Smoke Bitten: No smoke without a fire

Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsSmoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsSmoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs

Fresh off her clash with black witches in Storm Cursed, Mercy Thompson — the coyote shapeshifter and Volkswagen mechanic whose urban fantasy series follows her adventures with vampires, werewolves, fae, witches and various monsters — is fretting about the distance that has built up between her and her husband, Adam, alpha of the local werewolf pack. Their mating bond has been shut down for weeks, keeping her from knowing his thoughts and feelings.

But other troubles raise their heads, distracting Mercy (at least temporarily) from the problems with Adam. The ancient power that is Underhill, the underground world of the fae, manifests in their home as Tilly, a creepy young girl (“I love battles. Blood and death followed by tears and mourning.”). Tilly has opened a door from Underhill into Mercy’s backyard, allowing a particularly dangerous creature to escape from Underhill. This smoke weaver can magically control whatever or whoever it bites, forcing them to attack and kill others, even those they are closest to. The vampire Wulfe has developed a disturbing fascination with Mercy, stalking and spying on her. And a rogue werewolf pack has moved into the Tri-Cities area, led by a werewolf that’s a stone-cold killer, and is challenging Adam’s pack for control of their territory.

MERCY THOMPSON SeriesPatricia Briggs packs a lot into Smoke Bitten (2020), juggling all of these subplots and making them fit together. It makes this installment in the MERCY THOMPSON series more convoluted than usual. Briggs has a habit of raising new plots from the semi-cold ashes of older ones from previous books in the series. To a greater or lesser degree, most of the plotlines in Smoke Bitten have their genesis in events from earlier books. It adds continuity to the series and allows Briggs to build a more complex world, but also makes it imperative that readers have read and recall events and characters from the prior books in the series.

As a corollary, the reader never knows when an issue that seemed to be comfortably resolved at the end of one book might lead to a related problem in the next. Some of the plotlines in Smoke Bitten are even more unresolved than usual; Briggs is clearly building toward a major conflict — or two — in a future novel. It leads to a bit of a “middle book syndrome” feeling, but Briggs is a talented author, and the explanation underlying the smoke weaver plotline, and how it played out, was a particularly smart bit of plotting. Readers can deduce who the creature from Underhill is if they know their folklore and are paying attention, but Briggs gives the traditional fairy tale an unexpected and intriguing twist.

Great stories usually contain themes of love and redemption, and both of those play a key role in Smoke Bitten. Adam, facing a new problem that he doesn’t know how to solve, shows unexpected vulnerability. As Mercy comments, “Adam was good at saving people other than himself.” He’s making it difficult for Mercy to help him, though, closing her out in an effort to save her from his troubles. There are several poignant moments as this married couple navigates new and problematic shoals in their lives.

Smoke Bitten is a suspense-filled tale and a solid installment in the MERCY THOMPSON series. It leaves me anxious to see what happens next.

Published in March 2020. Mercy Thompson, car mechanic and shapeshifter, faces a threat unlike any other in this thrilling entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling series. I am Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman. My only “superpowers” are that I turn into a thirty-five pound coyote and fix Volkswagens. But I have friends in odd places and a pack of werewolves at my back. It looks like I’m going to need them. Centuries ago, the fae dwelt in Underhill — until she locked her doors against them. They left behind their great castles and troves of magical artifacts. They abandoned their prisoners and their pets. Without the fae to mind them, those creatures who remained behind roamed freely through Underhill wreaking havoc. Only the deadliest survived. Now one of those prisoners has escaped. It can look like anyone, any creature it chooses. But if it bites you, it controls you. It lives for chaos and destruction. It can make you do anything — even kill the person you love the most. Now it is here, in the Tri-Cities. In my territory. It won’t, can’t, remain. Not if I have anything to say about it.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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