Night Broken, the eighth book in the Mercy Thompson urban fantasy series, was released on March 11. I bought it that same day…and finally read it yesterday. As odd as it sounds, the delay wasn’t an insult to the book, but rather a compliment: I like knowing that I have a treat waiting for me, I enjoy stretching out the anticipation just a little longer. (Plus, these books fall into the ‘unputdownable’ category for me, meaning I needed a day where I could safely ignore the real world long enough to finish it.)
I’m not quite sure how to review new books in an established series – if I just comment on the latest installment, I’ll spoil earlier books for anyone who might not have read them. So I’m starting here with an overview of the Mercy Thompson world; if the books sound like something you’d be interested in, go read the earlier ones rather than finishing the review for this one, okay?
(I said ‘world’ because there are actually two series set in the same universe, interconnecting at points: the original Mercy Thompson books, and the Alpha and Omega series, which started a bit later but is on a slightly earlier timeline.)
It’s a world where pretty much anything you’ve ever had a nightmare about exists (bad fairies, werewolves, vampires, witches, as well as uncategorized bumps in the night), so there’s plenty of story fodder for two series. When we first meet Mercy (in Moon Called, published in 2006), the less powerful – and thus perceived to be less threatening – fairies (called fae here) are out to humans. None of the others are.
Mercy herself is a shapeshifter, compliments of her half-Native American heritage: she was born able to change into a coyote at will. Distinct from the werewolves who begin human and are changed through a vicious attack, Mercy was nevertheless raised by werewolves because her human mother didn’t know what to do with the coyote in the crib.
Here’s what I like about the books in general:
Evil exists, even unqualified evil. But it’s not stereotyped: there are good and bad werewolves, good and bad vampires, good and bad fae…and good and bad humans. And sometimes, we come to understand the motivation of the ‘bad’ characters, and sometimes we don’t. That’s pretty much the way the real world works, and it gives an authenticity to the world-building and thus an overall credibility to the books.
Similarly, the characters change as a result of what happens in the stories. There are no reset buttons here. Mercy isn’t the same person she was when we first met her, and neither are the other recurring characters (in either series, though I’m focusing more in this review on Mercy’s time line rather than the one in Alpha and Omega.) There’s love, of both the romantic and platonic varieties, and friendship, and acknowledgement that relationships can be both complicated and beautiful.
Plus, the most important thing of all: I like these people. All of them.
There. That’s my introduction to the series…if you think you might be interested in reading them, and don’t want to be spoiled…stop now.
(If you’re like me, and don’t mind knowing where a story is going, carry on.)
One of the reasons these stories work, I think, is the way Briggs built her world. Put werewolves, vampires, fae and other Unclassified Things together, and there’s no end to the things that can go wrong – and thus provide the setup for the story – whether it’s a Mercy book, or a Charles-and-Anna story.
Here, what goes wrong is that Adam’s ex-wife is being stalked by a particularly nasty piece of work. As an Alpha wolf, Adam would be incapable of not helping her, even if she wasn’t the mother of his daughter, so she comes to stay with them. Mercy’s understandably not thrilled, but here’s one of the things I really, really like about the story, and their relationship: she’s not worried about Adam. There’s never a point where Mercy wonders if Adam would rather have Christy, or doubts him or his love for her.
She does, however, worry about the effects on the pack, some of whom would trade her for Christy in a heartbeat. Ah, pack politics.
Relationships in books (and TV, for that matter) are quite often drawn in black and white – they like each other, they hate each other – when real relationships are frequently very murky, and that’s what Briggs writes, whether it’s other wolves in the pack, or Mercy’s relationship with Stephen.
Meanwhile, there’s another problem: Beauclaire, the Gray Lord who effectively declared war on the U.S. at the end of Fair Game, wants the walking stick that periodically attaches itself to Mercy. The one she’s tried to give back to various fae, without success, before finally giving to Coyote. Oops.
In a lesser writer, those two problems would have somehow turned out to be connected. Instead, Briggs uses the walking stick situation to shed light on the stalker, while giving us more information about Beauclaire (who I personally like, by the way), Coyote, and finally introducing Mercy to another coyote walker.
The books are suspense, building to a climax – that’s expected. But if I have one criticism of them, it’s that I feel like Briggs is trying too hard to up the ante from book to book in terms of how badly the heroes, particularly Mercy, are injured. While it makes complete sense that she’d be more vulnerable than the werewolves, I did have to resist an eye roll in the last two scenes of this in that respect.
And yet…we’re still learning new things about Mercy and Adam, and their relationship, including the circumstances under which Mercy will avoid battle (for all the good it did them.) That thrilled me, as did watching them face the reality that they might actually be facing a foe they couldn’t defeat.
Next up in Mercy’s universe is an anthology of short stories (some new, some previously published) due out this fall, and a return to Anna and Charles next spring.
I’ll just be over here re-reading the series from the beginning. It’s that good.
If she tried anything, she would be sorry. Adam was mine. She had thrown him away, thrown Jesse away – and I had snatched them up. Finders keepers. (Mercy)
Daryl’s voice sounded like it was coming from the bottom of a very deep barrel. It was the kind of voice I imagined a dragon might speak in – if there were dragons. Which didn’t exist. As far as I knew. (Mercy)
Coyote’s road had looked and smelled exactly as I expected – but real life doesn’t do that. Real life is full of surprises, big and small. I’d keep that in mind the next time Coyote showed up. (Mercy)
Love means leaving yourself vulnerable, knowing that there is someone to catch you when you fall. (Mercy)
“I am not sure this is a fight we can win. But there is one thing I do know, and that is that we will not, we cannot, wait around until he kills another innocent. We might die fighting him, but if we do not try and stop him, we are already defeated.” (Adam)
I prayed as fervently as I ever had. I had faith that it would help. But death isn’t a tragedy to God, only to those left behind. (Mercy)