[ Series Review ] Patricia Briggs and Some More Wolves

We’re wrapping up our Patricia Briggs series with her second werewolf urban fantasy:

Alpha & Omega

After a vicious attack by a werewolf, Anna’s life has been three straight years of abuse at the bottom rung of pack hierarchy. But when Charlie arrives to investigate a series of murders, he realizes that Anna isn’t just a werewolf. She’s an Omega, the rarest of wolves–and his lifemate.

Reading Recommendation: Should be read after Moon Called, the first of the Mercedes Thompson series. Personally, I’d suggest reading it after you finish the entire Mercedes Thompson storyline, with Alpha & Omega as a holdover between then and the next MT publication. Is that a bit harsh? Well, no. For one, A&O starts out with less world-building than MT, and it expects you to have some insider knowledge. More than that, you’ll also appreciate the oblique references to characters and events from its parallel sister series if you start in later rather than earlier.

All that said, it can be easily read as a stand-alone if you’re looking for a lightweight paranormal romance.

On the Prowl: Novella

Of the three, I had actually read this last, not realizing that it was the opening of the series. The first book, Cry Wolf, would have made a lot more sense had I started with On the Prowl. As is, this novella introduces Anna. When Anna phones for help, she knows that whoever comes won’t be any better than the vicious pack she’s known for the last three years, but she’s tired enough to almost not care. So she’s not too surprised when she gets Charlie, assassin and enforcer–and an attempt on her life to silence the weakest link in the pack. But Charlie is more than that, and so is she.

I’d say this was my favorite of the series. We’re introduced to a strong heroine–a tenacious survivor who has a lot more sense than most urban fantasy heroines. In this sense, Anna reminds me of Rachel Caine’s Joanne (Weather Warden series) or Kim Harrison’s Rachel (The Hollows series). Anna’s character and troubles reeled me in, and the quick pacing kept me reading.

Cry Wolf: Book 1 

The happily-ever-after of the prequel has dissolved into uncertainty. Anna is free, but she now has a mate in a man she doesn’t know, a home in far-away-frozen-Montana with this aforementioned man, and a new identity as a pack Omega–whatever that means. But before she has a chance to catch her breath and Charlie has a chance to heal, they find themselves in the crosshairs of a thousand-year-old vendetta. Enter one witch, one broken love story, and one ancient wolf looking to die.

The romance element–and how well it worked–surprised me. Because the characters have only known each other for a few days when the book starts, Briggs uses the age-old trope of the soulmate bond to lock them together in irresistible attraction. This usually creates farce where there should be romance. But here, for once, the two characters are okay with the bond. There’s an attraction, and they both want to make it work and are willing to work at it.

What I didn’t enjoy as much was the action plot that drove the story arc. Everyone was too powerful for my tastes, and the final showdown was such that Anna’s Omega powers were, coincidentally, perfectly suited to saving the day. In that sense, the story was an indulgent paddle down the river, all smooth turns and no twists.

Read it for what it is; a sweet paranormal romance.

Hunting Ground: Book 2

This latest installment takes us out of the mountains of Montana: Charles and Anna are sent to Seattle for a werewolf convention.  Charles needs to pacify the werewolf pack representatives about the plan to come out of the closet to the world, and Anna is struggling to come to grips with the abuse of her past and the terror that rears its head now that’s she’s forced to deal with so many wolves in close quarters.

Once again, I felt that the book struggled to straddle two genres and ended up tottering uneasily between them. On the one hand, there was some adorable relationship building between Charles and Anna. On the other, the fact that Briggs needed to develop Anna into a strong woman who could do her own detective work forced Charles into the background. Indeed, for someone who was supposed to be the wolf in charge of policing all the werewolves in North America, Charles became a bit of a hogtied side-kick.

Plot wise, I had a similar problem with this novel as I had with Moon Called; there was no way for me to piece the clues together for the why of the whodunnit because, well, the villain doesn’t think like you or me.

Again, read this for the relationship between Anna and Charles. It’s adorable.

Upcoming: Fair Game (January 2012)

Tangent in which CanaryTheFirst complains about continuity: I have a lot of trouble swallowing the addition of an ‘Omega’ wolf-class. It’s everything a werewolf is, minus all the major disadvantages. I’d been looking forward to reading a story from the POV of the average werewolf. Anna isn’t average.

Also, how in the world had Mercy Thompson managed to grow up in a werewolf pack–the most powerful one in the country–and yet never hear of this wolf type called an “Omega”?

