Thursday, June 5, 2008

Blood Bound (book) by Patricia Briggs

Mercedes (Mercy) Thompson is a mechanic and a skinwalker. Being a skinwalker means she can change into a coyote, she has a certain amount of immunity to vampire tricks, and she's not bound by the moon like werewolves are. However, it also means that she's nearly as fragile as a human when she's in human form.

This is the second book in the Mercedes Thompson series. In this book, Stefan, the vampire Mercy thinks of as a friend, enlists her help in dealing with a strange vampire. In theory, all Mercy is supposed to do is come along in coyote form and keep an eye out for anything Stefan might miss. Unfortunately, things go badly wrong, and it soon becomes clear that there is a demon-possessed vampire sorcerer on the loose. With the demon around, everyone in the area becomes touchier, and violence is on the rise. The local werewolves and vampires go hunting for the demon-possessed vampire, but Mercy may be the only one who can find him, if she can figure out how her skinwalker powers can help her against vampires.

Mercy is a fun character - physically, she tends to be outclassed by nearly everyone around her, but she makes up for that with intelligence, determination, and emotional strength. In this book, she's still got Samuel, a werewolf and her ex-lover, as a house-mate (trailer-mate?), despite her developing relationship with Adam (another werewolf, the Alpha of the local pack). If this series focused solely on Mercy's sex life, this setup would quickly become horribly tense and awkward, leaving little room for a story, and there'd probably be a lot more sex (actually, I don't think there's any sex in this book - if there is, then there isn't much and it isn't graphic). Instead, other than a few tense moments when all three of them are in the same room together, it's not an issue. Part of Mercy still loves Samuel, but she has enough pride and self-esteem not to want to be with a man whose main reason for wanting to be with her is that there's a high likelihood that she could bear him healthy children.

Mercy's issues with Adam also stem from her pride and self-esteem - she wants to be on equal footing with whoever she chooses as her lover, but Adam's status as a werewolf and as an Alpha means that either his nature may require her subservience or she may instinctively give it. That's not what she wants for herself, so she spends most of this book avoiding him. Mercy and Adam's temporary fix for this problem comes up near the end of the book, and I'm interested to see where their relationship goes next.

Mercy's world may be familiar to readers of many recent vampire/werewolf/fairy books. It's a world much like ours, only various supernatural beings have started to come out of the closet. Prior to the first book, the fairies had revealed their existence. By the end of the first book, werewolves had revealed their existence, although not everyone had come out of the closet. By the second book, the werewolves are still trying to make sure that any werewolf news that makes it to the media is good news - unfortunately, the demon/vampire kills might get blamed on werewolves or fairies, and neither group wants that. Humankind still doesn't know about vampires, and, if the vampires have their way, they never will - there's just no way to make creatures that feed off and eventually kill their human "sheep" sound good and human-friendly.

Despite a book cover that makes Mercy seem like a potential pin-up, she is actually a good mechanic. It's not a hugely important part of the story, but it's still interesting, and it gives Mercy a life outside of all the supernatural stuff going on around her. There's even the occasional funny car tidbit - in this book, my favorite is a bit about a car that can only go about 20 or 30 miles/hour forward, but 90-100 miles/hour backward.

In addition to all the fantasy elements (demons, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, fairies), there's also a decent mystery in this book. I didn't really catch all the clues as I was reading it this first time, but I know I'd catch all the clues setting up the ending during a second read. Mercy not only has to figure out where the demon-possessed vampire is hiding and how to defeat him, she also has to figure out what various vampires are hiding from her. Briggs manages to get a lot into a fast-paced book that's under 300 pages.

