Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pride

Series: Shifters (#3)
Genre: Adventure
Author: Rachel Vincent
Publisher: MIRA

Rachel Vincent is an excellent writer, but it's kind of difficult to enjoy her werecat books. On the one hand, she crafts interesting characters, and has an especial talent for snappy dialog. On the other, the world in which her books take place is grim. Sympathetic individuals are few and far between, with most of the cast holding up a fundamentally corrupt social order. Each new book is a struggle between cheering for the good guys and wanting them all to die in a fire. Thankfully, with Pride she finally seems to have found a direction for the series that the reader can get solidly behind, and the result is worth the wait.

Following the untimely death of her ex-muggle ex-boyfriend Andrew, Faythe Sanders stands accused of both infecting Andrew and murdering him. The North American Council rents out a resort campground in rural Montana for a trial, which soon devolves into Faythe's allies trying to outmaneuver a hanging judge with a deep grudge. But the proceedings are disrupted when a group of strays congregating in the area make themselves known with a bold attack that leaves two werecats injured and the intruder dead. And an even bigger shock hits in the form of a rogue tabby dropped off on their doorstep, which forces Faythe to put her own concerns on hold and puzzle out who the newcomer is and where she comes from.

The lack of someone to cheer for has generally held this series back. Even Faythe, our heroine, supports the very system that oppresses her. Sure she has her smart mouth, sharp claws, and rebellious tendencies, but whenever the shit hits the fan she immediately runs to either her jackass boyfriend Marc or "Daddy" for protection. The first two books compensated by making the antagonistic outlaw society of the wildcats and the South American prides even worse, but that excuse only goes so far.

With this third book, Vincent tries a new approach, and it works. With Faythe facing the death penalty, her pridemates circle the wagons and the battlelines are re-drawn. It's no longer Faythe against the world, instead we have Faythe's Pride against the reigning social order. Said order is represented by a tribunal consisting of a friendly judge, an antagonistic judge, and a swing vote, a device so overused that it's easy to miss how subtle it is. Faythe's judges represent the three faces of law (or paternalism, if you want to go with the feminist interpretation): "Uncle" Rick Wade, compassionate and protective, Calvin Malone, controlling and manipulative, and Paul Blackwell, well-meaning but out of touch with the times. Freed of the need to have Faythe's allies represent the antagonistic culture, Vincent is able to paint them in a much more generous light. Marc, in particular, has finally grown out of his jackass boyfriend characterization, and is a much more less domineering figure. Mind you, that's partially because he has a much diminished role in Pride, to the point that his sex scene with Faythe feels like a contractual obligation. The focus is a lot more on Faythe, Malone, Greg.

About halfway through, the plot shifts gears. Kaci -- a teenaged tabby cat -- essentially shows up injured on their doorstep, and much of the remainder of the book is devoted to figuring out what's up with that. This is kinda good and kinda bad. Kaci provides a driving mystery for the book, a way for Faythe to prove her worth to the council, and a sign of the changing times. The last is important, since it's a driving theme of the series. Over the past two books, the inevitability of change has been percolating in the background. Greg's been aware of it for some time, hence his eccentric decisions like allowing Marc, a stray, in his pride, or letting his daughter go off to college. Revelations about werecat genetics dropped in Rogue were so underplayed that most readers probably didn't think them important, but it was foreboding. Kaci is the most obvious sign yet that the werecats perspective on themselves and their world are about to shift.

The problem is, all of this is coming. None of it is here. Despite their victories, the first three books of this series give a sense of the good guys not really getting anywhere. The Prides are still as ass-backwards now as they were at the beginning of Stray, giving the idea that the entire series thus far is pure buildup. Pride gets it worse than the first two, since it's pretty much a breather episode to begin with. The villain is a Threat of the Week, barely relevant until the final chapters, and the other stories serve primarily to introduce Kaci and Malone, the latter of which is set up as a major antagonist going forward. While it's clear that the plotline is going somewhere, I wish it would get there already.

But even if it sometimes feels like merely marking time, Pride is a solid book that delivers likeable characters and both mystery and intrigue in ample amounts. There's not a lot of action, and readers who haven't been following the series will probably be lost, but overall Pride as a good read. The Shifters books continue to be one of the best Urban Fantasies out there, and here's hoping they can maintain this level of quality.

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