Overall impressions: I approached this series as less urban fantasy and more as a low-key paranormal romance. The focus is on the relationship, with everything else revolving around that. Indeed, the plot often feels…stretched. Enough that at times, I almost wished Cry Wolf and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Hunting Ground had been written as novellas too, rather than novel-length installments.

The entire series is written in third person, which, if you’re a Mercedes Thompson fan, offers a very different feel. It allows us insight into the minds of several characters, including the ever mysterious and powerful Bran. That’s another reason I’d strongly encourage any Mercy fans to wait until they’ve read up on the MT series. Because insight plays havoc with the mystery-that-we-all-love that is Bran and Charlie.

Paranormal Romance Recommendations:

  • Ava Gray: Skin Games
  • Karen Marie Moning: Darkfever
  • Charlaine Harris: Dead Until Dark
  • Ann Aguirre: Blue Diablo
You can find out what I thought of Patricia Brigg’s fantasy books in Patricia Briggs and the Flying Critters. Read about the Mercedes Thompson series here.
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[ Series Review ] Patricia Briggs and the Wolves

The Mercedes Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs

I had to stop and think (a process that ended up stretching into weeks of procrastination) about how I was going to summarize this series. On the one hand, there are six Mercy Thompson books out there, each building on the other, and I want to talk about my impressions, dammit. On the other, canaries like spoiler-free overviews. So here goes nothing.

The premise: For her day job, Mercedes Thompson is the local Volkswagen mechanic in the contemporary Tri-Cities area of Washington, working in a garage she bought from a gremlin. After work, she spends her free time running around her backwoods as a coyote and avoiding her neighborhood werewolves.

Moon Called: The series opens with a great premise, a strong lead character, and a slightly shaky plot. Mercedes Thompson is a shape-shifter mechanic who’s doing very well on her own, thank-you-very-much, when a homeless, starving werewolf stops by and asks her for a job.

The story hooked from the beginning, as did Briggs easy approach world-building. It fits well into the urban fantasy tradition of supernatural heroines–ostracized for their gift, troubled by their upbringing, pursued by handsome men (and not-men), caught up by conspiracies… What can I say, I eat it up.

Blood Bound: Though Mercedes has been fixing cars for her vampire customers on the side for a while now, she doesn’t expect one to come knocking. But Stephan, an okay guy as far as the dead go and Mercy’s friend, needs her help and her unique coyote-walker nose to investigate something that has come to town. Turns out, it’s big, scary, and spells trouble in large, bloody letters.

We learn more about the secretive (and cut-throat) world of vampire politics and about Mercy’s heritage as a coyote walker. Hint: Leaving a walker alive is a no-no for vampires. (Whoops, Stephan.)

Whereas the first book, Moon Called, threw me when its convoluted plot unraveled, the story in this installment is solid.  Instead, I had some trouble on the interpersonal front.

CanaryTheFirst calls a time out to talk about it:

Oh dear. At this rate, we’re gonna be in a lot of trouble by book seven. Sure, I have a weakness for light, fluffy romance in my urban fantasy. But it reaches a critical point (and implodes my suspension of disbelief) when the number of men in love with the main character exceeds the author’s ability to explain what’s so special about our tom-boyish, scrappy heroine. Some authors (I’m looking at you, Laurel K. Hamilton) go for a mystical explanation. Maybe the main character is an incubus, or smells really, really good to magical creatures. Most of the time, though, the immortal, ancient, all-powerful men fight over her because she’s brave, cute, and keeps telling them to get lost.

Right.

So you can see why I became mildly concerned (read: annoyed) when a third powerful manly-man professed his undying devotion to our Mercy. I say. Hands off, vampire!

But! By the third and fourth book, the romantic subplot that was Mercy Thompson’s life settled out; Briggs even offered a couple explanations for the Why-Of-The-Attraction (WOTA). I am glad to say that my cynicism was unwarranted and the love triangle did not, in fact, resolve itself into a love septagon.

Time in!

Iron Kissed: This is the book where the series really hits its stride. When a series of murders happen on the fey reservation, Mercy’s friend and mentor is the primary suspect. She knows Zee didn’t do it, but the Gray Lords would rather he take the fall–as quietly and as quickly as possible.  It’s up to Mercy to figure out who’s behind the deaths and get Zee’s name cleared. This book ups the intensity once again, and the costs of being involved are a whole lot higher in this book.

This is also the first book of the series in which Briggs uses an event to sketch out an explicit message to the audience–one about survival and the lasting effects of emotional scars.

Bone Crossed: Mercy is still trying to heal from the fallout in Iron Kissed when Stephan materializes in her living room, starved and tortured–and really, really hungry for blood.

