Hopcross Jilly and Shifting Shadows

By Patricia Briggs

Book Cover: Hopcross JillyRebecca bought me Hopcross Jilly, a Mercy Thompson graphic novel, by Patricia Briggs for my birthday, and it was awesome because I hadn’t even known it existed! It focuses primarily on Mercy’s stepdaughter Jesse, who is struggling to find her place in high school now that she is known as the daughter of the local werewolf alpha. I’m trying to be as spoiler-free as possible, so excuse the coyness, but the events also take place after the big showdown with the fae, so the main antagonist is fae.

Which is where my problem comes in. From just about the beginning of the series, I’ve been on the fae’s side in their struggle with humans. In Briggs’ world, the fae have been treated somewhat similarly (though better) to how the US treated Native Americans, with extreme prejudice and isolation. So, when they have finally taken as much as they are going to take, it feels like an underdog fighting back, even though they are in fact murdering people. I found myself on the unsupportable side of a debate with Rebecca in which I was trying to hand-wave away the (fictional) murder of innocent children.

Anyway, it was fun to see more of Jesse, who is usually very much a side character, and the fae villain was quite interesting, and it had a satisfying ending, even if it wasn’t as pro-fae as I would have liked. I do also want to qualify this by saying that Briggs is clearly a novelist, not a graphic novelist, so there are times when the action and dialogue gets a little muddled since she isn’t writing in quite the screenplay style that a graphic novel demands.

Book Cover: Shifting ShadowsI have also been reminded that I completely forgot to review Briggs’ Shifting Shadows, which is unforgiveable considering how long I’ve been whining for something exactly like this. Shifting Shadows collects all of Patricia Briggs’ short stories in a single volume, including the Alpha and Omega novella that kicks off that series, as well as some brand new stories. The  new stories feature Mercy, of course, but also a variety of side characters that haven’t been given much backstory before, including Ben, one of Adam’s least pleasant pack members; Ariana, the fae with whom Mercy’s ex, Samuel, falls in love; and Kara, a young girl werewolf mentioned very briefly in the second Mercy novel.

And, of course, it contains all of my favorites from a variety of anthologies, like “Seeing Eye,” in which a werewolf and a witch pair up to bring down an evil witch coven; “Fairy Gifts,” about a vampire summoned to save a trapped fairy; and “The Star of David,” a Christmas story about David Christiansen, a werewolf mercenary from the first Mercy Thompson novel. I am just so happy to have them all collected in one place!

—Anna

Magic Breaks

By Ilona Andrews

Book CoverEach of the first three books of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series was better than the last, but once they passed that trilogy mark, each subsequent book got a little more joyless and plodding. Magic Breaks is the seventh book (of what was initially planned to be a seven-book run, but has now been extended to ten planned books) and the first to be released in hard cover,* so it was the first that I decided not to buy and instead checked out from the library. By halfway through the book, I was starting to think this might be the last book of the series I read at all.

I had initially been attracted to the series because it has such an unusual approach to the vampire/werewolf genre and it was laugh-out-loud funny. The last several books have lost pretty much all humor, just sort of slogging through long gory descriptions of violence. The first half of this book felt like a bit of a chore.

However, much like Patricia Brigg’s vampire/werewolf series, this one ends with such a game-changer that I am once again hopeful for the series. The violence continues to escalate, until things (temporarily) resolve in a very interesting way that should clear out some of the distracting clutter of previous story lines in a very interesting and potentially very funny way.

—Anna

*Unfortunately, as much as the authors and publisher try to market this hard cover edition as a possible introduction for new readers, it really isn’t a stand-alone book, and has to be read in the order of the series.

Magic Rises

By Ilona Andrews

Book Cover: Magic RisesThis is the sixth book in Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels series, and Rebecca has previously introduced the series here.* It is my favorite in the over-abundance of series about spunky women in a werewolf- and vampire-populated world, but to my mind the series peaked at book 3 and went downhill from there. (As an aside, Rebecca and I had a lengthy discussion about whether this is a common phenomena; are trilogies so standard because authors tend to lose steam after the third book? There are a lot of series that support that thesis, and only a few that belie it.)

Maggie Q as Nikita

As an aside on first impressions, when I first got the book, I was somewhat taken aback by the cover. The featured woman looks somewhat different than previous illustrations of Kate Daniels, which is fine, artists change visions, etc., etc. But, doesn’t she look strikingly similar to someone else instead? I feel like, as an artist, you should take your inspiration from wherever you like, but maybe don’t make it so blatant.

A very mild spoiler for the series: book 3 settled a romantic tension that had run through all three initial books, and all the subsequent books have had relationship drama that I don’t care for, and increased violence, possibly to counter-balance the relationship drama, now that I think about it. A lot of the violence, too, was starting to be directed toward various magical (and deadly) creatures that populate the world, and I have a big problem with violence against animals, even fictional ones. A true hypocrite, I don’t have nearly the same problem with violence against people, which is why I was fine with the earlier books. I was still committed to the series, but was not anticipating this book with the eagerness I had earlier in the series.

In fact, this book way exceeded my expectations, and I believe rejuvenated the series a bit in a very clever way. Andrews changes the setting from Atlanta, Georgia, where all previous books are set, all the way to Europe, so there is a freshness just in the change of scene. With the new setting, she also constrains the number of characters, which had been expanding exponentially with each book, until the action started to get muddled with so many players. Magic Rises is pared down to just a cleanly written and plotted, extraordinarily fun supernatural adventure, and I am just so, so happy to have my favorite fluff series back.

