Patricia Briggs, Smoke Bitten (2020)

Author: Patricia Briggs

Title: Smoke Bitten

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 352

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.

Score: 4/10

P.S. Do you still read any good UF series worth recommending? If so, please let me know!

49 thoughts on “Patricia Briggs, Smoke Bitten (2020)

    1. Umm nah, 4/10 is like “barely passed.” Between 6/10 and 7/10 is more of an “ok” read 😉. 4/10 denotes something not totally wasted, but not good either; I usually give it to disappointing reads 😁

      Dos Santos covers are usually nice; not too flashy, not too cringe-y, and they usually show some clues regarding the contents of the books which is fun 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I have all Mercy Thompson books up to the 9th, I think. The covers do look pretty, but the contents just kept getting worse and worse, so I stopped buying, Dos Santos or not 😉

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                1. The Night Watch series? I started reading the first one ages ago and it didn’t capture my attention back then… Something was missing. Maybe the translation wasn’t right, though I’d expect it to be fine as I had a Polish copy and from Russian to Polish is not that far – at least structurally and grammatically speaking… Or maybe it was just bad because someone thought it would be simple to translate 😅

                  Liked by 1 person

  1. bummer. It is always painful to watch a beloved series crash and burn. Especially over an extended period of time. Almost like a certain franchise that we both loved 😉

    I don’t know how “urban fantasy” it really is, but Larry Correia’s Grimnoir trilogy is pretty good. I definitely enjoyed it more than his Monster Hunter International series (of course, I liked that too, so….) and with it being a trilogy, you know you won’t wear out your welcome.

    I did just find a new (to me) author, Declan Finn. He writes decidedly “catholic action” books, so it might not be down your alley. But he has a series called Saint Tommy, NYPD and I think it’s up to book 6 or 7. I’m going to be reading and reviewing the first book later in October.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, exactly! 😉

      I read MHI and didn’t like it, but maybe Grimnoir is better – I’ll take a look 🙂 Trilogy right now sounds promising, the long series somehow don’t hold too much charm for me 😉

      I’ve never heard of Declan Finn, but I remember you also mentioned some other series with a detective/rune reader? Can’t remember the name of the series or the author, but I do remember your enthusiasm 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your post pointed out a sore truth for me: that UF series (and probably other series, as well) do have an expiry date and are subjected to the unforgiving law of diminishing returns. I read only the first book of the Mercy Thompson saga, so I might still look forward to a number of decent books, but your problems with this series sadly mirror my own with Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series: by DNF-ing book 13 I regretfully said goodbye to it because the characters seemed bound to a sort of Groundhog Day repetition, and the novels relied heavily on those huge batches of info-dump that seemed more like padding than anything else. It’s clear that at some point authors should find the courage to stop their creations’ life support and move to greener pastures…
    Better luck with your next book 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! 😀
      Yes, that is an unfortunate fact of long series… I’m not sure if I have any UF series left that I enjoy – I’ll check it with the new Dresden book soon enough, I guess 😉
      But you are spot on with the law of diminishing returns in book series – there is a point at which the author should just ruthlessly finish it – give it a happy or unhappy ending, but an ending nonetheless.
      I’m sorry October Daye ended for you in such a dispiriting way; I remember you enjoyed it a lot. But I can see it being cursed into endless repetition because the author ran out of ideas.

      And good luck to you! I still hope there’s a series out there that is enjoyable and smart and not past its prime 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. S.D. McKinley

    The only UF I have read are Jim Butcher and an indie author, Jack Knight. I’m sure you are familiar with Mr. Butcher, but I randomly accepted an ARC for Mr. Knight’s newly released book in the “Hunted” series and was pleasantly surprised by it. And don’t be a stranger Ola. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I’m a book behind in Dresden Files, and I do wonder how it’ll hold up – many of the bloggers I follow were quite enthusiastic about this new Harry Dresden book.