  • Urban Shaman (book) by C. E. Murphy - This is the first book in the Walker Papers series. This book features another strong, somewhat supernatural main female character who also happens to be a mechanic. In a jarringly short amount of time, Joanne Walker makes a new friend, discovers she has shamanic powers (including the ability to heal herself by imagining she's fixing herself in the same way she might a car), and finds out she has to use those new shamanic powers to save the world from the Wild Hunt. The only help she's got in trying to figure things out is a cryptic coyote who shows up in her dreams. Like Mercy, Joanne is a competent woman who isn't really ready to handle everything that's being thrown at her. She's got power, but she doesn't know how to use it, and part of her doesn't even want to learn how. Technically, she's a cop, but she mostly just works as a mechanic at the station, so she doesn't have much experience with bad things like dead bodies. There's a little less in the way of romantic subplots in this book and in the series in general than there is in the Mercedes Thompson books. There's the potential for something between Joanne and her boss (I can't remember how strongly it comes through in this book, but I do know it shows up in later books), and Joanne has a serious crush on Gary (the friend I mentioned - he's a great guy, who unfortunately happens to be in sixties, maybe early seventies). As with Blood Bound, the story and characters is more important than any potential romance.
  • Tempting Danger (book) by Eileen Wilks - This is also the first book in a series. Lily Yu is a cop who's trying to figure out who's going around killing people in gruesome ways. It looks like werewolves might be involved, and maybe even the prince of the Nokolai clan, Rule Turner. This is especially unfortunate, because Lily and Rule have suddenly discovered that they are mates - the result is a compulsion to be near each other, and it'll look really bad if someone finds out Lily's having sex with the prime suspect. This book, like Blood Bound, features a complex werewolf society (rules, traditions, secrets, different clans with slightly differing cultures). Werewolves have only recently revealed their existence to humankind, and people and the law are still trying to deal with this new information. Lily, like Mercy, is a strong, competent female character who manages to use her own skills to accomplish things, despite being physically outclassed by supernatural beings like Rule. Romance is more important in this book than it is in Blood Bound, but I would by no means consider this a romance novel. If you're not up to trying an entire novel by a new author, this series actually grew out of a short story featured in the anthology Lover Beware. That particular book is, in fact, a romance book, but Wilks' story is best described as paranormal romantic suspense. Consider the story a different version of how Lily and Rule met and came to terms with each other - Lily is still the same basic character in the story and the novel (a strong, competent woman whose family is important to her), but Rule in the story is a somewhat different man from Rule in the book, so be aware of that.
  • Guilty Pleasures (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton - Once again, this is the first book in a series set in a world where the things that go bump in the night have recently revealed themselves to the world at large. Before American law gave vampires, werewolves, and other beings the same rights as humans, Anita Blake was a vampire hunter. Now she's a vampire executioner, in addition to her full-time job as an animator (raiser of the dead). Like Blood Bound, this is a fast-paced book with a strong, competent female lead who's surrounded by dangerous beings. In this first book, we meet Jean-Claude, a vampire who is one of the many people throughout the series who will be competing for Anita's affection. The various supernatural societies in this series all have their own politics and culture, and the cast of characters is usually fun and interesting. The early books feel a lot like paranormal mysteries with a hint of romance. Be warned, though - at around book 10 or so, the tone of the series changes drastically, Anita becomes darker and harder, and the sex scenes become way more graphic and time-consuming, leaving little room for the mysteries that were part of the early appeal of the series.
  • Bitten (book) by Kelley Armstrong - Once again, this is the first book in a series featuring strong, competent women as main characters. Elena, the main character in this book, is either a main or minor character in many of the books in the Women of the Otherworld series. She became a werewolf after the man she loved betrayed her (that's how she sees it, although it's not what he intended) and bit her while in wolf form - she had no idea what he was and never chose to become a werewolf. She leaves her pack as soon as she is able and begins as normal a life as she can in Toronto. This book differs from Blood Bound and many of the above books because, although the werewolves have a very non-human feel to them, the pack Elena used to be part of is too small to have a complex structure and culture. In this book, Elena agrees to help her former pack members hunt down mutts (non-pack werewolves) who are leaving a conspicuous trail of carnage - humans don't know about werewolves, and they want to keep it that way. Unfortunately, Elena has to deal with her former lover (the werewolf who bit her) and finds herself drawn to him again. Armstrong is very good at creating a believable non-human feel to her characters - these are not just humans who happen to be able to turn into wolves. They think a bit differently and react a bit differently than humans, in much the same way that Briggs' wolves have definite non-human behaviors and reactions.

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