Serena’s Series Review – “Mercy Thompson” Series

Mercy Thompson series

Books: “Moon Called,” “Blood Bound,” “Iron Kissed,” “Bone Crossed,” “Silver Borne,” “River Marked,” “Frost Burned,”and “Night Broken” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace, 2006, 2007, 2008,  2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: Bought the first few, the rest from the library

Spoiler warning: I will try to avoid large spoilers, but some minor spoilers are inevitable to cover the progression of the story throughout the series. 

Review: The “Mercy Thompson” series holds the perhaps ignoble position of being the first urban fantasy series I picked up. As an avid reader of fantasy and sci-fi, I’m not sure what has held me back from urban fantasy overall, though I can’t say the cover choices are helping anything! I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but when I’m browsing the shelves in the library, covers featuring scantily clad women are probably not going to be the first to jump out at me. Which is unfortunate, because overall, these books are pretty darn fun. I am currently reading the most recent (the 9th!) book in the series, and prior to posting my thoughts on that, we’re going to jump into yet another series review!

Mercy Thompson is a coyote shape-shifter who lives in central Washington state and works as a mechanic. (Fun aside: I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest and get unreasonably excited when I’m reading a book that’s set in, believe it or not, Pasco, Washington. Surprising, central Washington is not a go-to setting for most authors!) Mercy was raised by a pack of werewolves after her mother discovered that her baby had turned into a coyote cub in her crib and being understandably perturbed by this decided that werewolves would be the best option as caretakers. Now an adult, Mercy has broken ties with the werewolves and is determined to make her own way through the world. Unfortunately for her, she just happens to share a backyard/field with the Alpha werewolf of the Columbia Basin Pack, Adam Hauptman.

Starting with the worldbuilding: Briggs calls on several of the traditional characters found in fantasy and urban fantasy. The series begins in a world that has just learned that the fae exist about 20 years ago. But the fae have been sneaky and carefully ensured that humans only know of their more “kindly” folk, hiding their power players in fairy reservations that the humans have set up for them. In an interesting take on the history of reservations stifling the people they are meant to protect, the fae make great use of their allocated land, much to the humans’ dismay as the series progresses.

Unbeknownst to humans, however, are the werewolves and vampires. They, understandably, have larger “image issues” when thinking of coming out to people. The vampires, specifically, just aren’t nice guys. Though Mercy does have an awesome vampire friend, Stephan.

The werewolves are the central group of this series, and as the books progresses it was fun watching the evolution of how the werewolves viewed and interacted with the world. Starting from a very isolationist perspective, they must adjust their perspective as they grow to have closer relationships with humans and as the fae begin making power moves against the human world.

Mercy, of course, plays a large role in this. There are no other coyote shape-shifters, so while not human, she is also not a werewolf and quickly becomes a bridge between these many different groups. Mercy is a great narrator for the series as a whole. Perhaps one of the things I appreciate most about her, as compared to other urban fantasy leads, is her acknowledgement of her limitations. Of course, she’s still heroic and always ends up in the middle of situations above her pay scale. But she is honest about her abilities, both the advantages they give her but also the weaknesses that restrict her.

And, per usual, there is the inevitable love interest. Love interests plural, actually. Sadly, the first few books of the series commit one of my larger “book trope sins” by setting up a love triangle between Mercy, Adam, and a werewolf from the pack she grew up with, Samuel. Mild spoilers for this: I didn’t mind the love triangle that much as it seemed very clear to me from the very beginning that Adam and Mercy were the eventual goal, and Samuel was more a stumbling block than a legitimate second option. That said, I feel like I could have lived without this aspect of the story all together. I have yet to find a love triangle that I feel truly adds value to the story. The best I can say is that this one doesn’t derail the story, and I was able to largely ignore it. High praise, as far as I’m concerned.

