It’s a yearly event now, the coming out of a new book in Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. Each March a new installment hits the shelves, and I am fairly sure , after reading the tenth book, that it won’t end too soon. Assigning only the ulterior, financial motivation to the author would be unfair. I’m absolutely sure that it would be incredibly difficult to part with characters as likeable, vibrant and alive as hers. There’s always another story to be told, another angle to explore… And yet, and yet, maybe it’s time to say goodbye.
Ten books is no mean thing. These are not doorstops in style of Czajkowski or Erikson, or let alone Martin who publishes each new installment of Game of Thrones in two parts, because otherwise the binding wouldn’t hold… These are urban fantasy books, three hundred odd pages long and no more. Still, ten books about essentially one character is a lot. And if you don’t have an overarching plot, spanning more than a couple of books, unfolding slowly in the background of the main action – like in Dresden books, to keep the example from the UF field – pretty soon you may find yourself without anything important to say.
I believe that’s what has come upon Mercy Thompson’s world. The books are still engaging, well written and filling one with a pleasant sense of meeting an old friend whom we haven’t seen for a long time. The problem is that this friend of ours hadn’t changed a bit. There’s nothing new to be said. No new ideas to be exchanged or discussed. Just a quick recount of things that happened, and how they had not altered us in any way. Mercy Thompson stopped evolving after Bone Crossed.
I know it’s a bold thing to assert. We’re at book ten, and what, she hasn’t changed for the last six books? And my answer is, sadly, yes. It wasn’t a drastic stop, four books and bang, done. However, all the main elements of Mercy’s world had been well established by Bone Crossed. Her character, and the characters of protagonists surrounding her, have been established as well. Whatever happened afterward, however it happened, had been linked directly to the status quo achieved by the end of Bone Crossed. It seems a paradox, really, that the characters who changed the most are tertiary to the main story: Stefan, Zee, Tad, or Bran. But Mercy herself, or Adam and his wolves, are like an old photo. Whatever happens, they stay the same, locked into their charted paths of behavior, forever pushed into rigid relations. Things happen to them, sure, but nothing can change who they are, how they think, what they do. I can almost see the neatly stacked cards with character traits, somewhere in Patricia Briggs’ drawer (or laptop). Mary Jo: doesn’t like Mercy; brave and judgmental. Ben: talks dirty but has a heart of gold. Darryl: strong-willed and smart. And so on, and so forth. So it all boils down to one simple fact: however much I like Mercy’s world and the characters populating them, to believe in them fully I need to see them develop. And this crucial ingredient has been missing from the books for a while. Why do I write about it only now?
Because Silence Fallen could have been a great book. A UF great, granted, nothing so grand and mindblowing as Żelazny or Czajkowski or Erikson or Cook. But still – Bone Crossed-great, or late Dresden-great. Swirling action and European adventure, with our heroine once again on its own, faced with grave dangers and a total lack of language skills. Prague at night. Werewolves and vampires, and vampiric witches – and a golem! A ragtag rescue party assembled and flown into the middle of Italy, to meet with an old and shrewd and dangerous vampiric prince. Could’ve been so good. Instead, it’s just ok. The plot? Awfully tedious, and that means a lot coming from me, because I really have a lot of tolerance for tediousness in the Mercy Thompson series. The action is not what I read these books for. But I need the action to be at least somewhat original, for gods’ sake! And what do I get? Mercy gets kidnapped. Again. She escapes. Again. Vampires are behind it all. Again. She throws herself into danger. Again. She is caged. Surprise? No, it all happened before, only in different plots and at different times. I am not going to list the remainder of Silence Fallen plot, but rest assured – it’s goes exactly like the above. No suspense, no sense of danger, not even a bit of the sense of uncanny or strange. All falls into the old, worn tracks. There’s maybe one, tiny surprise, but again it is foretold by the new invention of Patricia Briggs, a foreword of sorts to each chapter, put into Mercy’s mouth. It foretells the events in each chapter, robbing it of the last modicum of suspense it could have otherwise.
In Night Broken I thought the flaw lay in choosing a volcano god from the other half of the planet as the main villain. With Fire Touched, I thought the problem were fae. Now I am sure that the issue is something else entirely – the drying well of ideas on the author’s part. This book could easily have been a third shorter. Almost a half of it is… not fluff, but a rather uninteresting description of events from Adam’s perspective. I greatly value the idea of POVs, provided that each character has something unique to add. Here, one POV is truly Mercy’s voice; the other – a weird mix of omniscient narrator and Adam’s perspective, which is just… off. It feels artificial, makes the narrative muddy, and falls totally flat in the department of emotions. We are given detailed descriptions of rooms – gold, rose and whatnot, of plates and table cloth, in short – of the life of rich Italian princely vampires. And that’s truly and fundamentally boring.
I write this with regret. I was – and still am – a fan of Mercy Thompson series. I liked the light, sometimes endearingly awkward humor; I felt the connection with the characters, growing and changing through the first four books, and then slowly stopping in their development tracks. Still, I very much enjoyed various adventures of Mercy and her gang – until I didn’t.
Let me be clear. Silence Fallen is not a bad book. However, it’s not a very good one either. It’s average, and that’s a letdown for one of the best UF series on the market. I’ll read the next book, after it hits the shelves next March ;). I just won’t wait for it with baited breath. And I will think twice before I order it in hardcover – though the one thing that is still A-class in this series is the covers :).