Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor
After reassessing my reading habits recently, I realized three things. First, I’m tired of reading books where all the main characters are sixteen years old. I’m way too young to feel like I’m ten years past my prime. Second, I tend to read a lot of science fiction/fantasy/supernatural-type books—which shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone who’s been reading my column for awhile. Third, I like books that have strong female protagonists at their core. Not necessarily physically strong, but someone with intelligence and mental fortitude, someone who doesn’t take crap from anyone. So I started to cruise the Science Fiction/Fantasy aisle at the Borders across the street. And what I found was Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series.
Mercy is a mechanic living in Washington state. She’s got a pretty normal life—aside from the fact that she can shape-shift into a coyote, she was raised by werewolves, and one of her best customers is a vampire. The books—Moon Called, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, and Bone Crossed—are all individual mysteries, albeit with a supernatural twist. Their closest literary cousins are Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries (and their television counterpart, True Blood) and Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, but these books will probably also appeal to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, less obviously, Veronica Mars.
So why do I like these books so much? Mercy is surrounded by creatures—primarily werewolves, but vampires, fey, witches, and ghosts also play significant roles— who are stronger and more supernaturally gifted than she is. The werewolves in particular are very hierarchical—and Mercy, as a female and a non-werewolf, falls at the bottom of that hierarchy. Yet she always manages to hold her own, even when surrounded by the very dominant, very territorial, werewolf males in her life. Although the werewolves often view her as a lesser creature who, at best, needs protection and, at worst, would make a good dinner, she doesn’t take crap from them. Instead, she maintains her independence and refuses to fall into the submissive role they want her to play—and does it all with a sarcastic, smart-ass attitude that reminds me of…well, me. Mercy relies primarily on her wit and intelligence, and this helps her survive and thrive in a werewolf-dominated environment. She’s also strong, loyal, compassionate, and willing to look past what someone is and accept them for who they are (very important when so many of your friends aren’t quite human).
The stories themselves are also just fun and exciting to read. I’ll be the first to admit that I’d make a terrible detective—whenever I read something like this, the bad guy is always the last person I’d suspect. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like trying. When I read the first book in the series, Moon Called, I couldn’t put it down. I rushed through as much as I could on my lunch break and stayed up late trying to get to the end. By the time I got to the latest book, Bone Crossed, I was so engrossed in Mercy’s world that I practically forgot about the real one.
These books aren’t lacking in the romance department, although if it’s werewolf erotica you’re after, you’re looking in the wrong place. The romantic angle is definitely a subplot of the series, rather than the main arc, although it is a thread that links the books together. Two suitors vie for Mercy’s affections: Adam, the local werewolf pack Alpha and Mercy’s next-door neighbor; and Samuel, Mercy’s childhood sweetheart whose father rules all the werewolves in the U.S. Unlike some stories where the romantic victor is predetermined, it’s not obvious which guy Mercy will choose. Of course, she doesn’t exactly spend a lot of time obsessing over it, either. How can she, when she’s so busy rescuing kidnapped teenagers and hunting down demonic vampires and clearing her old boss of murder charges? This is one of the other things I like about Mercy: both guys are important to her and she loves them both in their own way, but she’s also fine on her own. (Just as a side note: For those of you more familiar with Charlaine Harris’ very matter-of-fact sexual descriptions and dialogue—or the even more blatant depiction of sexuality in True Blood—the sexual scenes in this series will seem very tame to you. Briggs’ description of such encounters definitely falls on the safe side of PG-13—or in many cases, the books eschew talking about sexual encounters completely, leaving it entirely to your imagination. On the other hand, scenes of violence are described much more vividly. Blame it on our Puritanical American culture.)
One word of caution: This is definitely one of those cases where you should not judge a book by its cover. Don’t ask me why the book publishers, designers, or marketers would, in a series that likely appeals largely to women, design covers that consistently make Mercy look like she’s wearing a “Sexy Mechanic” costume for Halloween, but they did. Do not be fooled by the cleavage-heavy siren on the covers; once you get inside the books, you’ll discover that Mercy is much more likely to wear mustard-stained shirts and greasy coveralls than push-up bras and low-rise jeans.
So if you’re looking for a grown-up, butt-kicking heroine (like me), if you just feel like you’re going to go into True Blood withdrawals before next summer (also like me), or if you just feel like a world populated with werewolves and vampires and fey is more interesting than the one we’re actually living in (ditto), then Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series might be for you.
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