Reviewed in the United States on March 18, 2018
I am an avid fan of Briggs, but I have some terribly mixed feelings about this book. In the end, the bad feelings were strongest.
Good points: about five chapters in I liked Anna again and her relationship with Charles was excellent. Interesting developments for furthering both series. Lots of backstory on all the major characters.
TLDR; pedophilia(yes really, despite what the author's assistant has said, if you look at it timeline-wise), victim blaming, world rule breaking, not a lot of action, out of character actions, the outright destruction of a great character, and the tainting of the other series in the universe. Felt like a filler book.
To start with, The Conversation:
It was just a blip, a short conversation that occurred early in the book to provide a building point to changing the readers view about Leah, who was a strong presence in this book. And it was one of the most reader/character relationship breaking things the author could have included.
***MINOR SPOILERS BUT WORTH NOTING**** Anna and Charles have a conversation about Bran and Mercy, focused on Mercy's past with the pack and particularly Leah. It was designed to give the reader a plausible reason for Leah's dislike of Mercy (which we already had, she hated all of Bran's children fairly equally because he cared about/relied on them more than her). It went on to state that Bran had "funny" feelings for Mercy, referencing his rescue of her, the battles of wills they engaged in throughout her years with the pack (Mercy lived with them from age 3 months to 16 years old) and how he treated her. Anna mentioned those "funny" feelings to Charles who denied it at first, then admitted he had noticed it and others, including Leah, had as well. The overt tone of the conversation was that Bran harbors romantic feelings for Mercy.
Problem one: This just dripped with pedophilia. Mercy was 16 when she left. The battles of wills, the car wreck, the peanut butter incident, and music nights all happened BEFORE she left. These "funny" feelings were the product of their time together.... when she was a CHILD. We learned in Moon Called (or Mercy book 2, I'm not sure) that Mercy had not even seen the Marrok after she left Aspen Creek, which was around ten years before the series started. Therefore, this insinuates that he had romantic feelings for a child. It gave me worse heebie jeebie squicky feelings than Samuel trying to convince Mercy to elope at 16 because at least that was presented in a way that clearly showed that everyone knew what Samuel did was wrong, including Bran who stopped it. I read in a post that another reader had contacted the author's assistant asking if Bran was a pedophile, and the response was that he was not, all these romantic feelings developed later, not while she was a child. However, if you look at the timeline through the lens of Anna and Charles' conversation, that just is not possible. Most, if not all, of the things mentioned were when Mercy lived in Aspen Creek. Details given about Leah show that she hated Mercy from infancy. Mercy left at 16. She had little to no time spent together with Bran after leaving Aspen Creek, so even ignoring the specifics of the conversation, the timeline adds up to a really disgusting and pervy answer. Charles says that Bran would "never act on these feelings," but that feels like an author cop out and the mere existence of said feelings is gross.
Problem 2: Bran is Mercy's father in the ways that matter. After rereading the previous books, I found no mention or hint of any other type of relationship. Mercy views him that way. Samuel and Charles view them that way, and have outright stated it. Bran walked her down the aisle. He came to rescue her when she was kidnapped, and to support her after she was assaulted. He helped her with the vampires. He comes when she needs him to, but otherwise he lets her live her own life with very little interference, just like a good father should. When Bran disowned Adam's pack, Mercy felt abandoned by him. When he came to help her, she was relieved that her father hadn't abandoned her after all. All of the sweet moments between the two are reflective of a complicated father/daughter relationship between an overbearing man and a rebellious woman who didn't know how to give up and never stopped doing what she felt was right. It was fantastic and difficult, shaded by the confusion of a thousands of years old, fairly sexist, dominant male who was somehow both impressed and annoyed by her sneaky defiance. Their interactions, both the alluded to past and the present, were heavily influenced by Bran's feeling of responsibility for Mercy's well being because at 3 months old, he pretty much became her father. He said so to her face, that he knew she was his the moment she was handed to him at 3 months old (I'm trying very hard to not view that statement through a perv lens now). Mercy had her foster father Bryan, who was an important part of her childhood. Yet he killed himself when she was 12, and Bran as Alpha of the pack took on an even more direct role from there. From the stories told, he was very involved in Mercy's early upbringing. He was her father. Not to mention how on Earth would Mercy miss that undertone in their relationship as she got older? Especially if it was obvious to everyone else in the pack, as implied by Charles. Even if Mercy missed it, how could Samuel have? Surely Charles would have told him? And if Samuel had known, I cannot imagine that he would make a move on someone his father wanted but couldn't have. Samuel was never painted as a cruel character and that would be cruel to everyone involved. All of this added up to make the "funny" (read pervy stepdad) feelings for Mercy feel like an overly contrived plot device, and now every interaction between those two characters has gone from reconciling father/daughter to slimy and gross to think about. The adorable stories and memories now read as Bran "grooming" Mercy. All of this to try and give the reader a reason to hate Leah just a little less.... which leads to the next issue.
