This seems to be my week for reviewing sequels. Like my previous post, I thought I’d cover two books at once.
But first off, IF you like urban fantasy and haven’t read the Mercy Thompson series, you should stop right here. Go get Moon Called (despite cheesy cover) and see if it suits you. I would say if you like Jim Butcher, Ilona Andrews, Faith Hunter, Rob Thurman or Carrie Vaughn, you’ll like these books. If you hated Bella in Twilight, you’ll like these books.
And if you don’t like urban fantasy you shouldn’t read this review. It’ll sound dumb to those of you who read a higher caliber of fiction – but hey, we all like what we like.
And now that I’ve sent away most of my readers, here’s my review.
Mercy Thompson is a mechanic living in the Tri-Cities area (Walla Walla, Pasco and Kennewick) of Eastern Washington. She owns her own garage and specializes in fixing up German cars. She is absolutely one of my favorite fictional characters – I would be her friend if I could. Mercy is tough, smart, loyal and quick to act. She never shies away from a threat or a challenge, which lands her in a fair amount of trouble. She doesn’t care about things like clothes and hair and says she isn’t terribly pretty.
She’s also a shape-shifter who turns into a coyote.
Unlike werewolves, she isn’t affected by the full moon and didn’t become a shifter because she was bitten; she was just born this way. She never knew her father, and her mother had her fostered by a werewolf pack in Montana. Mercy fell in love with werewolf Samuel Cornick as a teen but that didn’t work out when she realized he only wanted her because they could have children together. She left the pack; got a history degree; got a job as a mechanic (what else would you do with a history degree?); bought the garage from a friend; and has been there ever since. Her neighbor is Adam Hauptman, the Alpha werewolf of the Tri-Cities pack. They are friends, and a little more, but Mercy doesn’t want to be in a relationship, and werewolves are pretty controlling mates.
One thing that makes Mercy interesting is she’s the only shifter she knows. She has no idea what her background is or why she can do what she does. She’s not pack and she’s not human. This makes her an outsider.
That’s a quick overview of the series (I’ve given nothing away that isn’t background in the first book). Books 1-4 are Moon Called, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, and Bone Crossed. I think Book Three is the best but would recommend all of them in order.
When I read Silver Borne last year, I was disappointed. First, because I’d been waiting for it a year and it was over way too quickly. It just felt shorter than the others, I don’t know if it actually was or not. My expectations are pretty high so my primary reaction was that I wanted more.
I also didn’t think the story had the weight or depth that the earlier stories had. Patricia Briggs is really good at creating complex villains and detailed story lines, and you honestly don’t know how it’s all going to be resolved. This book felt disjointed, like none of the story lines were given enough time.
The story begins with about four different subplots. First, Mercy borrowed a book about fae magic from an antique book dealer in Book Three, and she gets a call from a friend about the book, who’s worried that the book dealer might be in some trouble and says to keep the book safe. She goes to track down the book dealer and return the book if she can.
Second, her good friend Samuel Cornick has tried to kill himself. His wolf side has taken over his human side to prevent him from killing himself, but the problem is that the Pack can’t allow a wolf to be in control. With werewolves, it’s the balance between human and wolf that keeps the werewolf sane; otherwise the werewolf is a threat to everyone around him. Mercy needs to give Samuel a little time to figure things out and regain control.
Third, a fae tries to kill someone in her garage, either Adam or herself, and she has to figure out why.
Fourth, the Pack is not happy with her relationship with Adam, because she’s a coyote. This turmoil makes the Pack unstable, which means a lot of unhappy wolves and a serious threat to Adam’s authority as Alpha.
Got all that? A lot is happening in a relatively short book. Some of it ties together and some of it doesn’t, which is part of the problem. When I read the book a second time, I enjoyed it a lot more. I could see how these different plot elements are related, and I appreciated how much time Briggs devoted to exploring Mercy’s relationship with Adam, her relationship with the Pack, and the Pack’s relationship with Adam. If all she gave us was a fantasy story, it wouldn’t have been enough. Where Briggs really excels is in creating characters we care about and developing realistic interactions among those characters. This book spends a lot of time on those relationships.
Unfortunately, the fae/book dealer storyline gets short shrift. I never really felt I understood the significance of the book or the title, and Briggs introduces a new character that we don’t learn nearly enough about. The story leads to a confrontation and resolution in the end that feels rushed.
Don’t get me wrong – a not-as-good Patricia Briggs book is still better than most of the other urban fantasy I’ve read, except for Ilona Andrews’ books and the early Jim Butcher books.
Book Six in the series, released two weeks ago, is River Marked. This is the first book that explores Mercy’s background. I really liked that this book didn’t feel rushed like Silver Borne. Interestingly, readers on Amazon were pretty unhappy with the pace of this book, giving it slightly lower ratings than the other five. This book is very different from the other books in the series, but I liked that it had a different feel.
For most of the book, Mercy and Adam are on a camping trip along the Columbia Gorge, the river that divides Oregon and Washington. I visited this area last year so it was fun reading about it. It’s a beautiful, peaceful part of the country. Mercy and Adam spend most of their time alone or with new characters; most of the characters from the previous books have a minimal presence in this one.
Mercy and Adam realize something is wrong in the area, partly because they were sent to the area by the fae, who always have some mysterious motive. Mercy and Adam save a man from being eaten by something in the river, but at the same time Mercy is “marked” by something in the river with tentacles. This “marking” should put her under the control of the river monster, only because she’s a coyote she can resist its influence. She begins to see visions of people who have died (or will die?) in the river. She and Adam meet a mysterious group of local Native Americans who know how to help her fight the beast. Some of them are shifters, like her – crow, hawk, etc.
Briggs really explores Native American legends and the history and landscape of the area. I loved the detail she brings to the story. I also loved learning more about Mercy’s father, Old Joe Coyote, and what it means for her to be a shifter. This is the first book where Mercy is really part of a group, not just the odd one out. I wish Briggs had done more with the new characters though; they seem a little one-dimensional for the most part.
There’s a little too much “telling” as the locals recount various folk stories, and a lot less action. It was less of a read-in-one-sitting kind of book and more a book you draw out – but since I’d rather take my time with one of these books this worked for me. Adam is somewhat less dynamic in this book, but that’s okay too because Mercy really takes center stage instead of him charging in and rescuing her.
At the same time, there isn’t a ton of side stories or relationship development like in Silver Borne. Briggs tells one story and she concentrates on that story. Mercy and Adam, for once, are fine; the Pack is fine; Samuel is fine. Stefan is not fine, but that seems to be a story for the next book, maybe – either that or she gives him an appearance because the fans asked her to.
This may be a transition book, but I’ll read it again because, like most of Briggs’ books, there’s too much to absorb in one read. And because I like Mercy enough not to wait a year for the next one.