Author: Patricia Briggs
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publication Date: March 2011
Hardcover: 336 Pages
Stand alone or series: Book 6 in the Mercy Thompson Series
Car mechanic Mercy Thompson has always known there was something different about her, and not just the way she can make a VW engine sit up and beg. Mercy is a shapeshifter, a talent she inherited from her long-gone father. She’s never known any others of her kind. Until now.
An evil is stirring in the depths of the Columbia River-one that her father’s people may know something about. And to have any hope of surviving, Mercy and her mate, the Alpha werewolf Adam, will need their help…
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher
Why did I read this book: Mercy Thompson is my favorite urban fantasy heroine, and the Mercy books are amongst my favorites – period. I *love* Mercy. February and March each year always get me really excited, because it means the next Mercy book is just around the corner. Also, author Patty Briggs is one of the coolest ladies ever, and her writing is consistently awesome (and she has long been one of my favorite authors, since middle school!). So, I suppose you could say I was looking forward to River Marked.
**WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS UNAVOIDABLE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST FIVE BOOKS IN THE SERIES. If you have not read the first five installments and wish to remain unspoiled, avert your virgin eyes! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.**
After years of power struggles, pack politics, and danger from all corners of the supernatural universe that comprises the Tri-Cities and surrounding areas, Mercedes Athena Thompson has finally settled down – at least romantically. River Marked begins with the long awaited marriage between Mercy and her mate, alpha Adam Hauptman. After much fanfare (involving balloons and butterflies – thanks to Mercy’s overzealous mother), Mercy and Adam finally leave the Tri-Cities for a romantic and secluded honeymoon at the Columbia Gorge camping grounds at Maryhill, near Biggs. And, for a little while, our intrepid pair are given a bit of a respite. Of course, this being trouble-magnet Mercy Thompson we’re talking about, the honeymoon period is ridiculously brief – no sooner than she and Adam have arrived at the Columbia River, trouble shows up on their state-of-the-art trailer doorstep. There’s something in the Columbia River, an ancient and insatiable monster, that has started to claim lives for its own. And this time, Mercy’s strange mix of magic as a coyote walker will be the key to stopping its path of destruction.
So, for the first time in this series, River Marked finally, FINALLY delves into Native American magic and Mercy’s particular background. I have been salivating for this story for years now, and I am thrilled to report that it is every bit as awesome as I had hoped. I loved the Native American lore of River Marked, and the shift of ideological focus from western European to (finally!!!!) American Indian. Other than her coloring and her walker ability to shapeshift into a coyote at will, Mercy knows next to nothing about her abilities or her father’s side of the family – she was born to an Anglo mother, and raised by a pack of wolves. In River Marked, Mercy comes to terms with her heritage, her namesake avatar (Coyote himself), and her father, known to Mercy and her mother simply as rodeo clown Joe Old Coyote. River Marked has folklore, wise spirits, and – for the first time – others that may have abilities like Mercy’s own.[1. Can I just reiterate how awesome all of this is? There isn’t really a werewolf pack politics battle, fae, or – gods forbid – vampire seethe in sight (well, not really, although of course all three of these usual supernatural suspects do play roles in this book). We FINALLY got the other half of Mercy’s heritage, everyone! HUZZAH!] Besides the excellent worldbuilding and expanded backstory, from a plotting perspective, essentially, River Marked is the equivalent of a monster-of-the-week episode. And I mean this in the best possible sense, as my favorite episodes of The X-Files are monster-of-the-week episodes (as much as the mytharc stuff rocked, the episodes that rock my socks most were ones like Squeeze/Tooms). It helps that the River Monster in this book is one big bad mofo.
Of course, as with any great book and per Patricia Briggs’ usual standard, River Marked truly shines in terms of its characters. So much of this book is about Mercy and Adam working at their new marriage and mate bond, which, despite its culmination at the altar still clearly has a long way to go before all the kinks are worked out. One of the things I love about this series (and Patty Briggs’ other series in the same universe, Alpha and Omega) is that she takes us past the wedding where happy ever after is supposed to happen, and tosses those disney-esque delusions aside and throws some serious, meaty issues to her characters. Inherently, the Mercy-Adam relationship is a tough balancing act for all that they love each other, because of Mercy’s independent streak, and Adam’s naturally controlling tendencies. Mercy is my favorite Urban Fantasy heroine precisely because she’s so in tune with herself, shs has little tolerance for bullshit or emotional melodrama (unlike, say, Rachel Caine’s Joanne Baldwin), and because she doesn’t let people push her around. That’s not to say she mouths off and runs around swinging a big sword or, er, magical walking stick (unlike say, Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels).[2. Let the record show I LOVE Jo Baldwin and Kate Daniels, but these two leading ladies have some major irritation issues.] No, having been raised by wolves that are far stronger and more ruthless than herself, Mercy knows her place, and yet she manages to stand up for herself and hold her own in a very dangerous world. And even with a hunky alpha like Adam looking out for her, I heart Mercy so much because she is not some ninny that needs rescuing every ten seconds. The awesomest thing about Mercy and Adam, particularly in this book, is their ability to compromise. Did I mention how awesome they are? Yes. Awesome.
