Monday, March 11, 2013

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7) By Patricia Briggs

Mercy is settling into life as Adam’s husband, back from her honeymoon, fully recovered and facing a dread foe – Black Friday midnight shopping with Jesse, her new step-daughter. To add to the fun, she gets in a car wreck as well and has to write off her Rabbit.

If only that was the least of her problems. Almost the entire pack has been kidnapped, she can’t reach anyone over the phone, not even werewolves outside the pack, the one person she can find is injured and drugged – and there are unpleasant people with guns looking for her and targeting her friends on the edge of the pack.

Her small team has to try and find Adam – while Adam must try and escape before he’s blackmailed into doing something that could have all werewolves destroyed. Additional help from the government she doesn’t trust and a werewolf that may lose it at any time doesn’t necessarily help things

Then there’s some fae assassins, mystical weapons and a whole load of vampire politics to add to the mix.

And she’s stolen the vampire queen’s car. And broken it. Oops.

Reading the synopsis and the first few pages I had a lot of hope. Here was Mercy going to charge into battle on her own, her own actions, her own decisions, free from Adam’s often stifling shadow. And she was reconnecting with characters we haven’t seen in a while, like Kyle, while at the same time advancing the political meta plot.

That hope is now dead, tried to rise from the coffin, was staked, beheaded, burned and had its ashes scattered across four different bodies of water.

We start the story – drama drama, action (ish), the pack has been kidnapped. Mercy starts doing stuff without consultation (ish) and generally doing her best (sort of) to save everyone (well, some of them). And then Adam wrangles his own plan (well, no, opportunity falls in his lap) and loo, all is solved.

Sure, there’s a few loose ends to tie up, we’d kind of like to know who is behind it, but with one set of bad guys running and the other dead, it’s not a pressing or especially pertinent concern. And that’s how the book is written. I kind of expected the book to be over – the story was after all – but rather than working in a conclusion I discovered I was only 40% in. Not even half way through but the story was over – so what was happening? We kind of wallowed in limbo. Sure, one of those loose ends ballooned out into a full plot eventually – at about 65%. 20% of this book in the middle was just waffle and empty flailing with no real plot at all. Right in the middle of the book. It was like 2 books pasted together and some kind of mushy glue stuffed between them. There wasn’t so much a speed bump interrupting the story so much as a vast sink hole, sucking in all plot and leaving us directionless, lost and a little confused.

But not only that, the characters didn’t seem involved in the plot at all. The plot begins with the kidnapping. For the duration of the kidnapping Adam is, well, kidnapped and Mercy kind of flails around the periphery, yes doing some good and helping people, but ultimately not really doing anything to resolve the situation. Even Adam doesn’t, the situation kind of resolves itself. Then we move to the second plot after the big mushy middle, and the plot falls directly in Mercy’s lap, she skips along after it and then gets involved in a battle, the majority of which she plays cheerleader then minor support before her Convolutedly Acquired Magic Sword saves the day.

None of them seem to be particularly actors in these events – they’re caught up in the edges of someone else’s story, flail around a little, then watch those other people solve it. And all of it is shaky anyway because you’ve got Wulfe running around with a whole tool belt of Deus Ex Machinaes he may use if he ever feels the need to. It was just another barrier to be really getting into the book, this sense that Mercy and Adam’s actions were pretty peripheral and slightly irrelevant to what actually happened.

I was actually happy that Adam was removed from the picture at the beginning of this book because I am really really sick of the werewolves in this series. Honestly they’re colossal arseholes with a big layer of Woo-woo justification, especially with each other. It’s hard to even talk to one of them without them growling and snarling. It’s hard not agree that they’re a threat when at any point in a  civil conversation you must be ready to hit the floor and grovel lest the big bad wolf eat you.

Another bonus to Adam not being around is that Mercy was finally moving and acting and even *gasp* leading without having to justify every breath to a hulking guard dog with severe possession issues. While this is good, I have to question the fact that this can only happen when Adam is physically restrained and drugged several miles away. We also have moments that seem designed to downplay any of Mercy’s power – like Mercy contacting Adam in dreams and making it clear that, as an Alpha werewolf, Adam was more than a match for her. Why? She’s the daughter of Coyote, why can’t she be the power in dreams? For that matter when she’s commanding ghosts she borrows Adam’s  Alpha powers – why can’t they be her Walker powers? Why can’t her strength be the relevant one? It sounds like a small thing but I can’t divorce this book from the context of the rest of the books – which is why I’m also dubious about Mercy putting on the Mystical Handcuffs of Obedience. Firstly – what was the point of these things except to convolutedly set up a meeting with Zee? It felt clumsy storywise because even the meeting with Zee felt out of place and more filler for the 20% mush in the middle and an excuse for Mercy to get her hands on the magic sword of magicness that would be useful later.

