Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

Just finished reading Night Broken, the 8th book in Patricia Brigg’s Mercedes series which I really enjoyed.  As with any series like this there can be peaks and troughs.  I didn’t particularly enjoy River Marked for example, for me, it felt like it went a little bit off track – or maybe it was simply because the majority of the story was based on Mercedes and Adam.  However, the last book Frost Burned turned me around again and this book feels like a really solid edition in the series.  In fact, taken as a whole I now like River Marked a lot more than I originally gave it credit for – Briggs is slowly turning this into something else.  It’s not just a series of books with a bunch of random adventures each time.  Everything is connected and the characters and world are adapted further and grow in intensity, likability and depth with each new edition.

At the start of the book life seems to be ticking along relatively smoothly for Mercedes until Adam’s ex wife, Christy, rings.  She’s running away from her boyfriend who appears to have become possessive and physically abusive and she’s called on Adam and his pack for protection. Of course Adam can’t really turn her away in her hour of need, apart from the fact that she’s the mother of his child he is, lets face it, a bit of a pushover for a damsel in distress.  So Christy moves right back in – literally picking up with the pack and the house as though she’d never been away.  I confess I didn’t like Christy very much and struggled in my mind to see what attraction she would ever have had for Adam.  Okay, she’s an attractive woman, soft and feminine and quite the opposite of Mercedes in virtually every way but she’s also a scheming and manipulative mare whose only experience of the truth seems to be in finding ways in which to bend it!  You could say that she’s very careful with the truth, if you were feeling generous you could say that!  If not then you might call her a few expletives which I won’t put here.  Unfortunately her lack of forthright honesty is about to put everyone in great danger as the ‘boyfriend’ she is running from is much more than at first suspected.

Now, just in case this all sounds very pedestrian and not quite the rough and tumble, anxiety packed fight for life that we’ve almost come to expect from Mercedes, yes, there is a little bit more of a ’slowed down’ feel to this book but in spite of that it’s one of my favourites so far.  This book spent more time integrating Mercy into the pack and establishing her relationship with others.  I like Mercy, she’s a strong character and through the series she’s definitely changed.  She started off as a loner, working hard and having very little time for anything or anyone else.  Gradually though she’s adapted.  She has Adam now and is part of his pack and family.  She can’t always just think about herself but has to stop and consider her actions in terms of the impact they’ll have on others.  On top of that she is in no way the toughest of the bunch but that doesn’t make her into a shrinking violet, she stands her ground even when she’s actually shaking inside with fear.  I like that Mercy is a flawed character, she’s not perfect and like the rest of us she has her own insecurities and petty jealousies to deal with.

Alongside the domestics, never fear, Briggs has spiced up the story.  This isn’t all about who has the longest eyelashes and can bat them the most effectively whilst baking the perfect batch of cookies – Briggs has injected her usual helping of ‘nasty’ and also come up with a whole new deity! Well, probably not new exactly but certainly one that I haven’t read about before.  He may be wrapped up in a human package but he’s the furthest thing from human and very difficult to eliminate – particularly as he seems to be accompanied by two fearsome, huge black canines who seem to have stepped straight out of hell.  We also have the appearance of the fey as one of the Grey Lords makes himself known to Mercy – with a none too subtle request for her to return to him one of the fey artefacts that came in useful in a number of previous stories – and you don’t want to disappoint this particular Grey Lord – his idea of anger can lead to tsunamis and mass destruction on an apocalyptic level!  Of course retrieving this is going to be far from easy, particularly as it’s now in the hands of Coyote and we all know how tricksy he can be.

There’s appearances from a few other favourites.  Stefan briefly makes a show and we learn more of the bond (and the feelings) he has for Mercy.  Tad shows up at a very opportune moment and we make the acquaintance of one of Coyote’s other children, appropriately named Gary Laughingdog.  Half brother to Mercy who was quite useful to have around in a fix with his prophetic visions of the future.  I think he will probably make return appearances in future stories and I quite look forward to that.

In terms of criticisms, yes, I had a few, but they were really minor.  Just niggles really – like, other than a strange plot device to provoke jealousy, how come Adam never answered his own phone!  It’s a mobile phone – which means it goes with you – and who the hell answered his phone before Christy returned to the marital home?? See, small time niggles, nothing to get excited about.

