{Review} Trial By Fire by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

{Note: This review contains spoilers for the first book in this series, Raised by Wolves. If you haven’t read it, and don’t want to be spoiled, do not pass go, instead, read Sandra’s review of Raised by Wolves.}

There’s always a way around orders, a way to be the exception instead of the rule. I just needed to find it. I was going to find it.

~Bryn

Bronwyn Alessia St. Vincent Clare, better known as Bryn, returns in Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ second book in the Raised by Wolves series, Trial by Fire.

She’s proud.

She’s a fortress of strength.

She’s also the leader of her newly-formed and unusual pack, created at the end of Raised by Wolves. She’s stretched the bonds of her previous pack to find her own freedom, to forge a new and different pack while still following the rules that bind them all. With her new responsibility of alpha status, she fights to maintain her balance and dignity as the weight of her werewolf world threatens to challenge her position and deeply-held beliefs.

Bryn’s own path, a path filled with pitfalls, pain and hard, harsh lessons exacts a unique toll. It’s a tricky trail, one never forged before. Yet, she holds fast to what her heart and conscience whispers to her as truth and righteousness.

I needed to protect them, more than I needed water or air or any kind of human connection.

Bryn’s evolving understanding of what it means to be a human leading a pack of werewolves hits relentlessly, hard and fast.

Her pack, the Cedar Ridge Pack, holds its unique status in more ways than her gender and her packs’ youth. They have females, young females. Rarely do packs have even one full blooded werewolf female. Covetous eyes watch them, wait and scheme.

Woven into this challenging situation is Lucas, a young, wayward, abused werewolf who comes looking to Bryn for salvation from his cruel pack leader. It’s against the rules of the werewolf senate (which holds all packs accountable to specific laws) to allow another pack member to slip away from one to join another.

To complicate the situation, a group of psychic humans with supernatural powers come into the picture. They have joined together with Lucas’ pack against Bryn’s. Two powerful and soulless groups are out to subjugate Bryn’s new pack and destroy her in the process.

The intrigue and battles that follow made my eyes race over the pages in a breathless sprint to the finish. Barnes’ faultless storytelling gripped my imagination. Trial by Fire can easily be read as an exciting action tale unfolding word by word, creating images crafted with power and finesse. It also ranks as an outstanding book with thoughtful insights and deep dilemmas.

The world was awash in purples and black and deep, velvety gray. Like shadows, the trees melded into one another, and one foot after the other, I walked toward them.

With these few words, it’s clear that for Bryn, moving forward is not a choice. It’s a compulsion. 

At times, Barnes’ words feel like magic.

She’s created a film reel of images coalescing into a fine reading experience. 

His tone was deceptively pleasant – rat poison dipped in chocolate.

Bryn thinks when hearing his voice it’s

…like a snake climbing up one leg, around my torso, and down the opposite arm.

It’s all so, so vivid.

Interestingly, I could see that Trial by Fires spirals out of a literary history of the lore of shapeshifting.

Werewolf-shape shifters cross cultures and continents. Myths and legends of werewolves, meaning “man-wolves,” hold a place in the mythology of countries as different from one another as Germany and Mexico or Norse myth and Native American skinwalkers. They’ve also edged their way into popular literature and films. The first to hit the big screen was a silent film, The Werewolf, released in 1913. Even Michael Landon (yes, Pa from Little House on the Prairie) was a werewolf (on screen). He starred in a 1957 film titled I Was a Teenage Werewolf. 

For me, Barnes has taken the werewolf genre to another level. Bryn’s pack is evolving and increasingly sophisticated. Their very human qualities of empathy, sympathy, love, hate, commitment and freedom make Trial by Fire stand out. Depth, thoughtful dialog, beautiful language and a powerful story cultivated in Barnes’ writing lift the werewolf story beyond anything I’ve read.

Bryn and her pack struggle with human needs, values and desires. I related to the many faceted characters that step forth from these pages, which made for an exciting and eclectic read that left me waiting with anticipation to discover South Ridge Pack’s next challenge in Taken by Storm, released last month.

FNL Character Rating: I’ll have to wait for the series conclusion, but I’m considering a Tyra rating.

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