The newest installment in the Mercy Thompson series, Fire Touched, had hit the shelves mid-March. It’s the ninth book in a series that originally was supposed to have only eight installments, and currently is planned to end after ten, but seeing the popularity of Mercy’s adventures it’s rather probable that it will be longer. Much longer.
The series about Mercy Thompson is the most popular – and most beloved by fans – of Briggs’ works, and for a couple of reasons. One of them can be found here ;). The other is that Mercy Thompson series is a successful combination of very good worldbuilding, likeable, intriguing and psychologically believable characters, adventure, romance and a bit of politics. The creation of characters in Mercy’s world is indeed Briggs’ strong suit: from the main heroine, Mercy, a typical underdog, through the werewolves: Adam, Bran, Samuel and the rest (and I need to put Ben and Honey here ;)), to the fae and the vampires, and even to the local police or various federal agents. The same can be said for the convoluted, realistically drawn relationships which bind the lot of them together, setting them apart or against each other, forcing them to take a side. This is what I read those books for: to see how Mercy will get in trouble, and what will she do – and all the people (and non-people) around her – when she gets in there.
So how Mercy gets into trouble this time? Easy. A troll escapes from the nearby Walla Walla reservation and goes on a rampage through town. But when it gets on a bridge it decides to stay in there, blocking the traffic, trapping terrified people, and generally committing mayhem. But the troll is just the beginning of the trouble waiting for Adam’s pack when Mercy in a fit of grandstanding defies the fae and proclaims the Tri-Cities a neutral territory. Chaos ensues, and many weird creatures decide to make a good use of that opportunity… And if that’s not enough, there is also a mysterious boy, the Fire Touched wanted by fae and by the Underhill alike.
Almost everyone from the old team is there, especially from the ranks of werewolves and fae: Zee, Tad, the Marrok, Uncle Mike, Baba Yaga, even Beauclaire and Nemane and Edythe. We get a cameo from Wulfe and a nicely intertwined story of Margaret and Thomas from the short story Fairy Gifts, one of the better stories in the anthology Shifting Shadows (2014). Stefan is missing, as well as Samuel and Ariana; but truth be told, I didn’t miss them all that much. Except for Coyote; I did miss him ;). There are almost too many characters in this book as it is; and the readers need to have a really sharp memory and good understanding of what had happened before, because Briggs doesn’t give us too many hints or briefs about the past. There are many things happening, very fast and in a short span of time, as if the author herself wanted to rush the story forward to its end.
And the end… is a bit underwhelming, considering everything that had happened before.
It’s a tough one for me, to be honest. I really like Mercy Thompson series. I have a deeply rooted sentiment for it; these were the first urban fantasy books that I have read. But the first few chapters always poise a difficulty to me. They are too sweet; too polite; completely toothless and overly mawkish. The jokes seem so lame that I cringe inwardly as I read them. The beginnings of the plot are usually rather weak; more often than not they have nothing to do with the main plot, they are just an equivalent of a warm-up. A dry-run of sorts. I read them slowly, not determined enough to go through them in one go.
And then – a miracle happens. The pace of the book quickens. The lame jokes disappear; those that are left don’t make my teeth ache anymore. The sweetness is still there, but decidedly less cloying when mixed up with all the horrors Briggs can – and does – come up with. The relations between the characters become prevalent, driving the plot, shaping the events in a probable, psychologically sound way. It gets better. Surprise! It gets really good.
Not as good as some of the previous books, though. There are a few really powerful scenes, emotionally gratifying and very well written, when you can see the trademark Briggs’ quirky imagination, merging the normal with the uncanny. But all in all, the stakes feel significantly lower here than in some older installments; I think it’s the problem of fae.
Yeah, this is another book about fae. The fairy creatures came to prominence in Mercy’s world with book no. 3 and never left the scene. Or, to be more exact, never allowed the author to be replaced by someone or something else. Most of the Mercy’s world’s politics revolves around the situation between fae and people. It’s been fun, and it still seems pretty natural. But, on the other hand, it is very difficult to create so many, one after another, antagonists at once powerful, enigmatic, dangerous and at least partly understandable, who would also be unique. The fae in Briggs’ books more and more become undistinguishable from each other, and from their mythical origins. Frankly, instead of becoming multi-layered and deeper, it becomes repetitive. The fae have enormous powers; neither Mercy nor any of her allies (except for a few fae, of course) have the power to match it. And with those two facts about “Mercyverse” the great struggle that could power those books fizzles out before it really starts.
Briggs writes best when she can mix the ordinary with the weird; her best scenes take place in our world modified by magic. But when she needs to go deeper, to the Underhill, to the realm of fae, the writing loses much of its usual strength. I don’t know where the problem lies; but the descriptions of the fae realm seem rather dry and unconvincing. The details are sparse, the entire dominion of Fairy seems artificial, like a theatrical scene setting and not something we should believe in as a world in its own right.
Still, I really enjoyed Fire Touched. It was a pleasant, engaging read, a pretty good book for lazy summer afternoons. Don’t expect to be mind-blown or swept off your feet; but expect to be deeply satisfied :).