But aside from the clumsiness of this, we also ended up with Mercy being meek and mild and obedient – which was annoying anyway – but, to me, more annoying was everyone instantly knowing and deciding something was wrong with Mercy, with Adam besides himself with horror at his obedient wife and everyone making cracks like “I’ve never known her not argue!” about her. Uh-huh, is this the same Mercy? Because since book 1 we’ve been faced with a situation where Mercy outright COULDN’T argue with the men around her because they’re werewolves and they have their ragey woo-woo. She even has elaborate passive aggressive revenge schemes which are cute and funny but, ultimately, have come about because saying “no” or arguing with the men is not only not acceptable in their culture, but is outright dangerous.  I reject – and even resent – Mercy being cast as argumentative when she has lowered her eyes in submission and literally crawled on her belly to appease angry wolves. I resent Mercy being cast as argumentative when the majority of the token objections she makes are constantly overruled (often not even with logical argument but with GRRR angry werewolf GRRR). I resent Mercy being cast as argumentative when the times she has really had a proper argument (and STILL LOST) have often been when Adam has achieved heights of controlling dominance that would make Edward Cullen blink – like setting up CCTV which he can monitor in her work place without consulting her, or having a little hissy fit because Mercy is going to Walmart on her own.

So, that scene didn’t sit comfortably with me. It didn’t sit comfortably as well because, as this series progresses, Mercy seems to be slowly losing independence and agency as she gets closer to the werewolves. It  didn’t sit well with me either because there are only 5 other female characters in this book. Jesse, a teenaged girl. Arianna, a fae whose defining characteristic is her dangerous panic attacks – sure, she’s powerful, but her power is a threat not under her control. Marissa (enemy). And Honey – Honey the werewolf who, because of sexist werewolf society is forced to a submissive rank despite her natural dominance because that is her husband’s rank. Honey, who hates Mercy because she is CHALLENGING that because Honey doesn’t want the rank and respect her power deserves and likes being near the bottom of the pack despite her strength… Finally there’s Sylvia – who doesn’t like Mercy (lot of that going round) with an extra bonus of her most certainly not needing a white knight, oh no. But she’s in the red on her bills so a man may take another shot at dating her after being rebuffed in the past, yay romance. No, really, this is supposed to be a good thing.

It’s a pattern and it’s not a pleasant pattern. Similarly I’m not best impressed by the POC in this book – Mercy’s Native American heritage has been returned to the back burner  now the last book’s massive info dumping was used as an excuse to give her all the woo-woo justification her mixed-race heritage commands. We have Asil who is a Moor, we know he’s a Moor because that is what they call him over and over and over again – honestly even Bran gets called by his name more often than his title/epithet. I’m also not entirely sure what his point is other than werewolf tension, random violence and to be big, scary and possibly unstable. Then there’s Hao, a late arrival in the book, not much to say about him beyond him being Chinese, good at martial arts with dragons embroidered on his shirt.

What I did like was Kyle, Kyle and Warren are both gay men and this has been one of the very very very few Urban Fantasy series that has a) bothered to include GBLT characters and b) produced GBLT characters I didn’t want to kill with axes. I was concerned that they were increasingly falling into the background in the most recent book. Here we have Kyle, while not front and centre and a mover and shaker of the Pack by any means, still an integral figure who is valued and respected, brings something to the table . Yes he was rescued and played host for a lot of the book, but he was consulted, he was valued and he added decent input while still having a personality and not being a complete outsider despite, with his completely-human status, there being a solid gold excuse to relegate him to the sidelines. He and Warren are still very much secondary characters (and Kyle wasn’t relegated because his house and skills were useful) but they’re much more prominent than earlier books and it was a bright spark among a lot of dullness.

In a final nail of disappointment, I think there were loose ends. The mercenaries, with all their secrets and capability and willingness to kidnap are just let go? Not worth following up on? The government agent is just trusted when he assures them that a dozen agents from his department all went rogue? Seriously? Both were accepted far too cavalierly.

Ultimately this book was a big disappointment for me and I was hoping for a turnaround after the last book. Despite some bright sparks, it didn’t work for me. It felt like two novellas slammed together, both of which were far too shot and with too weak a foundation to create a necessary sense of tension. The first ended so quickly and with so little effort it barely had time to develop into a dramatic story. The second came utterly of the blue and, again, had no time to develop before it was over. They were abrupt, introduced too quickly, ended too quickly, there was no time for decent investment. The characters were dragged along by the story rather than getting involved and it frequently felt convoluted how the story was moved along, and how the various necessary plot elements were introduced or justified. Or why someone with this much money, resources and planning couldn’t have just pointed a sniper rifle at Mercy, or arranged a more dangerous crash or just stabbed her for that matter. Several of the characters and story “bits” (they barely count as storylines) felt unneccesary or convoluted – Sylvia and the kids, Asil, Zee, the magical handcuffs – filler and fluff.

It was disappointing, it could have been much better to say the least.