One caveat to all of my praises: I went back to the earlier books to double-check a minor character’s name, and it reminded me of the casual humor and one-liners that made the early books such a pleasure. As the books have ratcheted up the drama and tension, that humor has mostly disappeared and I miss it. I almost feel like that as the authors have become more accomplished, they perhaps have edited out those parts as being less polished, and that makes me sad.

* There has been some update in information from this original review. The series has been expanded to ten books instead of the previously planned seven, when the authors realized that they would not be able to wrap it up conclusively in just two more books.

Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs

Frost_burnedFrost Burned
by Patricia Briggs
2013

There are a lot of girl-vampire-werewolf series out there, with a wide range regarding quality. Frost Burned is the most recent book in one of those series, that started out excellent, backslide into generic, but has managed to recover.

This is the tenth* book set in this particular universe, the seventh that follows the character Mercy Thompson, and I was impressed. The first few books in this series (Moon Called, Blood Bound, and Iron Kissed) are the best ones, while some of the most recent ones (Bone Crossed and River Marked) have felt rather bland, like Briggs was forced to write them in order to fulfill a contract, without having any particular plan or goal with them. In Frost Burned, Briggs is back with energy and interest.

I’m guessing it’s due to the major happening that concluded her most recent book set in this universe, but following a different set of characters. The Alpha and Omega series only has three books so far (Cry Wolf, Hunting Ground, and Fair Game) and these keep on getting better. The end of Fair Game was so spectacular, in fact, it drew me back into reading the Mercy Thompson series, just so that I could see what happens next in this universe.

And, without giving any spoilers: there is definitely a lot of fall-out.

I’m very excited about Briggs revamping (hee: re-VAMPing!) this universe, and think it was probably pretty important that she started alternating which series she was writing, so she could approach the characters with excitement rather than getting bored with them. However, I’m not entirely sure how readable any of her books are, at this point, without going back and reading the earlier ones.

Frost Burned did a pretty good job of filling in the blanks for what happened before, but it was enough that I think I need to go back and read the earlier Mercy Thompson book that I skipped entirely (Silver Borne).

Although, if you want to jump into this universe without having read any of the previous books, I would start out with Fair Game, just because it was a good book, delightful characters, the climax/epilog is really spectacular, and it sets up a whole new situation that is going to continue percolating through any future books in this universe.

* Or eleventh, if you count a novella in an anthology. Or fourteen, if you count short stories in anthologies.

Alpha & Omega Series

By Patricia Briggs

Sigh.

Sorry about the recent lack of posts. At the beginning of the month, I moved halfway across the country from Boulder, Colorado to the Washington, D.C. area. I was all prepared with three prewritten posts to get me through the chaos of the actual move itself. What I hadn’t predicted is that I would get so overwhelmed with everything being new and different that I would immediately retreat into simply rereading my trashy comfort books, which is what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks at a furious pace.

I’ve reread all five of Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels books, which Rebecca has already written about, and both of Patricia Briggs’ Alpha & Omega books, which I figured I’d introduce here, since it could be a little while since I read anything new.

Briggs is better known for her Mercy Thompson series, featuring a female mechanic who shape-changes into a coyote, but was raised by a pack of werewolves. It is your typical werewolf/vampire genre series, but just done far better than most. Whenever I run into Charlaine Harris fans, I always make a point of recommending Patricia Briggs, since Mercy Thompson is everything Sookie Stackhouse isn’t: smart, independent, funny, etc. The first two books are immensely entertaining (I might read them next), and the third one is equally good but delves into some unexpectedly difficult-to-read territory (I am not going to read that next). After that, Briggs seemed to lose interest a little bit, and the subsequent books do not have the same quality of writing and plotting.

However, Briggs then turned her attention to a new series, the Alpha & Omega series, currently with two books in paperback and one in hardcover, which I haven’t read yet because I’m very much against hardcover books. This new series is great! It features peripheral characters from the Mercy Thompson books who are a little darker and tortured, which I always appreciate, and is set smack in the middle of the werewolf pack, instead of on the fringe.

The series actually kicks off with a short story/novella in the book On the Prowl, which is often shelved in the romance section and has a cover that will embarrass you to be seen carrying around. On Rebecca’s advice, I haven’t read any of the other stories in the book, but the Alpha & Omega story is actually good enough to be worth the full cost of the book, in my opinion. (Although, on a side note, the story is available on its own for the Kindle through amazon.com, which is one of the best arguments for a kindle that I’ve heard so far.) The story does set the entire series up to the point that the reader would be missing serious background information if they started with the first full novel.

Book Cover: Cry WolfThe first full novel is Cry Wolf, and just really delves into the characters and their relationships with each other, all within the confines of a very well structured and paced narrative. The second novel, Hunting Ground, doesn’t have quite the same tight plot structure, but is still very entertaining. I’m somewhat afraid I’m seeing a bit of a pattern with Patricia Briggs, so I’m mentally preparing myself for the third book being a potential disappointment, but I’m still very much looking forward to reading it. Right at this moment, I’m more into comforting fluff books than quality, so I’m sure it will live up to that.

— Anna