      I haven’t heard about Jack Knight, I’ll check his books. Thanks for the rec! 😀

      A stranger? Sorry, it’s early and I didn’t get it :/

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Ah, for a moment there I was scratching my head if I somehow know you in real life and didn’t make a connection! 🤦‍♀️
          I’ll keep in touch, though! 😁

          Like

  4. I love this series, but I do agree, Mercy either needs something major to shake things up or the author should just end it before it wears out its welcome. To be fair, in the last couple of books it does feel like Briggs trying to build to something new, and I’m since still enjoying myself, I guess I am happy to wait a little longer 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m happy for you! 🙂 I had hopes for this one, especially in the light of previous several very bad installments – this one seemed to promise something going forward and the beginning, without that horrid pirate game for once, seemed to deliver on that promise. But I think I burned myself one time too many on this series – and I say this with regret, because Briggs actually can write slick, emotional scenes. From now on, I’ll be just reading your reviews! 😄

      Like

    1. Oh, Bakker’s series gives me shudders even so many years after I read it – I finished at book 2 as well, it was so bad.

      Frankly, I’d never recommend this series to you 😉 For me this was an equivalent of a light comedy action flick that’s pure escapist entertainment for a Friday evening 😉 it’s just that it doesn’t work even in this limited capacity 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m really bummed out I couldn’t finish it, as conceptually Bakker is so interesting on his blog, and allegedly his theories are built into the series… Oh well… I thought the first book was brilliant though.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. There was an overly ripe and strong whiff of special-snowflakeness and Mary-Sueism in his first book, and it only got worse in the second… I shudder to think of what happened in the third 😜

          Some of his concepts were interesting – that’s why I read the second book even despite many reservations about the first – but his penchant for gory porn and pornographic gore overwhelmed them very quickly, and the blatant Mary-Sue nature of the main protagonist just made the book totally unpalatable for me.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Shoot, I just realized I actually read all three… I just remembered that it didn’t end… 🤦‍♀️ I even wrote all three reviews!
              Kellhus is such an improbably perfect, exalted, unique (enter some other epithets describing his absolute greatness) character that I don’t see any other way of describing him than Special Snowflake.

              Liked by 1 person

            1. It always is, I think – that’s a part of the problem 😉 The authors write themselves into their books as these super-genius, super-powered characters who are loved by everyone and if someone doesn’t love them they’re stupid or dead or bad. And I as the reader wonder what kind of complexes the authors are trying to cure… Especially considering the rest of the contents of Bakker’s books. I enjoyed the first book; the two subsequent ones were simply atrocious.

              Liked by 1 person

                1. Honestly, I don’t believe that. I can believe that Bakker would attempt to portray his actions in this light, but having read the three books in their entirety I must say I haven’t detected even the slightest hint of criticism of the Mary Sue trope; on the contrary.
                  Anyway, if you’re interested, here are my reviews:
                  https://reenchantmentoftheworld.blog/2016/08/03/scott-bakker-the-darkness-that-comes-before-2003/
                  https://reenchantmentoftheworld.blog/2016/12/06/r-scott-bakker-the-warrior-prophet-2005/
                  https://reenchantmentoftheworld.blog/2017/09/01/scott-bakker-the-thousandfold-thought-2006/

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. Truth be told, I thought so about the first books and the idea of Kellhus as the one able to mentally break down human behavior to its fundamental elements. But I don’t think it worked because if the inherent Mary Sueism of this approach – the only one enlightened Messiah able to manipulate everyone else and remaining above human life as it is. So I don’t think I’ll be checking out the rest of the books anytime soon.