Briggs’s world is very creative, especially her version of the beings within it. The fae are set up in a way that allows for endless imagination, and Briggs takes full advantage of this. So, too, she expands the mythology of the vampires in her world in a way that also allows for creative new stories. This creativity most fully hit its stride later in the series when Mercy begins exploring her family history and the origins of her shape-shifting ability. Briggs’s unique take on the creatures in this world is what has allowed this series to remain engaging through 8 book.

However, there are also some weaknesses to the series that I must point out. While Mercy has a lot of admirable qualities, she also tends to fall into the trap of blaming herself for everything that happens. At a certain point, I just found myself rolling my eyes at this. There’s a fine line between accepting responsibility for things that happen that are truly a result of your own actions, and adopting a sort of “world revolves around my decisions” perspective that begins to come off as self-centered and denying the fact that other people have their own agency. This is especially a problem towards the last few books in the series, a point at which Mercy is surrounded by friends and family who care for her and make their own decisions to protect her or follow her lead.

Another flaw is the lack of other positive female characters in the series. In the beginning, this flaw isn’t as apparent as the cast of characters is significantly lower. But as the story continues, it becomes more and more apparent and uncomfortable. It’s not that female characters aren’t there. It’s that they are there, but then are set up in a way that makes them a negative contrast to Mercy’s awesomeness. Female members of the werewolf pack continually have issues with her. And then in the last book, Adam’s ex-wife is brought into the story in a way that is doing none of the characters any favors. I don’t appreciate stories that sabotage other women characters as a way to promote the female lead. The last book does make some cursory attempts with other women characters, but the unfortunate, and frankly unnecessary, use of the jealous ex-wife largely wiped out these small steps. This is an area that I will be on high alert for improvement in future books.

One of the books also includes a very violent scene with Mercy that was hard to read. I’m still not convinced that this was necessary to the story overall, which is perhaps the most unfortunate part. I don’t believe these types of scenes should be included lightly. The aftermath was also very challenging to read. I appreciate that Briggs made an honest attempt to deal with the lasting effects of this situation, and in a lot of ways she was very successful. But it’s a difficult situation to write, and there were a few stumbling points that were cringe worthy as well.

Overall, I have enjoyed the “Mercy Thompson” series. As with most long-running stories, some of the books are stronger than others. There have been points that I have enjoyed throughout them all (creative world building, fun characters, snappy dialogue) and also points of annoyance throughout them all (misuse of female friends for Mercy, love triangles, confusing plot points). However, if you like urban fantasy, this series is a staple in the genre and definitely one worth checking out. Stay tuned for my review of the newest “Mercy Thompson” novel: “Fire Touched.”

Rating 6: Reliable urban fantasy series. You know what you’re going to get, with the pros remaining solid, but unfortunately some of the cons are persistent as well.

Reader’s Advisory:  As a series, it’s not on any Goodreads lists as a whole. However, Patricia Briggs has also written a companion series called “Alpha and Omega.” This series features a new protagonist but has several cross-over characters. The main characters from each series never interact directly, but there are references in later “Mercy Thompson” books to the happenings from this series, so it’s worth checking out if you want more of this world.

Find the first book in this series, “Moon Called,” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Reviews: “Magic Shifts”

"Magic Shifts"Book: “Magic Shifts” by Ilona Andrews

Publishing Info: Ace, August 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: After breaking from life with the Pack, mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate—former Beast Lord Curran Lennart—are adjusting to a very different pace. While they’re thrilled to escape all the infighting, Curran misses the constant challenges of leading the shapeshifters.

So when the Pack offers him its stake in the Mercenary Guild, Curran seizes the opportunity—too bad the Guild wants nothing to do with him and Kate. Luckily, as a veteran merc, Kate can take over any of the Guild’s unfinished jobs in order to bring in money and build their reputation. But what Kate and Curran don’t realize is that the odd jobs they’ve been working are all connected.

An ancient enemy has arisen, and Kate and Curran are the only ones who can stop it—before it takes their city apart piece by piece…

Review: So, now that we’re all caught up with the “Kate Daniels” series, let’s jump right in to her next challenge! Life in the suburbs! I feel ya, Kate. Shockingly, Kate and Curran are not exactly ideal neighbors now that they’ve chosen to abandon living at the Pack fortress and have bought a home and property in suburbia. Curran’s habit of turning furry and huge and Kate’s late night excursions are most unwelcome.

