Having recently finished Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s Raised by Wolves (see review here) in a bid to finally tackle the plenitude of unfinished series on my shelves, it was straight onto the sequel. Trial by Fire, the second in the trilogy, follows on six months after the events of the first book. We find the Cedar Ridge Pack settling into their new lives, and Bryn acclimatising to her new role as Alpha (albeit a very human one). Yet the arrival of a terribly injured werewolf onto their front door stop, a werewolf belonging to an opposing pack whose hate for Bryn is extreme, certainly unsettles the new dynamics. This new arrival is desperate to escape the torment of both his alpha and a strange group of humans whose open threats and strange abilities leave Bryn little room for maneuvering. Bryn is led into an ever more confusing and strange world, where werewolves are not the only threat.
The book picks up quite seamlessly from the previous book, and I certainly did not feel as if I had missed any moments or events. It does slightly recap things from the previous book which can be slightly annoying to existing readers of the series, although does allow for newer readers to understand the series somewhat.
I would be lying if I said that I enjoyed the first half of this book quite as much as the previous one. The tone did not feel quite as unique as the first in the series, and Bryn did not feel as intriguing as she originally had. It seemed pretty stereotypical, with the human (and very ‘badass’) girl being a major player in this supernatural group, withpowerful friends and handsome love interests. Additionally, despite her human status, Bryn seems to have taken to life as Alpha almost too easily, settling into a routine where even school is still a part of her werewolf life.
Bryn herself I also initially found to feel rather forced as a character, with her sarcastic, plucky nature feeling quite overbearing and cliché. Having said that, the characters of Devon and Lake still managed to live up to the enjoyment their characters had gifted in the first book, and they felt much more natural as people. I am still very interested in them as separate characters from both the pack and Bryn, and would love to see more from their perspective.
Despite all of the above, I did feel that Bryn had matured quite quickly by the second half (and especially the conclusion) of this novel, with her no longer being as much of a snarky teenager following stereotypical YA roles. We see her come to terms with the fact that despite her ‘resilience’, she is still very much human, and she cannot control the events around her. She learns that horrible events are capable of happening, and her personality and alpha status cannot stop that.
The book was without a doubt incredibly fast paced (I read the book during two days of commuting to work) and extremely plot focused. It is able to ride off the groundwork completed in the first novel, and to maintain a fast and enjoyable speed. Whilst I do think that the character development fell somewhat flat because of this, with the characters appearing very much how they had in the first book, it did make for a very easy, and so quite pleasant read to break up more serious, or ‘literary’ fiction. That is not to say that this devalues the book; I found it thoroughly enjoyable and as I have already stated, read it at top speed.
Thankfully, apart from a few chosen scenes, the book still managed to avoid presenting itself as overly romantic, and cringe worthy in its teen romance. I am also very grateful that it avoided the dreaded trope of the love triangle. On the other hand, I found the continual reference to the pack mentality, and the possessive qualities of the werewolf’s, especially towards their alpha, to be tiring and overbearing. Whilst I understand the need to accurately convey the intensity of this feeling, having it constantly reiterated to the reader did become rather tedious. It could also be argued that this kind of mentality also stops the romance between Bryn and Chase becoming too cliché, and it can often be explained as a part of a werewolves possessive nature.
I did guess the major plot twists and turns, but this did not detract from my enjoyment of the reading experience. Whilst I felt that this book had more flaws perhaps than the original in the series, I actually preferred the plot line within this book, finding it to make more of a gripping and exciting read. I would definitely recommend this book for any one who enjoys YA Fantasy, and are also more interested in reads of a faster, easier nature, which many people look specifically for in a YA book. In many ways, these books reminded me of a softer, easier version of Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, and I would definitely recommend that series to slightly older readers as a platform to a maturer read.