Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Trial by Fire, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

How did I get this book? Well, there's a bit of a story, actually. You who read the blog know how much I love Raised By Wolves. So I was going nuts over trying to get this one when it came out. I mean, more Bryn & Company? I'm definitely interested.
The library I normally use hadn't ordered it. The library I also have access to was ordering a copy and taking forever to get it. Then my friend (this one we'll call Dragonrider) came to my birthday get-together, bearing gifts...
... including Raised By Wolves and this book. Yay Dragonrider!
I stayed up way too late last night reading it.

Those who haven't read the first book, read my review of that. Then go read the book.

For those who have...

First round in "Bryn vs the werewolf Senate and tradition" is finished. The score: Bryn 1, Tradition 0.
Now she's the young, female, and human alpha of a very unlikely collection of werewolves. But they're Pack, and they matter to each other, and they don't mind being unusual. But now, scant months since the Cedar Ridge pack's formation, trouble appears... or rather, trouble collapses on the front porch on Thanksgiving night, and of course Bryn's not going to leave well enough alone.
Shay, the leader of the Snake Bend pack (and Devon's older brother) has gone too far with one of his pack. Now Lucas, injured and desperate, demands the protection of Cedar Ridge. At first it seems just an issue of a runaway Were, but when Bryn's nightmares worsen and the enemies begin to show up, it's clear that something more is going on. Something bigger. Something that's been brewing for a long while.
And the Cedar Ridge pack is right in the middle, headed towards battle and potential destruction.

If anything, I'm going to say, this is better than the first book. Jennifer Lynn Barnes is packing on the emotional impact, upping the stakes, introducing new threats. This book is about werewolves, yes, but it's also about responsibility, compassion... all the costs and benefits of being selfless, both to one's-self and to others around.
Bryn's done a lot of growing, and she's had to. She's still got her sense of humor, her friendly teasing, but she's an Alpha now, a leader. She's making decisions - decisions on how much to follow in Callum's footsteps, decisions at each moment about how much to enforce her authority on the Weres in her pack. At the beginning of the book she's been choosing leniency most of all, but as things heat up, her policies begin to shift around.

It's come to me that there's a huge theme-thread about authority in this book: how much does a leader have the right to control their people? Granted, in the real world we don't have psychic powers or pack-bonds to enact our will on others, but the question is the same. Where is the fine line, Ms. Barnes seems to ask, between suggestion and coercion, between influence and absolute control?
Even Bryn's attempts to use her Alpha authority can't stop some of the things that happen by the end of this book.

Every time I thought the plot was resting at last, something else happened, and I was on the metaphorical edge of my seat for most of it. Some of the scenes near the end are nearing literary greatness. The final one is simply, beautifully chilling. And I am heartened by the fact that there's already a rough draft of book 3 in the works!
Though those of you who reach the end of Trial by Fire will see a particularly hard scene coming up in that selfsame book 3. I know it will have to happen sometime, but that won't make it easy, for me or for Bryn or for a lot of others.

As for the romance... frankly, it's a little overshadowed by the fact that Bryn just has friends. Chase is simply another of them - another who perhaps views her slightly differently - and there's a bit of kissing but not much more.
(There is a point where I got nervous that they would go further, but though the book's vague about it, I'm positive they didn't. I wouldn't recommend some of Bryn's practices with Chase [technically I suppose he could pass it off as guard duty?]; however, nothing indecent actually occurs.)
In addition to that, there's another small romance that develops. Suffice to say that it doesn't lead to anything objectionable either.

This one has more of a bittersweet ending than the previous book. I hope this trend won't continue.... I love my Cedar Ridge people!

Age rec: Anyone who's read Raised by Wolves can read this with no problems. Though, as I said, Bryn does some things with Chase that I wouldn't recommend or practice, nothing objectionable happens. The violence is probably a little less present, except as follows Lucas... okay, skip what I said about less violence. These books will be violent at times; that's just how they are. And I don't think any less of them for it.

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