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Ew. Shapeshifters.

Curran seems to have been helping Kate with her usual tasks of cleaning up the city. Even more of a chore, now that she has “claimed” Atlanta as her own territory in an attempt to save it from her power-mad father, Roland. But, of course, something must go wrong and their friend, werebison Eduardo (I told you every creature that was ever imagined is in this series!) has gone missing and some new big bad is in town with a score to settle.

After having taken a break from this series for about a year and now jumping back in, I kind of forgot what a madhouse this world is! I mean, this book is comprised of not only a werebison, but the family drama of a werebison/werebear relationship, evil unicorns, a pegasus, and, count them, three giants! What is this book?! Fun, that’s what it is.

Kate is her usual snarky, badass self which is always the primary joy for me with this series. It was also fun seeing Curran outside of his role as the Beast Lord. In a lot of ways he was the Robin to Kate’s Batman in this book, which was a fun change from the usual Pack politics drama that he had been tied up within from the last few books. At the same time, it seems like he will now be running the Mercenary Guild, so he might fall back into the same type of position, just with another group. This probably makes sense for a character like this. Too much Robin is no one’s favorite thing. One book of it was probably enough!

Several of my favorite characters were noticeably light in this book, which was too bad. Saimen and Derek barely showed up. But we did get to meet Martha, a werebear who is the alpha of Clan Heavy. She was only there for moments, but I love her already. There was also a delightfully awkward family dinner with Kate, Curran, Julie, and Roland.

Roland’s all: “Family bonding time!”

Kate’s all:

date-wine-dinner-excused-brb-gif-blonde-awkward-gif

As far as the villain goes…meh? It was another new creature, and all in all it was an interesting concept. But at the same time, now that Roland’s on the scene, stories like these feel more and more like filler. And, not only did we not get a real showdown there or much progress beyond an info-dump at Applebee’s (Roland’s restaurant of choice??), Kate didn’t seem to even enhance her abilities in any way that could be read as progress towards that inevitable clash. So that was too bad.

That said, I still enjoyed this book for what it was: a quick foray into a messed up Atlanta that I’m sure as heck pleased NOT to live in. Though, I’d take the pegasus.

Rating 7: On par with my rating of the series over all

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Magic Shifts” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Badass Female Leads” and “It’s All About The Swords!”

Find “Magic Shifts” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Series Review – “Kate Daniels” Series

Kate Daniels SeriesA couple of years ago, I went on an urban fantasy binge. Urban fantasy, as a genre, has been very hit and miss for me. On paper it looks like something I would love. In reality? Most of what I’ve read has been fairly “meh.” There are a couple of series, however, that have caught hold and Ilona Andrews’ “Kate Daniels” series was one of them. Her newest book, “Magic Shifts” was published last August with the next in the series is coming out this September. I’ll be reviewing “Magic Shifts” soon and definitely have her newest on my mental list of books to look forward to this fall. But there are like 7 books in this series before this point! In lieu of an exhausting, and frankly, likely boring, review of each and every one of these books, I’m going to combine them all into a mega series review! We’ll see how this goes!

Books: “Magic Bites,” Magic Burns,” “Magic Strikes,” “Magic Bleeds,” Magic Slays,” “Magic Rises,” and “Magic Breaks” by Ilona Andrews*

Publishing Info: Ace, 2007, 2008,  2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: all from the library!

Review: This series takes place in post-Shift Atlanta sometime in the near future. The Shift, a near apocalyptic event where magic suddenly re-entered the world, occurred years before and humanity is still adjusting to what this means for the world order. Suddenly there are shapeshifters, vampires, ghouls, and who knows what else running around the world wreaking havoc on the ordinary folk. The government has adjusted accordingly and attempted to set up systems to maintain order. One piece of this system is the Mercenary Guild. Its name is self-explanatory. Some creepy critter shows up, people can hire a mercenary to take care of it. Kate Daniels is one of the best, and this series is her story.

