Author: Patricia Briggs
Title: Smoke Bitten
Series: Mercy Thompson #12
Were I in the habit of creating titles for my reviews, this one would be Smoke Bitter or The Too Long Goodbye with Mercy Thompson. At 12 books the series has long outlived its merit – at least for me. With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear to me that Briggs’s flagship series should have ended with Fire Touched, book #9, or even Night Broken, book #8. To be honest, the last one I really enjoyed was number 7, Frost Burned, and afterwards the series became a slippery slope of ever less imaginative plots and lamer jokes. And more fawning over oh-so-beautiful Adam. Well, whatever else I can say about Smoke Bitten, it had these three elements in spades.
If you know Mercy Thompson series, you know it’s an urban fantasy set in the more rural part of Washington (the state), and the main protagonist is a young woman with complicated parentage – her father is the Coyote, Native American spirit of mischievousness (which by book 12 has been elevated to “chaos”) and she’d been raised by a werewolf pack in a remote part of Montana. But even if you don’t know anything about it, you can easily pick up book #12 and start reading, because about a half of the novel is a detailed rehash of what had happened before. I realize that authors of long series are always faced with the dilemma of keeping their books streamlined and focused on the new plot lines while keeping the readers in the loop. I’ve seen many solutions to the problem, all slightly imperfect – from not making it easy and believing that by book N-th the readers are already invested enough to know what’s going on, to a short synopsis at the beginning, to a list of characters with descriptions, to info-dumping at every opportunity.
While I’m more or less happy with the first three – especially in our times when if you don’t remember what happened you can easily access one of hundreds of wikis and get your details right, or you could simply enjoy the ride as is, learning or remembering along – I simply cannot stand the last one. Past-info-dumping kills the flow of the plot; it’s repetitive and horribly boring; it puffs up the book and serves mostly as a self-congratulatory authorial walk down the memory lane. Yes, I’ve heard the rationale that there are those mythical newcomers who accidentally start their adventure with a series from book N-th. Really, though; how many of these mythical creature can be out there compared with the regular readers. Besides, I’m pretty sure that at some point, if these new readers like the book (on the off-chance it’s not boring and repetitive and something actually happens in the first half) they’ll probably pick the rest of the books in whatever order they enjoy. You probably already can deduce it from this rant, but spoon-feeding by authors is something I don’t appreciate in the slightest.
But what happens in Smoke Bitten besides the rehashing of previous 11 books, I hear you ask. Not much, to be honest. The main villain is so uninspired that to somehow make the reading more enjoyable I imagined Briggs choosing the character by picking up a book of fairy tales from a shelf, chucking it across the room, and checking out on which page it opened. And because their villainous nature was rather mediocre, amping it up a bit with a help of an RPG manual (the game, not the weapon – though I wish it was the latter, maybe it would make more sense). Mercy Thompson is as usual a very special snowflake immune to all kinds of magic potent enough to kill others. She is also continually the object of interest for all the most powerful males around, be they 500-year-old werewolves, 80-year-old werewolves, undead witch-vampires, regular vampires, mighty fae and what not. There’s a coup brewing, as a small pack of rouge werewolves decided to off Adam and take his place. Not really smart, these werewolves. But that all is just a side note to the main drama of Smoke Bitten, which to me resembled mostly a plot of an 80’s soap opera. The vile, lying ex-wife is still meddling in the affairs of the whole werewolf pack, making Mercy’s social life particularly painful. If that’s not enough, the horrible witch is still meddling in the affairs of Mercy’s love life even from beyond the grave. Marital troubles abound, sex life (depicted in creepy detail) sucks, and the problems are exacerbated by the lack of communication between husband and wife. The marital crisis, evocatively personified by a monster figure with big teeth and an ugly naked tail, is painstakingly being solved for the remainder of the novel with (I suspect) an authorial aid of “Marital counselling for dummies.”
Yes, it was that bad.
Throughout the book I kept wondering whether it’s the classic case of “it’s me, not you.” I’m certain that my reading tastes over the last 5 years changed significantly. I more often look for more challenging reads and I’m way pickier in my escapist reads as well. I’m also more versed in the genre tropes, and more fed up with them. But in case of Smoke Bitten, I think it’s not only me; it’s also the problem of the book. There are no new ideas. The characters stagnated; they don’t change, don’t evolve, they are not being challenged by the events in any material way. The main concept feels tired and worn, and the author’s attempts to revive it don’t work. We get vague promises of more action in next installments, but with yet another book that serves as a filler in anticipation of things to come I’m calling it quits.
No more Mercy Thompson for me. This book was a complete, bitter disappointment, and I’m irrationally glad that I don’t own a copy I’d need to get rid of now 😉. The only thing that’s still cool about this series are the Dan Dos Santos covers.
P.S. Do you still read any good UF series worth recommending? If so, please let me know!