I really enjoyed this and probably the biggest problem was it came to an end all too suddenly, I wanted more and it’s going to feel like a long wait now.  This is without doubt a strong contender to be one of my favourite urban fantasies, Briggs has managed to come up with not just a main protagonist who you can’t help liking, but a whole cast of characters that you will become equally attached to.  She’s also a bit tricksy herself, there are a few twists and turns along the way, plotlines that you just have to run with because they will ultimately twist together into a unified thread not to mention a complete curveball towards the end which for a few moments made me sit bolt upright with my mouth gaping open very attractively!

Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

Just finished reading Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig which was frankly outstanding and I quite literally couldn’t put it down.  Now, I wasn’t really planning on reading this series and I have in fact not read the first book Blackbirds.  Basically, I ordered this from the library – not realising I was picking up the second in this series.  I did of course realise my mistake when I went to pick it up but I thought I’d just give it a few pages and see how things went.  I confess that I’d read a few negative reviews for Blackbirds that made me hesitate to pick it up and starting off with Mockingbird I could relate a little to those comments I’d read but within a few chapters I was under the spell.

Mockingbird brings to us Miriam.  Miriam, following a trauma in her early adult life, has been gifted with the strange ability to see how and when a person will die.  Unfortunately, she has no control over this strange psychic ability and it therefore occurs whenever she has physical contact with another person, so shaking hands or exchanging items or any other of the many ways in which we have regular contact with others.  It’s not a particularly endearing ability this – looking at people in their final throes of death – whether it be through disease, accident or any of the other many ways to die such as murder or suicide.  At the start of this book Miriam is trying to live a regular existence with Louis, who she apparently met in book No.1.  She has a job at a 9 to 5 and even a home of sorts.  But, she’s getting itchy feet – or more to the point itchy hands.  She’s been controlling her ability and it’s starting to build a tension inside that’s about to erupt.  Everything is about to get turned on it’s head in a very dramatic fashion.

Basically put we have a horror story with a difference and there’s certainly a pretty horrid story involved here with rather grisly murders.  I’m not going to deny that this book is harsh.  Bad language and then some.  Murders galore.  It’s not a pretty thing.  Miriam has led a hard life so far and this hasn’t given her any airs and graces.  She’s a bit foul mouthed, she’d as soon insult people as make friends and yet in this story you can definitely see she’s not as tough as she acts.  She does have a hard exterior but it’s starting to crack, just a little.  But even with all her cussing and such like she can be pretty funny.

I really liked the story line in this and the eventual reveal.  I enjoyed all the little appearances with talking blackbirds and visitations from dead people. I also liked the way the story was interspersed with interludes that were like small snippets from Miriam’s past.  It seems that we’ve started to explore this ability of Miriam’s a little and we’ve also had an introduction into other elements.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t have any criticisms.  At the beginning I struggled a bit to get on with Miriam and I think I know why that is.  She does have a bit of a masculine voice although this improved after the first few chapters.  Just sometimes it felt like the way she reacted or spoke was more masculine.  Not really articulating that very well so will swiftly move on….

I will definitely read future books in this series – I think it has the potential to be really good and I could hardly put this down.  I’m not sure that I’ll go back and read Blackbirds – from some of the reviews it seems that Miriam may have been a bit more subdued in this edition – and I think I might prefer this version of Miriam.  Looking forward to the next instalment.

And, on a separate note – these book covers are really something else.  Just really take a good look at Mockingbirds – it has so many extra little things that at first glance you don’t notice.

The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint

Just finished reading Charles de Lint’s Blue Girl.  A story of Imogene who has recently moved to Newford with her mother and brother Jared.  Imogene has decided to reinvent herself anew.  No more running wild or courting the attention of local gangs!  She’s going to study, make friends, attend school and keep a low profile – well as low as you can keep when your taste runs to thrift shop punk!

As we all know, the best laid plans, etc, etc.  Imogene is not going to be able to keep off the radar of the local bullies – unfortunately she is also going to be unable to keep off the radar of the local gang of mischievous and sometimes malevolent fairies and unfortunately their notice is going to attract the attention of something much more dangerous.

I’ve been wanting to read some Charles de Lint for a while now – he seems to be one of these revered authors and as far as I can tell has done wonders for the world of urban fantasy.  He’s based quite a few stories in the make believe town of Newford, the Blue Girl being one of his more recent creations and an instalment suitable for the YA market.  (And for the purpose of clarity – no bad language, over the top violence or graphic sex).

