Many urban fantasy writers include werewolves, fae and vampires revealing themselves to the world, but only a few actually look at how people would realistically react. Patricia Briggs' "Fair Game" gives us both a sobering portrait of how things might unfold AND a solid serial-killer thriller. The third Alpha and Omega novel has a suspenseful story at its core, but Briggs also provides quieter moments so her characters can breathe.
After having to kill several werewolves, Charles is beginning to crumble mentally; he's seeing ghosts and starting to give in to his bloodthirsty instincts. So he and Anna are sent to Boston on a special mission -- assist the FBI on a serial-killer case that has lasted decades. The killer initially had a straightforward pattern (Asian teenagers), but began including werewolves and fae. Each one was carved with witch symbols, raped, and finally murdered.
Now the human daughter of a high-ranking fae has been kidnapped, and the FBI/werewolf team has only hours to find her. But the case becomes particularly strange when they discover that a long-dead witch and a bizarre kind of fae may be involved in it. And unless they figure out who the killers are fast, Anna might be their next target.
"Fair Game" tries to tackle a lot of heavy topics -- prejudice, the cost of killing, and the way normal humans would see the "monsters." And honestly, Patricia Briggs does really well. She doesn't dip into any heavy-handed gay/racial symbolism, and she doesn't depict ALL humans as slavering racists or groupies either. Laurell K. Hamilton should take notes.
The plot is a heavy, fast-moving affair with a feeling of creepy, overhanging suspense, marred only by a few scenes where the characters seem to forget the crisis. It's heavy, dark stuff, made of blood, black magic and killers who are complete unknowns, winding up into a bloodsoaked, genuinely freaky finale. It also has a finale that is both satisfying and realistic, altering the dynamic of human/supernatural relations. Things won't be the same again.
But Briggs also inserts scenes that allow her characters moments of quiet and reflection. And occasionally, there's some gentle humor -- the chapters from Brother Wolf's POV ("No taxis for werewolves!", or Charles and Alistair singing a Welsh folksong after the rescue.
This book also addresses something that perplexed me about the previous Alpha and Omega books: how can a guy like Charles be okay with being an enforcer/executioner, and how can Bran be okay with sending his son to kill? Turns out they aren't -- Charles is haunted by the ghosts of those he killed, and at times Brother Wolf has to take over to keep him from losing control. Fortunately, Brother Wolf is adorable.
Meanwhile, Anna has developed a lot from the frightened, timid creature she used to be -- she's now stronger and more assertive than before. She even faces off against the Marrok. And Briggs populates Boston with a solid cast of characters -- the strong, capable Leslie, the feisty local Alpha Isaac, and the elegant ancient fae Alistair.
"Fair Game" took a long time to arrive, but it was worth it -- this is the sort of urban fantasy that we need more of. And it leaves you wishing you knew what would happen next.