best describe as tentacle sex. Briggs grapples with serious issues in this series and this book in particular, and she never lets favorite characters off the hook. Still, there’s an underlying optimism and hopefulness that ultimately carries the day in Briggs’ books.
Some highly interesting events happen at the end of Wild Sign, especially with the epilogue, that open up all sorts of intriguing options for later books. I’m glad Briggs comes out with these MERCY THOMPSON and ALPHA AND OMEGA books about once a year! They make up one — or maybe two, depending on how you slice it — of my very favorite urban fantasy series.