Monday, April 4, 2016

Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson #9) by Patricia Briggs

The tensions between humanity and the fae continue to get more dangerous and tense, with the werewolves in the unenviable position of being in the middle. Until a troll runs amok in the city, with the werewolves feeling the need to rush to their defence, especially since some of Mercy’s friends are being targeted by the fae

Mercy steps in – and in doing so draws a line in the sand to protect her people and her city. But in doing so she isolates them from the rest of the werewolves, the Marrock is unwilling to follow them to political ruin and possibly war with the fae. Mercy and Adam and their pack are alone to try and navigate the dangerous complexities of the different fae factions or be dragged into a war with no support.

This book brings in some interesting world building and development – not with the monsters, not with the new creatures or new magic – but with a whole lot of politics. I am glad to see the different factions of the fae – it’s usually so easy to present supernatural groups as a monolith, without differemnt factions (certainly without several different factions) that we would find among humanity. So seeing the fae, seeing the Grey Lords, actually struggling among themselves with their own agendas, their own conflicts and their own positions as well as some fae among them who are officially done with it all and want no more to do with the system. I even like the complexity of immortal relationships that Zee represents – with his honoured enemies he hated but respected.

It works nicely with the werewolf political position as well – as they try to find a balance between not being outright at war with the fae while also not allowing them to just run riot in their territory. The interactions between Mercy and the Marrock and Adam are all decently nuanced without masses of hurt feelings over political necessities. I really like how the pack is becoming strong because it is modern and progressive compared to the often backward and bigoted opinions of other packs and like how including non-werewolves as pack members or close to the pack is also bringing them new strength and options. The pack is better for its moving to the future rather than clinging to old ways even as it causes them political issues

I also like that Adam has kind of turned to his pack and told them to behave around Mercy. Kind of. I don’t know, we do have a prolonged history of members of the pack treating Mercy terribly (especially the female members because WOMEN HATE EACH OTHER IT IS KNOWN, though Honey turning into a big Mercy fan has kind of made up for that. I would quite like a middle ground between “Mercy is my lord and saviour, praise be!” and “Mercy is the terribad awful stain on humanity I will personally destroy!”) so having a line drawn under that is nice. But it would have been better if they’d learned to respect Mercy because she is due respect or because her actions have shown she deserves an alpha position. Or because Mercy has called them out on their shit and refuses to deal with them any more. Them respecting her because Adam has stood up and basically said “how dare you disrespect mah woman!” doesn’t help especially next to the backdrop of the series. Especially since, with Merc just making a blanket statement of sanctuary to all beings… well… isn’t is possible the pack might have a reasonable desire to question this beyond “Mercy is so terrible, gawd!” I don’t like the idea of stifling any questioning being framed as ensuring Mercy is respected

Christie is also still around. She continues to be an utter caricature of awfulness.

On that note, I’d also like to look at Mercy and Adam’s relationship. While it isn’t as bad here as we’ve seen in previous books, there’s one line that bothers me: it’s about how Mercy and Adam compromises. But the compromise is over Mercy’s “safety” which pretty much reads as “independence.” So the compromise isn’t about each side giving a little –it’s about how much Mercy gives up. The only thing Adam is “compromising” is how much freedom he allows Mercy. Like he questioning Mercy thing, the book is trying to force frames on debates and questions that don’t always apply or can be seen through a different angle very easily.

The action is well written and decently paced, even if the Walking Stick does hove in a few too many times, they still worked really well. There’s some wooliness about the middle of the book and a little sense that things went just a bit too simply: I mean, one the one hand we see that Beauclaire is an awesomely terrifyingly powerful fae… yet his other Grey Lords don’t seem to be similarly dangerous when facing off against Mercy and Adam. Baba Yaga was a massively fun figure who I like immensely but there’s a little bit of the Walking Stick about her in that she’s a powerful, story changing force that ducks in occasionally to help Mercy & co but we don’t exactly know why, they’re just conveniently there. And between Baba Yaga, the Walking Stick and Coyote, this series has a few get-out-of-plot-line-free cards which are difficult to balance well.

On the whole I really do like the story and it does point towards the series heading in a new direction which is definitely interesting. I like the plot, it just had shaky elements which didn’t derail or damage the plot but did leave…. Wary elements in it.

In terms of representation, Mercy is Native American but we do have an ongoing issue with the series in that her being Native American (or, indeed, any of the Native American characters) is only really mentioned or becomes relevant when woo-woo is in the offing. This is sadly common with many POC in the genre and especially Native Americans where ethnicity is treated less as a heritage, tradition, culture and history and more like a super hero’s origin story. We do have a clumsy reference to the Native American genocide, but it is somewhat inserted as a comparator to the fae’s actions

We do have other POC mentioned in Mercy’s Pack – Adam’s second in command is Darryl, a mixed race Black and Chinese man. Lucia and Joel are both Hispanic (I am unsure whether they are Latino, they have Canary Island heritage) and are other new pack members or connected to the pack. We also have a visiting master vampire Thomas Hao, an Asian vampire, and while he has a history in the short stories of the series he’s really kind of tangential to another character in this book.

We have Warren the only gay werewolf with his usual introduction of how homophobic werewolf society is.

I don’t think any of the minority characters can be said to have major roles in this book. Adam and Mercy are the main characters, with Aidan (the boy they’re sheltering), and Zee being the next most prominent. Darryl and Joel are pretty much down there with Zack (a new submissive wolf in the pack); with a presence in the first few chapters of the book and little else and Warren is even less relevant than that – I think he has about 3 paragraphs.

I don’t think there are any real problems with any of these characters they just don’t seem to have an overly meaningful presence.

I did appreciate how the book ended because it has re-looked again at the whole issue of fae vs human and looked at unbalancing it. For several books (in both this series and the Alpha & Omega series) we have focused on the monsters of the fae who are rampaging around and slaughtering humans but we’ve kind of missed the core of where this conflict came from – the human justice system utterly failing the fae. I’m glad we return to that rather than just glossing it over and jumping to a depiction of the fae as evil monsters with a few exceptions that the werewolves have to protect the werewolves from. It also reminded us that, really, the fae have been holding back.

I also think that I, and the people at You’re Killing Us, will be deeply relieved that the Walking Stick is no longer in the picture. Honestly, it’s a bad idea to give your characters a magical deus-ex-will-do-whatever-is-needed and keep it around for several books, it’s too easy to abuse.