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I’ve been all angsty the last couple of days, so I thought I’d slide into the weekend with something a little more lighthearted: a few thoughts on Patricia Briggs’ latest (#5) installment in the Mercy Thompson series, Silver Borne.

I’ve written posts about Briggs’ other books Bone Crossed (the forth installment) and Hunting Ground (in a related series) if you want a little background on what I like about these books. You know, other than their general shapeshifter urban fantasy goodness.

Mild spoilers below for anyone who cares.

Silver Borne picks up where any self-respecting novel should start: the return of a borrowed book. Mercy — the shapeshifter mechanic protagonist of the series — has borrowed, in Bone Crossed, a book of fae folklore from a fae antiquarian bookdealer friend of hers. What with one thing and another she still hasn’t had a chance to return it, and at the beginning of Silver she gets a cryptic message from him indicating he hopes that she is taking good care of it.

When she goes to return the book, Phin (the fae) is nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile, her old friend Sam — a former lover and ancient werewolf — who has been struggling with the ennui that threatens to overtake older werewolves in this particular universe — attempts to commit suicide. He fails because his wolf takes over and refuses to let him, but this leaves Mercy with a werewolf on her hands who may or may not be capable of self-control.

And then there’s the slight problem of Mercy’s current lover, the local Alpha werewolf, whom she’s finally chosen to be in a relationship with, but whose pack is not exactly thrilled to have a shapeshifter (rather than werewolf or full human) as their Alpha’s mate.

So Mercy has a lot on her plate: rescue a missing fae, return book that is more than it first appears, find Sam a reason to live before he mauls half the state of Washington, and on the way by assert her dominance as the highest-ranking female in the wolf pack, despite the fact she’s a shapeshifting coyote not a were.

In short, one big supernatural soap opera.

But I’m continually impressed by the way that Briggs writes her supernatural soap operas in a way that keeps her characters interesting and refuses to reduce them to stock characters. Or rather, encourages her stock characters to develop twists, three-dimensional personalities that stop them from being cookie-cutter chess pieces moving around the board for the sake of the story.

Of the three storylines she has going in Silver Borne, I found the most satisfying, actually, to be the one that remained largely in the background of the two most immediate plots (the magical book plot and the Sam in jeopardy plot): the ongoing issue of Mercy’s position in relation to the werewolf pack. Briggs turned what started out as a fairly contrived feeling “female werewolf jealous of interloper” story into an opportunity to flesh out a few of the female characters other than Mercy (something I’ve definitely missed in previous books) and also raise questions about the patriarchal structure of the werewolf pack itself which has potential for interesting developments in the future.

The Sam story, too, has potential for further development, and possibly a spin-off along the lines of the Alpha and Omega series, of which Hunting Ground is the second chapter. Sam is (rather conventionally, I’ll admit) saved from suicidal despair by the re-surfacing of a female fae he loved and lost, but despite her comparatively short “screen time” in the novel she emerges as a complex character with an interesting history. And the fact that she is fae (a supernatural population that coexists uneasily with both humans and wolves) offers the possibility for some interesting storylines that deal more directly with fae-human and fae-wolf politics and inter-species (as it were) relationships.

So anyway, if you’re looking for a quick and enjoyable summer read, and shapeshifter mechanics are your thing, definitely check out Mercy Thompson (or if you’ve already discovered her, enjoy the latest installment and keep your fingers crossed for more!)

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