Problem 3: The victim blaming..... I had no words at first.... the victim blaming had me wanting to cry. The tone of "the conversation" was that Leah hated Mercy because Bran is in love with her.... This was painted by the author as an acceptable reason for Leah to hate Mercy. So that was a HUGE hit for me. The author was obviously making excuses for Mercy's tormentor and using a man's inappropriate behavior as an established, valid reason for hating Mercy. Briggs portrayed this as something the reader should accept without question too, and I was heartbroken. The characters themselves all used the gross stepdad feelings as an excuse for Leah as well. Mercy was a child who in no way could control the creeping done by a thousands of years old werewolf, so why would Leah blame her? Leah and EVERYONE else in the situation should have protected the innocent kid and tried to stop the pervy guy. Instead, they all accepted it and hated Mercy? I guess that blaming the other woman(woman used loosely here cause it should be child) does happen by the other half of a couple and by friends I suppose. However, I absolutely REFUSE to believe that Anna would pile on. Yet she flat out states that if Charles had the same kind of "funniness" towards Mercy, she would feel the same way about Mercy as Leah does. Anna is a survivor of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. She has always been portrayed as kind and giving. She is a nurturer, which was so strongly cemented in her personality that when she became a werewolf, she was an Omega. As a survivor of all that, I cannot believe that she would EVER blame the victim for the choices of others. Anna is strong and is learning how to stand up for herself again, she is more outspoken and vocal. To have her blame Mercy and side with a woman she dislikes felt so wildly out of character that I was (fortunately) pulled right out of the book. Anna is a strong enough woman to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the man it belonged to, and if she found Charles was in love with another woman, she would not make excuses for him to escape all blame. There is no excuse for the emotional and sometimes physical torment that Leah meted out against Mercy. End of Story. By the end of the book, I still had no respect or liking for Leah who deserves no happily ever after. I also now feel the same about Bran. He has become a perv who should be removed from power over vulnerable people. Which killed me. Bran is one of my favorite characters, deeply flawed, highly intelligent, with a tragic backstory that caused damage he had to learn to compensate for as best he could. Now he is none of those things, just a pedophile who (fortunately) "wouldn't act" on his urges. To try and make the reader swallow a hateful message of victim blaming as an excuse was the most destructive thing Briggs could have added to a series I have loved due to the strong women.
Second major issue, OOC actions and Rule Breaking:
There were so many out of character actions and what felt like rewrites of the rules that govern the world, particularly magic. The who done it reveal was poorly executed, as I knew before I got there. It was also incredibly out of character for the villain to have lived for YEARS in within Aspen Creek with all of these powerful werewolves who just so happen to be able to smell lies. Did someone hit Charles, Samuel, and Bran over the head after every interaction they had with this character? Did their noses fall off when they met the character in the street and have to regrow? Did the very intrusive, in other books at least, pack bond just fall apart in the Marrok? So I guess they just somehow missed this evil in their midst.. Charles also just spontaneously kills someone for following the orders of their alpha. It was completely out of character for a man who has always been so concerned with justice. Then there was some nonsense about this wolf "could have disobeyed an order from his alpha if he really wanted to". It read as another cop out. That has explicitly never been the case in other books. Bran was portrayed as, not only gross, but also weak. He put off managing his pack and made other people do it for him. It was really weird because if that was the norm over the centuries, then someone would have killed him by the present. And finally, Anna was mean. In the first few chapters she was just mean... for no reason. She rubs the Mercy thing in Leah's face in a very passive aggressive manner and does several things that are, at best if you squint really hard, thoughtless. That is not the Anna I love from the previous books.
All in all, this was not a book I consider an addition to the series, either A&O or Mercy. If I could bleach my brain of the squick factor and douse my rage at the victim blaming, I would still have a hard time getting past the over narration in this book, the constantly switching points of view that included minor characters I could care less about, and most importantly, the weird out-of-character actions and crazy rewrites of magical rules already well established.
I am not sure where this series is going. I am afraid to read any more by this author because I reeeally don't want the wonderful associations I have for both this and the Mercy series to die a painful death. I'm terrified that there is going to be some story arc on the Bran/Mercy thing and that would be the worst thing I can imagine. IF I can somehow scrub away(brillo pad maybe?) the memory of "the conversation," I think I can keep enjoying the books published so far and just forget Burning Bright ever happened. I will delude myself into believing both series ending after Silence Falls. Kind of like how I did with How I Met Your Mother.