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  5. piotrek

    Heh, I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of these. Especially now, when we have two new Butchers – although with Dresden I’ll wait for paperbacks. For some reason I rated no. 9 high on GoodReads, but I also remember feeling it’s time to conclude this story 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, don’t bother. Maybe your sister would still enjoy them, but somehow I doubt you would 😉
      I’m trying Dresden next, though with certain trepidation. My relationship with these books was uneven in the best of times… Are there going to be new Dresden additions to the game?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. piotrek

        About the game – don’t really now, now I don’t have people willing to play it…

        Briggs – yes, I used to buy the books for my sister, but now she’s slowly going through Butcher, and I already have a book for her (a new volume by Węcławski/Polak, explaining how the Catholic Church is really an atheistic organization 😀 ).

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  6. I had a long vacation from this series and then just recently caught back up so atm I’m not feeling quite as burnt out with it all – but, that being said, there are things that are starting to irritate me and some of the action feels a little forced and all over the place, incoherent somehow. I’m sick of Adam’s ex being used to create tension and trouble – we’re too far into the series now and that needs to be dropped. I’ll carry on for a few more books but I do think this is probably reaching the end of it’s days.
    Sorry you were so disappointed.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, that Christie twist at the beginning just soured my mood – it seems that she’s used every time the author doesn’t know what to write; then it got better, but by the appearance of the monstrous Adam/Mr Hyde I was truly and completely numb to this series.

      That’s ok, though, I think 😉 I’ll just find a new series! Do you have any recommendations? 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yikes. To be 12 books deep into a beloved series only for it to go downhill after the 7th sounds painful. This almost sounds like a case of denial starting at book 8 too! 😉 I’m glad to hear that you’ll be giving up as of now though.

    I don’t read much UF because… I don’t know that many that intrigues me. The only one that I know and enjoy if Fonda Lee’s Jade City trilogy and that’s mostly because it has gangsters in its plot! 😀

    Great honest review as always, Ola! 😉 Hope the next UF series/book you try turns out MUCH better than this was!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, you know – series of any type are weirdly similar to gambling; once you get into it you become invested enough to want to reach the finish line no matter the cost 😜
      I have several that I abandoned, judging the cost/benefit ratio too expensive in the long run – though not without some internal struggle 😉

      I didn’t like Jade City enough to read the second installment; there was not a single character I enjoyed reading about and the jade worked too much like drugs to lend the story the fantastical skew it needed.

      Thanks as always, Lashaan! 😀 I hope so too, let’s see how Dresden holds up – if not too well, expect another scathing review! 😜

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  8. buriedinprint

    A friend of mine recommended this series to me, but it didn’t really click for me either. They struck me as the kind of book I’d be happy to read if I was stuck in bed with a really bad head cold, with warm socks and a cup of something to hold onto while the book was shoved between blankets to hold my page. I don’t mean that in an insulting way, because in that mood you really really need a good story to fall into, but there aren’t that many books that get read in that situation either. It’s been years since I’ve read any UF, but I’ll look for other recommendations in this thread too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, you’re totally right! These for me were always pure escapist entertainment, a palate cleanser of sorts between more serious reads. But these recent three-four books were just getting so repetitive, uninspired and boring, that despite being quite well-written and sporting characters I used to care for, I didn’t have it in me to continue this literary flagellation 😉
      Hope you’ll find something interesting! 😀

      Like

  9. I’m impressed by your dedication to reviewing something that was ‘that bad’!

    Your analysis of the reasons why it doesn’t work has been very entertaining, as well as enlightening. Your conclusion: no new ideas or character growth, suggests something I’m always wary of with stories that evolve into a long series, the suspicion that writing has taken second place to wages.

    Good luck with your search for a long series to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Cath!
      I actually didn’t review the previous book; it was extremely bad, but I still had hope the next one will be better. And here we are, me with this scathing review and completely disenchanted with the franchise, and you entertained by my woes – which is actually very flattering, as it was my objective all along (and some grumpy grumbling) 😀
      I couldn’t agree more! There is a point in most series where money seems to win with ideas hands down, and that’s the point of no return for me.
      Thank you! You’ll be the first to know if I find something cool 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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