This is a lovely book to read.  It’s told from the different point of view of three individuals.  Imogene, her smart but geeky, newly acquired, best friend Maxine and Adrian – the school’s resident ghost.  I don’t think there’s anything particularly new or remarkably original about these three characters.  We’ve certainly seen the punk outcast in similar novels not to mention geeky kids getting bullied in high school, even Adrian isn’t exactly a new concept, but they make for very easy reading and are well written.  I couldn’t help liking Imogene. I liked her sense of individuality.  She has courage in the face of scary things that lurk in the shadows and she’s not afraid to stand up to the school bullies.  At first you could be forgiven for thinking that her and Maxine are a bit of a strange combo but they fit well together.  Imogene is ready for a new friend who will accept her as she is and not ask to many questions about her past and Maxine is also glad to have a friend who sees beneath the staid outfits chosen for her by an overprotective mother.

There’s the usual school ‘feeling’ about the novel but this is then accompanied by fey, creatures of the shadows – that really do lurk anywhere dark (including under the bed), -portals between closets and real ‘imaginary’ best friends not to mention other strange beings that live amongst us without our knowledge.  Put simply it’s a world that most of us can’t or won’t see.  We live our existences blissfully unaware of their presence and the hidden dangers that they sometimes bring.  This alternate universe plays a different tune to ours with strange ideas of right and wrong and strict codes to abide by.

I suppose reading quite a lot of urban fantasy this first foray into Newford didn’t really bring anything new for me to experience.  But, what I particularly liked about it was that the story isn’t all wrapped up in a school romance – which was a really refreshing change.  No love triangles, not dripping in teenage angst and, major bonus, a standalone to boot.  On top of that Charles de Lint has a lovely writing style that is simple but engaging.

There was a lot in here that put me in mind of different fairytales or previous stories and I think CdL acknowledges this on occasion – for example he mentions the fairytale of the Elves and the Shoe maker and this story gives that a bit of a new twist.

On the whole a very enjoyable read and even though these books are not that easy to come by I will certainly return to the world of Newford.  If you enjoy this you might also want to check out some Holly Black or Melissa Marr.

Also – totally fickle I know – but I do love this cover!

The Blue Girl

The Blue Girl

Fated by Benedict Jacka

Just finished reading Fated by Benedict Jacka, a new urban fantasy series starring Alex Verus.  Alex is a probability mage who runs a small magic shop out of Camden in London.  He spends very little time in the world of magic, his apprenticeship didn’t go well and the magic Council are not exactly impressed with him, hence the need for him to keep a low profile.  However his attempt at leading a quiet life are about to become a lot less easy, particularly as his talents as a seer are suddenly going to become greatly in demand from both light and dark mages.  An ancient artefact has turned up at the British Museum and everyone is interested in accessing it’s secrets.

As first books in series goes this was very enjoyable.  It obviously has similarities to other urban fantasy series and, in fact, contains a reference within the first few pages to a certain magician who advertises his investigative services in Chicago, but they are different enough to co-exist.  Alex is not an investigator, his ability as a probability mage allows him to see the path that a course of action will lead to, he’s therefore very useful at predicting trouble before it arrives or finding the right course of action, he’s not however very powerful, in fact he’s rather vulnerable to be honest and has to rely on his wit and a few simple magical items or friends to keep him alive.

This book pretty much gets straight into the action and to a certain extent I think it relies on the fact that the readers will bring a certain level of knowledge to the reading.  I quite liked that, we obviously have a certain amount of looking back and world building but no major info dumps which can be a bit of a dampner on the plot.  It’s a fairly basic plot, not in a bad way, and also bearing in mind this is the first in the series.  We have this relic and within it is contained an artefact of great magical import.  The light and the dark mages are both in a fight to obtain the relic and claim it’s power for themselves and Alex is needed to help overcome the protections surrounding this object.  I hope I haven’t given too much away there, I don’t want to spoil the plot after all.

