Prophecies, pups, pack bonds, and politics. Mates, talk of marriage, and acts of mercy. In short … life as normal. For Matt, still unbitten yet not unblooded, the world is settling back into a regular rhythm of college classes; long talks with his Alpha, Steffen; long talks with the other three foretold alphas — Geri, Freki, and of course, Hati; and quiet nights with his lover, Rasmus.
And then he’s kidnapped by Villum, Warlord of the Völsung, and comes face to face with the enemy. But without his pack, without his first bite, there’s not much Matt can do but wait for help. And hope. Because if Villum finds out he has Sköll in his hands, there’s no telling what he’ll do.
Flaring Ember is the fourth book in the Vargr series. It’s a series I have more or less enjoyed, and this story features both the best and worst parts of the previous three books. In this fourth installment, we have Steffan’s pack, a handful of Regional Alphas, a passel of pups, feral wolves, human mates, long introspective thoughts, long introspective conversations, and an almost sleepy pacing of people thinking and talking and thinking some more. And then more people show up to have their own long moments of thinking and talking. And then Matt has to do some more thinking. This book feels very much stuck in wheel spinning mode for most of the story. Because Flaming Embers is a crossover between the author’s Cubi series and the Vargr series, there’s a lot of time spent introducing new characters who have their own way of life, their own customs, their own rituals, and all of it has to be set up while, at the same time, the story is trying to follow the usual template. Matt thinks. New characters are introduced the story. An Omega is taught not to duck. There’s a fight and Matt is part of it. A human is introduced who must now be shown the Vargr, who takes to it with minimal difficulty. Then there’s more talking, more thinking, and then someone is attacked (or in this case, kidnapped.)
The introduction of the Cubi shows the author’s weakness, in my opinion, and that is characters. Every character in this series feels like they act, talk, think, fight, eat, and drink in the exact same voice. There is so little difference between this one or the next other than names or gender — which isn’t helped by the constant introduction of new characters in every book. I can give a small mention of how Matt’s motives differ from Hati’s, or how Steffan and Tristan have to deal with the Alphas of other packs, but the characters are so interchangeable I honestly couldn’t tell you about their personalities other than they’re good guys, they care for each other, they support each other, and they hate evil and injustice.
There are also a few small things that stand out in this volume more than previous ones, such as the incessant need to compare Denmark and the packs to the United States. In every single book, there’s some comment or other about how America doesn’t do things the way the Packs would, or that Denmark does, and in this book it comes up four times. I can’t tell if it’s meant to make a point or not, because the way it’s brought up is … well, in my opinion, somewhere between smug and defensive. The passages add nothing to the story, the comparisons are surface deep and don’t ever really make a valid point, and the pointed way they are inserted feels jarring in the flow of the conversation.
Likewise, the constant mentions in this book about sex. Now, the Vargr are hardly puritanical. For the most part, they embrace polyamory — not group sex, but relationships with multiple people, all of whom care for and love one another in a supportive way that sometimes involves sex, but not always — with pack Alphas knowing they shall be assigned a Bitch (the term for female Vargr of rank) who they will breed with, and hopefully get along with, even if they have other loves and other lovers. But in this book, with the introduction of the Cubi, sex suddenly becomes more of a conversation, which stands out all the more because it wasn’t made a big deal of in any of the previous books.
At the 80% point of this book, I was thinking that I was pretty much done with the series. The familiarity of the set pieces, the sheer number of background characters, the lack of any real romance or relationship because everyone is friendly with everyone else and no one has a distinct personality … and then the author shows their skill in plotting. The final 20% of this book drew me back in. I appreciated the way all the breadcrumbs scattered in this book and previous books comes together for a very satisfying conclusion.
Unfortunately, I don’t think it was enough this time. A long, leisurely book can be wonderful, especially one with rich world building and intricate plotting. But I’m finding it hard to keep any interest in a world with not enough character development. I’m finding it hard to care about Matt, Hati, Steffan, or any of the other dozens of characters because they’re so similar; more than that, they feel interchangeable and replaceable. I feel like I’ve gotten everything I can out of this series, and the ending of this book was satisfying enough that I feel comfortable ending it here.