Collections of short stories from the same author – and certainly set in the same world – like this one can be very hit and miss. After all, a lot of authors write short stories that are designed to go into mixed anthologies to draw in new readers who have never come across their world – when you put them into a book together that is then aimed at readers of the series they can feel very unnecessary, like they add nothing and are generally just filler in the longer series.
This one, I think, rather wonderfully avoids that. Most of these short stories do an excellent job of expanding on elements of the Mercy Thompson/Alpha & Omega world and delving into more detail. This is a great thing for a series that has gone on as long as this has, because there are always going to be gaps – there should always be moments where someone’s story wasn’t explored or a concept wasn’t expanded upon because it simply wasn’t relevant to the main plot – but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t still add to the world, flesh out a lot of side characters and generally add a lot of meat even if they didn’t quite fit.
So we have Silver that looks at the history of Bran and Samuel before they became werewolves, telling us about Bran’s with mother who enslaved them both – something which had been referred to in past books without ever really expanding upon it. It also brings in Samuel’s connection with Arianna; again I knew Samuel and Arianna had a history but I was never really aware of it’s depth or how far back it went. This story alone took a huge amount (while simultaneously reminding us just how very dangerous the fae are).
Roses in Winter adds some more flesh to Asil’s character – his compassion, his gentle hobbies and his ongoing struggle with the wolf due to his extreme age; and through that we see the almost inevitable struggle every werewolf goes through as they get older as well as the conflict that new wolves face trying to hold onto control and the sadly necessary executions of new wolves who fail to gain that control. It’s a great insight not just into Asil but also into how hard it is for Bran to lead, and a look at werewolf control beyond “rawr, I am wolf, cower before me, rawr!”
In Red, With Pearls brings some desperate characterisation to Kyle and Warren which has been desperately needed in the series. The only gay characters, they are often background in Mercy and Adam’s story and, unlike just about every other member of the werewolf pack and assorted associates, they’re the most affable. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing – but in a story where just about everyone throws up some problems, the gay characters being the mellow “we’ll go along with whatever you want, straight folks” has shades of the GBF, even the foreward of this story notes that Mercy considers Warren the gentlest werewolf she’d met. This story was essential to show more of these characters beyond how they appear when Mercy needs them or how they add to Mercy’s life – to try and claw back some sense of them as more than Mercy’s entourage and give them some of their own character and plot lines which I definitely like. I also like the further delving into the witch world building and the idea of the Pack witch – nearly every pack has a witch on call, but that doesn’t mean the witch is a nice person.