Turns out, the vampires found out what Mercy did in Blood Bound, and Stephan is merely the beginning. They’re coming after her, and not even her ties to the local wolves may be enough to stop them.

Silver Borne: This book is the high point of the series story arc, pulling together the loose ends from all the other books in the most delightful way. The fey want the Silver Borne, and they have reason to suspect that Mercy has it. Mercy herself has no idea what a Silver Borne is. But when her home is burned down and Sam, her roommate, begins to lose his hold on reality, she knows she’s running out of time. This books marks the conclusion of several plot arcs: who does Mercy end up with, her relationship with the pack, and her position in the supernatural world.

River Marked: Because of how conclusive Silver Borne was in closing up the major story arcs from previous books, River Marked reads like a lighter addition, geared almost exclusively towards the fans: there is an indulgent wedding scene, light banter between characters, and token appearance of old favorite characters.

This novel also diverges from the others in its introduction of a completely new type of supernatural. Mercedes’ native american heritage, something only lightly touched on in the other books, rears its head with a vengeance (and tries to eat Mercy). Despite (or perhaps because) there is no clear continuity between the other books and this latest installment, the books sometimes slips into podium mode, with characters making Message lectures about change, humanity, and Doing the Right Thing. With this book, mileage may vary wildly.

However, I am keeping my fingers crossed that instead of being a shaky downhill roll, River Marked is setting up a new, long-term plot arc. I’m looking at you, upcoming Thompson novel…

Upcoming: Mercy Thompson #7 (Spring 2013)

You Might Also Like:

  • Kelley Armstrong: Bitten
  • Robin McKinley: Sunshine
  • Kim Harrison: Dead Witch Walking
  • Rachel Caine: Ill Wind

Want more Briggs? Check out her Fantasy novels in our article on Patricia Briggs and the Flying Critters. Read about her other werewolf series in Patricia Briggs and Some More Wolves.


[ Series Review ] Patricia Briggs and the Flying Critters

It’s confession time for CanaryTheFirst: series intimidate me. Trilogies, no problem. Anything longer, and I start getting nervous. Why?

Because I know that the moment I latch on to the first of whatever-have-you, I will be reading the entire series, first to twenty-first. Somehow, I will find the sequel as an audiobook on my mp3 player. The third of the series will clamber up from the shelf and into my bag. The fourth and fifth will end up on my desk at home. And the sixth–well, what’s the harm? Seven and eight follow on its heels.

So when I reluctantly picked up the first Mercy Thompson book (werewolves, urban fantasy, spunky female lead, yes please), I had already made a list of friends to call for an intervention. And when I realized Moon Called was not-bad-at-all, it just fed into my obsessive reading tendencies.

Exactly one month after I posted my first review of Moon Called, I’m back with more.

In the last 29 days, I’ve read the entire Mercy Thompson series (Moon Called, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, Bone Crossed, Silver Borne, River Marked), swallowed the Alpha & Omega series (On the Prowl, Cry Wolf, Hunting Ground), gnawed through the Raven series opening (Raven’s Shadow), and finished the first Hurog book (Dragon Bones). I even picked up Patricia Briggs’ 1993 debut novel (Masques) before my library hold on River Marked came through and derailed that effort. I’m still waiting on a couple more books, but it’s probably time for a review–or ten.

I’ll start with the two classic-style fantasies, Dragon Bones and Raven’s Shadow: Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Girl Meets Wolf, Girl Kicks Butt

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

(first in the Mercy Thompson series)

The book started off with the kind of strength I’m not used to seeing in the Paranormal Rom– err, I mean, in the Urban Fantasy genre. Mercedes (Mercy) Thompson is a young woman making her living as a mechanic, when a homeless kid asks her for a job. The catch?–he’s a half-starved werewolf.

From the very beginning, the novel sets out a fantastic tableau of potential. Mercy is a coyote walker (like werewolf, but without any of the downsides), courtesy of the Native American blood of a father she never met. She is also the girl who dodges her foster mother’s invitations to come home for Thanksgiving; Mercy doesn’t fit into that normal world, no matter how much she used to wish she did. The world she does fit in is that of the werewolves and it keeps encroaching on Mercy’s life in its patriarchal and uncompromising way. She left her pack to get away from that–that, and the stark truth behind a teenage romance with a werewolf.

As the story moves forward, it’s clear Briggs isn’t afraid of kicking my assumptions in the shins. Characters I liked were killed, situations I did not foresee happened, and all at a quick and engaging pace. My euphoria at having found a solid character lasted me through the first half of the book and well into the second before a niggling suspicious set in, “I feel like I’ve done this before.”

Continue reading