Monday, December 20, 2010

Moon Called

Series: Mercy Thompson (#1)
Genre: Adventure
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Penguin Group

About a dozen pages into Moon Called, a character addresses heroine Mercy Thompson as "Mercedes, the Volkswagen mechanic." I was immediately reminded of that other annoying-to-the-subject running gag, "Kitty, the werewolf". I have to say that this is a first impression that never really went away. Although there are differences in tone, the two series share a similar focus on character and setting over strong plots. Patricia Briggs has produced a solid reading experience, painting an image of a vibrant world inhabited by compelling characters. But when our heroine has to get down to brass tacks and actually solve the mystery of a murder/kidnapping, the writing gets dicey.

Mercy Thompson is a mechanic by trade in a world where the Masquerade is crumbling. The Fae-- including her old boss-- are out of the closet, the werewolves are an open secret, the witches, vampires, and who knows what else can't stay hidden forever. Mercy herself is a half-native-american shapeshifter who can become a coyote. In the opening chapter she's approached by a teenage transient named Mac. Mac's looking for a few hours work, no questions asked. Mercy quickly identifies him as a werewolf, mentally lists a number of reasons hiring him would be a bad idea, then does it anyway because-- essentially-- he's got such cute puppydog eyes. At first Mercy tries to keep Mac hidden, but then some paramilitary types come nosing around and a fight leaves one of them dead by her hand. She calls Adam, the local werewolf alpha, and decides to make Mac his problem instead. Adam takes Mac into his pack and Mercy thinks that's that. But shortly thereafter an unknown group of werewolves kills Mac and kidnaps Adam's daughter Jesse, seriously injuring Adam himself in the process. As a friend of all three, Mercy gets shoehorned into setting things right-- with a bit of help from some old werewolf friends.

There are some stories that are plot-driven, and some stories that are character-driven. Moon Called isn't really either. It feels more like it's setting-driven. Yeah, okay, we have a kidnapped girl to track down, but most of the heroine's time is spent tooling around with various supernatural subcultures. This is reasonable-- despite the shapeshifting and the gunplay, Mercedes is a mechanic, not a private eye-- but it makes the book feel like a whole lot of scene-setting to little immediate purpose. This doesn't necessarily make for a bad story. But after awhile you do start to wish things would get moving. The visit to the local vampire seethe is particularly out-of-place. While Mercedes has a good reason to be there and some important plot developments come from it, it feels like a side-story off the main plot.

So if it's a setting-driven story, is the setting at least entertaining? Yes, for the most part. The world Briggs has crafted here is fascinating, and it's capable of carrying most of the book by itself. Our focus is on the werewolves, who operate under rather rigid social structures. There are dominant wolves and submissive wolves. Dominants are able to order the submissives around, but also compelled to protect them. All of this is enforced by a magical bonding, which is kinda creepy because it skirts close to mind-control at times. There are lone wolves who opt out of the system, with apparently no ill effects other than loneliness, but a newly-changed werewolf-- like our boy Mac-- needs a dominant to show him the ropes, so most of them end up in a pack eventually. The pack, in other words, is family. It's a big, rowdy family, but the dynamics are more or less the same. Most of the interactions between packmates have the sense of fathers and sons, or older and younger brothers.

We also get some info on other supernaturals- the recent history of the fae, and the vampires-- who are portrayed as a kind of supernatural mafia. Vague hints are dropped about demons, and Mercy herself turns out to be more powerful than she at first thought.

It's all interesting, but it gets to be a bit much. When we've got a kidnapper on the loose and we're going on a side-trip for the purpose of explaining attitudes towards homosexuality in lycanthropic culture, it's a fair bet that the book has gone a bit off the rails. About halfway through I started wishing we could actually get to solving the case. When we did, it was an instance of being careful what you wish for. When we finally get down to it, there's so few pages left in the book that events resolve rather perfunctorily. In fact, a uncomfortably large portion of the story is held together with convenient coincidences. There's an explanation for why Mercy finds a crucifix to be creepy that's merely a really contrived excuse for her just happening to have a holy talisman on her that a vampire won't recognize as such.

Then, when Mercy finally sits down to think about the situation, she winds up putting everything together almost immediately. The next chapter is a gathering of forces aided by a surprising ally, and then we get the big climactic showdown. Said showdown unfolds along with several more twists that are, as far as I can see, pointless. They don't have any appreciable effect on how things play out, and seem thrown in more for the sake of a twist.

And the bad guy is an idiot. Upon realizing the true scope of his plan, Mercy calls him "brilliant." Well, if so, then he's so brilliant that his intelligence odometer has rolled over to zeros. Without giving too much away, the goal of this elaborate scheme involving drugs, kidnappings, mad-scientist experiments, hired mercenaries, forced lycanthropy infections, and the killing of several people to cover things up boils down to be getting a particular werewolf to fight a particular other werewolf, to a specific purpose. And if I'm following things correctly, the villain could have gotten the result he was after by just picking a fight with werewolf B himself. Why is it that evil geniuses always spin needlessly intricate plans? We're not impressed with how smart you are, and the complexity just means more factors that could derail your scheme.

So this is a book that's all dressed up with no place to go. To stretch that metaphor a bit, though, there are perfectly reasonable excuses for getting dressed up just to lie in bed at home. Overall, I liked Moon Called. It may have read like an RPG sourcebook sometimes, but the characters are likeable, the writing is solid, and the world is distinct and interesting. There's definite potential in this series. I just hope next time we get less scene-setting and more stuff happening.


  1. I heard through my grapevine that a friend is giving me a copy of this book for Christmas. I wonder if I'll like it. But then again, I always liked anything she recommends.

  2. :D finally finished it, huh? Spot on as far as the plot goes, it was pretty needlessly complex. Curious to see what you think of the next few. Also, yay I can plug this now.

  3. i'm your newest follower! care to follow back?


  4. I've been interested in starting this series. Hmmm...maybe you will enjoy the rest of the series more.
    Merry Christmas, I'm your newest follower dear.
    Have a lovely weekend.

  5. I read this book awhile ago and wasn't very impressed by it. I did hear the rest of the series gets better, but I haven't gotten that far yet.

  6. I love werewolves how have I not discovered your blog before! I also love this book and instantly had to read the other books in the series, sorry to hear you didn't like it as much.

    Visiting from Follow Friday. New Follower ^_^

  7. I'm so glad you're on the blog hop today! I need a werewolf book guru and you're it! I love this series, but I can definitely see your points. The setting is fun, but some of the plot elements can get stretched a bit.

    New follower! Happy Friday!


  8. I'm a "guru", now? Uhh... I think not. ^_^;;;; I don't have anywhere near the experience or cachet to call myself that yet. Let's settle for "enthusiast". Or "knowledgeable enthusiast", perhaps. See if I've earned a title like "authority" after a year or so, work my way up to "guru".

    Thanks for the support, though. All of you. ^_^

  9. Hop Hop Hop

    I was given this book and told... Read it! LOL! I've yet to do so but I"m looking forward to it!

    There is still time to enter my Steampunkery Giveaway!!!

    Mad Scientist
    Steampunkery & Book Reviews
    Forbidden Steam  Adult- even the Mad Scientist gets naughty!

  10. The Mercy books are one of my favorite series, even if I do fancy her Alpha and Omega books just a bit better.

    As much as I like vampires, it was nice finding a blog like yours that focuses on werewolves.

  11. It does get better, and I would also recommend the Alpha and Omega books :)
    Much better!


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