ARALORN: MASQUES & WOLFSBANE by Patricia Briggs (Review)

Two early works by Patricia Briggs (of Mercy Thompson fame), or rather a very early work and a later sequel featuring the same cast of characters in the same alternative fantasy universe.

“Wolf” is a great wolf which Aralorn saves from death in a pit full of spiked stakes in the prologue to the first story, Masques. But Wolf turns out to be a shape-shifter, and the only son of the evil sorcerer who is holding the country in thrall.

It is hard to say much about this book without spoiling it for you, but I loved Aralorn and identified with her immediately. Patricia Briggs describes Masques as bearing all the signs of an early work by an author still learning her craft, as opposed to Wolfsbane, the sequel, written twenty years later. Maybe so,  but I saw little difference. She is still there in that world, still totally at home in it, still completely familiar with each character and scene.

Now I would like a third story, please. Make it a trilogy, Patricia!

RIVER MARKED by Patricia Briggs (Review)

Number six in the urban fantasy series featuring Mercy Thompson, Walker. And a walker, if I’ve got it right (and I should have, after reading all six of these stories!) is a Native American shape-shifter, presumably based on the Navajo legend of the “skinwalker”; but the skinwalker was evil through and through whereas the walkers in Patricia Briggs’ books are either definitely among the good guys or at their worst amoral, as a cat (or any animal) is amoral. They are also very different from the werewolves, who, like the vampires, are of European descent – and like the vampires virtually immortal.

This is the first one in the series, though, where vampires get hardly a mention, and only one werewolf plays any significant part – Mercy’s mate/husband, Adam, who is there  (but actually rather in the way much of the time) because they are on their honeymoon.

No, here it is all Native American medicine men/sorcerers, and shape-shifters who, like Mercy, are walkers and change shape easily and almost instantly, unlike the poor werewolves.

But she is still the only coyote. Apart, that is, from Coyote himself. For here we are presented with an original interpretation of Plato’s Theory of Forms. Coyote (with a capital C) is the Form of which all coyotes are instances, just as Bear is the Form of which all bears are instances: godlike figures who, it is hinted, lay behind the animal-headed gods of antiquity both in America and in Egypt and India.

But I mustn’t tell you too much. Simply that people, whole families, are dying or simply disappearing in or near the Columbia River, precisely where Mercy and Adam are honeymooning. The FBI think it is the work of an elusive serial-killer. Mercy soon realises that the killer is an ancient evil resurrected in the black depths of the swirling water . And only she, it transpires, can stop it.

One thing I want to mention here. I have read many werewolf books and until now it has never, for some reason, struck me how totally un-PC, unfeminist, the whole concept of the alpha male is: he is aggressively – offensively even – dominating and protective, and yet she – Mercy, in this case – laps it up. Now, I am speaking of the alpha male werewolf, but of course it applies to the alpha male man too. And it is quite certain that the young or youngish females with very kick-ass attitudes whom form the vast majority of the readers of such books, are going to prefer the alpha male to the slender and submissive wimp, nerd, sissy or other outsider when it comes to selecting their own mate.

I notice, though, that there is a new series by the same author, Patricia Briggs, the Alpha and Omega books, which feature an omega alongside some of the characters from the present series. Wondering what exactly an omega was – from the context it seemed to be a female who was not instictively submissive to the alpha males, I surfed a bit and found a quiz “What Kind of Wolf Are You?” so I did it and discovered I am an omega! Look –

What wolf are you?

Your Result: Omega Male/Female

you are the omaega male/female you tend to be a loner and you have only a couple close prefer to be alone . and you are not much of a follower.

Beta Male
Beta Female
Regular Wolf
Alpha Female
Alpha male
What wolf are you?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Try it for yourself.
The first book in the “Alpha and Omega” series is called Cry Wolf, and as you can imagine, after discovering that I am an omega I am raring to read it.

BONE CROSSED & SILVER BORNE by Patricia Briggs (Review)

I have just read books 4 and 5 in the Mercy Thompson series, Bone Crossed and Silver Borne. I had read the first three, Moon Called, Blood Bound and Iron Kissed, some while back, before my last trip to India, but the fact that I actually did read all three, and still remembered Mercy and the story-line with a warm feeling of almost guilty (jealous?) pleasure, was enough to make me pull out my money when I saw these two on a shelf in a shop in Colchester where I was browsing.

Sometimes a sequel can be a disappointment when a series goes on and on, especially when you come back to the series after a long break. Maybe it’s not the series or the writer at all. Perhaps it is you, the reader, who has changed, grown up, or simply grown older, as seems to happen so often with first marriages.

But not these two. (The books now, not some no-longer-compatible couple.) Mercy Thompson is still my favourite modern urban-fantasy shape-shifter.

When she shape-shifts, she does not do so properly dressed.

‘Could you unlock my door?’ His voice was soft and gentle. The sort of voice you’d use on a madwoman.
I looked down at myself and realized that I was naked and covered with blood from head to toe.

And bizarrely, she doesn’t change into a wolf or a bear, or a lynx or a wildcat, but into a coyote. Like a wild dog – a prarie dog. But she is the only one, or at least the only one she knows of, so for want of anything better she mixes with werewolves, vampires and the fae.

Her day-job is car-mechanic, and she lives in a trailer, sharing it with an alpha werewolf called Sam, in ‘real life’ a doctor. Sam is obviously in love with her, yet their living arrangement is entirely platonic: her mate, her true love, is another alpha werewolf, Adam, the leader of the local pack.

It seems that the reason Mercy’s race, the coyote shape-shifters, a native-American breed, is virtually extinct is that they have a special talent for killing vampires: once the vampires arriving in America from the Old World discovered this, they set out on a war of extermination. Now, as I say, only Mercy seems to be left, and when Masilia, the queen of the local vampire seethe (I love these words) discovers Mercy’s true identity, she is, as they say, dead meat, unless the werewolves can protect her. But Mercy doesn’t take kindly to being surrounded by large werewolf bodyguards at all hours.

Then, in a strange twist, Masilia decides to employ Mercy’s talent to hunt down and destroy a renegade vampire who is possessed by a demon. Mercy agrees to this, but while carrying out her commission falls victim to rape, and ends up killing another vampire, one Masilia valued.

Now the hunt for her is really on. And her only friends are the werewolves (some of them – many feel she is not suitable to be their leader’s mate), one elderly fae, and one vampire, another outcast from the seethe who (in the earlier books) has built up a very special relationship with Mercy.

In Silver Borne, the fae are searching for a mysterious tome, an ancient anthology of fae secrets and spells, which the owner of a second-hand bookshop once entrusted to Mercy, asking her to keep it safe for him.

Now he has disappeared, and the fae are after her. Then an old college friend of hers begs her to come and find out what is happening to her young son, who claims he is being persecuted by ghosts. Yes, ghosts. Unusual in this genre. But Coyote shape-shifters (like Harry Potter) can see ghosts and talk to them.

Ghosts are the remnants of people who have died, what’s left after the soul goes on. They are mostly collections of memories given form. If they can interact, respond to outside stimuli, they tend to be fragments of the people they had been: obsessive fragments – like the ghosts of dogs who guard their masters’ old graves or the ghost I’d once seen who was looking for her puppy.

Immediately after they die, though, sometimes they are different. I’ve seen it a couple of times at funerals, or in the house of someone who’s just passed away. Sometimes the newly dead keep watch over the living, as if to make sure that all is well with them. Those are more than remnants of the people they’d been – I can see the difference. I’ve always thought those are their souls.

Which is exactly what I think.

The next one is due out in March. I pre-ordered it this morning!