Throughout the series, Kate explores the mysteries of her past, while saving the day and forming close relationships with a ragtag group of other mercenaries, shapeshifters, vampire controllers, mages, etc, etc. Basically, she knows everyone in Atlanta. And, per typical urban fantasy requirements, there is a strong romantic element in her growing relationship with the Beast Lord, Curran, who is a werelion and the alpha of the Atlanta shapeshifter pack. Steaminess ensues.

What makes this series stick for me in ways that other urban fantasy series did not is our heroine, Kate. The spunky, snarky, warrior woman in these kinds of books is a well-trodden trope. However, Kate stands out not only in her consistency and general ability to avoid making ridiculous, self-sacrificial, dramatic decisions (per other frustrating heroines in series-that-shall-not-be-named), but also in the genuine evolution of her character throughout the books. While there are weaker books in the series than others, and there are moments where she falls into these stereotypes, overall, Kate learns from her mistakes, accepts who she is, and doesn’t devalue those around her, their feelings, or what they can contribute to her cause.

Curran, also, works well as the romantic lead. There are times, especially in the early books, where he plays a bit too much into the classic “alpha male” role which didn’t rub me the right way. But over the course of the series, he, too, evolves as a character and becomes a strong partner for Kate. And, even at his worst, he still acknowledges Kate’s independence and does not interfere in her adventuring ways.

There does come a point towards the last two thirds of the series where I call relationship shenanigans. Up to this point there had been the usual relationship set-up drama, but at this stage in the story, Kate and Curran were firmly an item and had worked through many of their issues. And then. And then!

Enough, I'm tired of your shenanigans

The wedge that was used to insert drama into their relationship felt very contrived. Both Kate and Curran behaved out-of-character, in my opinion, and it was all highly disappointing for a series that had handled its core relationship so competently up until this point. Luckily, this gaffe only lasted through the one book and things have returned to normal since. During this section in the series, it felt like Andrews was coming up against a sort of wall, having gotten her couple together and fleshed out many of Kate’s familial mysteries. She did recover, however, and I am happy to report that the next few books were on par once again.

When I said earlier that Kate knows everyone in Atlanta? Yeah, I meant everyone. There are so many characters in this series! And most of them are tons of fun. A few of my favorites are Aunt B, a werehyena, Andrea, a sharpshooter merc, Julie, a street kid with magical flare, and Saiman, a….who knows what really? But he snarks at Kate and makes her uncomfortable and is fun all around. And there are many, many more! This is both a plus and a minus. As the series continues, it becomes impossible to spend enough time with all of these great characters in each book. One book will spend extra time with one or two and only have brief appearances from the others, and vice versa. So, depending on which characters you like, and how much page time they get in each book, there can be a dramatic difference in your enjoyment of one book in the series as compared to another. Luckily, if you’re just there mostly for Kate, like I am, you’re good to go the whole time.

Each book also seems to live and die by its villain. Some are stronger than others. There are some genuinely creepy magical beings in these books. But, in general, the creativity of the world and how civilization has adapted to all of the craziness is what makes this series so fun. I burned through the first 3-4 books in this series in a matter of weeks. I’m not sure I would recommend this approach, as aspects of the stories became a bit too familiar from one book to the next. But it can’t say anything too bad that I was invested enough to fall into that trap in the first place. If you like urban fantasy, definitely check out this series, and look out for my upcoming review of “Magic Shifts” where Kate beats up on some giants!

*Can we take a moment to ask why urban fantasy novels have such terrible names and covers? I mean, look at those things! Sigh.

Rating 7: Fun urban fantasy lark. You know what you’re getting, but it’s the good kind.

Reader’s Advisory: Since this is a series, it’s not really on a list, per se. If you liked this series, however, I would recommend the “Mercy Thompson” series by Patricia Briggs and “October Daye” series by Seanan McGuire.

Find the first book in this series, “Magic Bites,” at your library using WorldCat!