The characters are an interesting bunch.  I can’t say too much about Alex as I haven’t got a really strong feel for him yet.  I like him but I’m waiting to read more before I get a fuller picture of his true identity.  We have Luna, one of Alex’s friends whose family has a deadly curse upon it that has lasted for centuries and affects all who come into contact with the bearer.  Then we have Starbreeze, an air elemental who Alex calls upon to help him out of a tight spot occasionally.  She’s very whimsical and childlike and I like her.  She’s simple and innocent.

I like the magical system that Jacka has set up.  The Mages are not ‘all’ powerful.  Their magic is usually focused in a particular way, for example fire, whereby a fire mage can manipulate, use and control fire.  Alex is therefore a seer and this is the extent of his magical ability, he relies heavily on others for protection.  On top of that we have the light and dark mages but this is in no way as black and white as it at first appears for whilst the dark mages can be quite evil and manipulative the light mages are definitely not knights in shining armour.  The villains, the dark mages, are most assuredly an unfriendly bunch.  They take what or whoever they want and the fact that they are able to take something merely reflects the weakness in whatever it is they take, therefore if they don’t take it someone else will.

In terms of criticisms, well, I wouldn’t say that I truly understood everything around the light and dark mages but I guess this will be explored in future novels, for me they come across at this point not so much as light and dark more bad and badder!  I’m not exactly clear either about developments at the end of the book but I don’t want to really go into that further for fear of plot spoilers.  No major criticisms really.  Probably the only irritation I had was initially to do with Alex who, appeared to be incredibly lax in terms of his own safety and the security of his place – particularly when he seemed to have a good idea what he was up against and also given his own abilities which he, admittedly, under utilised at the beginning.

Other than that this is a good start to the series.  It was a quick read and the last third I found really engaging in a sort of explorer/Indiana Jones type of way.  Yes, you could compare this – the Dresden Files, the Druid Chronicles or even Rivers of London – and there are obvious similarities but that being said I think it stands on it’s own.  If you’re looking for a new urban fantasy this could be the one for you.

Fated

Fated

River Marked by Patricia Briggs

Just finished reading River Marked by Patricia Briggs which brings to us the sixth in the Mercy Thompson series of books.

Before I start with this review it is possible that there will be spoilers.

River Marked has a different feel from the other books in the series, it’s not as fast paced, gritty or, frankly, urban.  I guess this isn’t too much of a surprise as we virtually start the story with Mercy and Adam finally getting married and going off on their honeymoon.  Of course, we know that everything isn’t going to be as rosy as that, this is Mercy after all, and sure enough a new and frankly rather horrible monster is lurking in the Columbia River, eating happy campers and attracting the attention of the FBI who believe a serial killer may be on the loose.

This is a strange book to review.  It was a quick read and, to be honest, I didn’t dislike it.  The pages turned swiftly and before I realised I’d read about two thirds – but, there wasn’t to be honest a great deal of plot to this story.  We were introduced to a new cast of characters as the old familiars took a back seat and we found out a little more about Mercy’s heritage.  But, this particular installment didn’t have the tension of past books.  I think we seriously miss the other characters who form such a big part of Mercy’s world.  I mean, I know they were on their honeymoon but it just felt too isolated.  The whole honeymoon in a trailer on a totally deserted campsite was also a bit of a stretch for the imagination.

So, I did like this book, it was interesting, but, it wasn’t what I was expecting and it made me think at times that Mercy has changed.  There’s still a lot of talk about things will never be dull with Mercy around, etc, etc, but she definitely feels as though she’s been tamed.  She’s never been unrealistic about her own capabilities but she seemed to spend a lot of time in this book stroking Adam’s ego or working out how to not rile his inner wolf or mediating for his daughter or worrying about somebody or other.  The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with this style of Mercy in itself or even this style of story it’s just that it wasn’t consistent with previous books and not what I’ve come to expect of Mercy.

Now, all that being said, and it does sound more criticial than I intended, this is still a good read and I will certainly have no hesitation in picking up the next – I just hope that in the next novel we don’t find Mercy wearing an apron and in search of the perfect meatloaf recipe to satisfy her man!  But the fact is, I’m invested in these characters now, I can take a bit of a break – almost a bit of an in-between, filler, book, because I do want to read more.  So, whilst this might not be my favourite of the series I’m still a big fan of Patricia Briggs and I love this world she has created.  I think Mercy is an amazingly strong character with a really well written supporting cast.  I would definitely recommend reading this series as they have just been so good to read.

Rating -B

River Marked

River Marked

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