If you couldn’t tell, I loved this book. Although I’m not really sure there’s a direction per se for the overall series arc and how River Marked fits in that arc, but with storytelling this wonderful, it really doesn’t matter. I loved River Marked for its solid storytelling, its exploration of Mercy’s particular brand of magic, and its rock solid characterizations. Another brilliant entry in the series, and probably my favorite entry since Iron Kissed.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
From The Dalles Chronicle
Two Local Men Still Missing
Thomas Kerrington (62) and his son Christopher Kerrington (40) are still missing, though the boat that they were fishing in has been recovered. The boat was found abandoned two miles downstream of John Day Dam yesterday. The men set out on a morning fishing expedition Monday morning but never returned. Sherman Co. marine deputy Max Whitehead says, “This has been an unusually bad year for boating fatalities on the Columbia. We’re stepping up patrols and urging boaters to take their safety very seriously.” Searchers are scouring the river, but after four days, hopes are low for a safe recovery of the two men.
From The Hood River News
This week’s fish counts are drastically down at both John Day and The Dalles Dams. Allen Robb of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says, “We are concerned that there was some sort of toxic dump in the river somewhere between the dams. There is a significant reduction in the numbers of fish and our operators are telling us that this is especially true of our larger fish such as the adult Coho salmon.” Although extensive testing is under way, no sign of poison has been found in the river nor has there been an unusually high number of dead fish. “The fish are spooked,” says local fishing guide Jon Turner Bowman.
* * *
Under the glare of streetlights, I could see that the grass of Stefan’s front lawn was dried by the high summer heat to yellow. It had been mowed, but only with an eye to trimming the length of the grass, not to making it aesthetically pleasing. From the debris of dead grass in the yard, the lawn had been left to grow long enough that the city might have demanded it be mowed. The grass that remained was dry enough that whoever had cut it wouldn’t have to do it again unless someone started watering.
I pulled the Rabbit up to the curb and parked. The last time I’d seen Stefan’s house, it had fit right into his ritzy neighborhood. The yard’s neglect hadn’t spread to the house’s exterior yet, but I worried about the people inside.
Stefan was resilient, smart, and . . . just Stefan—able to talk Pokémon in ASL with deaf boys, defeat nasty villains while locked up in a cage, then drive off in his VW bus to fight bad guys another day. He was like Superman, but with fangs and oddly impaired morals.
I got out of my car and walked up the sidewalk toward the front porch. In the driveway, Scooby-Doo looked out at me eagerly through a layer of dust on the windows of Stefan’s usually meticulously tended bus. I had gotten the big stuffed dog for Stefan to go with the Mystery Machine paint job.
I hadn’t heard from Stefan for months, not since Christmas in fact. I’d been caught up in a lot of things, and getting kidnapped for a day (which was a month for everyone else because fairy queens can apparently do that), was only part of it. But for the last month, I’d called him once a week and gotten only his answering machine. Last night, I’d called him four times to invite him to Bad Movie Night. We were a person short of the usual as Adam—my mate, fiancé, and the Alpha of the Columbia Basin Pack—was out of town on business.
Adam owned a security firm that, until recently, had dealt primarily with government contractors. Since the werewolves—and Adam—had come out to the general public, though, his business had started to boom on other fronts. Werewolves were seen as very good security people, apparently. He was actively looking for someone else who could do most of the traveling but so far hadn’t found the right person.
With Adam away, I could give more attention to the other people in my life. I’d decided Stefan had had time enough to lick his wounds, but from the looks of things, I was a few months late.
I knocked on the door and, when that got no response, gave it the old “Shave and a Haircut” knock. I’d resorted to pounding when the dead bolt finally clicked over, and the door opened.
It took me a while to recognize Rachel. The last time I’d seen her, she’d looked like the poster girl for the disenchanted goth or runaway teenager. Now she looked like a crack addict. She’d lost maybe thirty pounds she didn’t have to lose. Her hair hung in limp, greasy, and uncombed strings down her shoulders. Mascara smudges dripped over her cheeks in faded smears that would have done credit to an extra in Night of the Living Dead. Her neck was bruised, and she held herself like her bones ached. I tried not to show that I noticed she was missing the last two fingers on her right hand. Her hand was healed, but the scars were still red and angry.
Marsilia, the Mistress of the Tri-Cities’ vampires, had used Stefan, her faithful knight, to oust traitors from her seethe, and part of that involved taking his menagerie—the humans he kept to feed from—and making him think they were dead by breaking his blood bonds to them. She seemed to think that torturing them had been necessary as well, but I don’t trust vampires—other than Stefan—to speak the truth. Marsilia hadn’t thought Stefan would object to her use of him and his menagerie once he knew that she’d done it to protect herself. He was, after all, her loyal Soldier. She’d miscalculated how badly Stefan would deal with her betrayal. From the looks of it, he wasn’t recovering well.
“You’d better get out of here, Mercy,” Rachel told me dully. “’Tisn’t safe.”
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells
We have ONE copy of River Marked up for grabs for a lucky winner! The contest is open to residents of the US and Canada, and will run until Saturday, March 5 at 11:59 PM (PST). In order to enter, simply leave a comment here, letting us know which Mercy book thus far is YOUR favorite. Only one entry per person please! We log I.P. addresses, and multiple entries will be automatically disqualified. Good luck!