Night Broken is the eighth instalment in Patricia Briggs’ popular Mercy Thompson urban fantasy series, after 2013’s Frost Burned. Readers familiar with Briggs’ series already know whether or not they are interested in reading this one: it follows faithfully in the footsteps of its predecessors, delivering a tidy urban fantasy adventure featuring the regular cast.
Readers until now unfamiliar with Mercy Thompson could probably drop in here and still enjoy the ride: while previous knowledge of the characters and the world would add depth and context, nothing in this novel actively requires an acquaintance with what has gone before. It stands alone pretty well, and in a landscape increasingly filled with works demanding a series’ worth of involvement, that makes it stand out. To be honest, I say that because I’ve gone very fuzzy on the details of Night Broken’s predecessors, and it didn’t do any harm.
Mercy Thompson is a coyote skinwalker, married to Adam Hauptman, Alpha of the local pack. In Night Broken, Adam’s ex-wife (and mother to the daughter who lives with him) Christy comes to him for help. Christy has a stalker, a man who’s already killed someone close to her, and she needs the protection of the werewolf pack. More even than she realised: her stalker is no mere mortal man, but rather something old and powerful and dangerously mad. Mercy, Adam, and the pack are all at risk.
But danger from one quarter isn’t quite enough. Mercy’s under pressure from another, too. One of the most powerful of the local fae—a Gray Lord—wants an artifact that was given into her keeping, and is not above carrying through on threats to get it. But Mercy no longer possesses the artifact in question: she gave it to Coyote—and Coyote is hard to find at the best of times. Trying, this time, leads her to a long-lost relative whose visions may mean the difference between death and survival for Christy and the werewolf pack.
There is one particular element about this novel which I found strongly irritating. That element is Christy, and the narrative’s positioning of her as both selfish and manipulative, and a traditionally feminine woman. That such people exist I have no doubt: but in a series of novels where the main character does not generally interact with other women in a friendly manner, and where the most important figures in her life and in the plot are men, setting Mercy, with whom we’re supposed to identify, up against the Manipulative (Female) Ex-Wife, an ex-wife who lives on the income provided by her ex-husband, who sleeps around, who manipulates the people around her by reflex...
Well, it plays into a pattern that frames women as competing with each other for men, or that frames one woman as maliciously jealous of another over a man. A pattern, moreover, that values femininity less than it values competence in traditionally masculine areas of enterprise. Christy is feminine in traditional ways, and is a weak selfish person. Mercy is not feminine in traditional ways—in many ways, she’s “one of the boys”—and is a strong good person. It’s a narrative pattern I find pernicious, and one that sets my teeth on edge.
Apart from that, in Night Broken Briggs has written a solid entry in the urban fantasy lists. Her usual standards of prose and characterisation apply, and at least one of the new characters introduced here looks as though he may have a greater part to play in some future instalment. The pace is swift, the incidents suitably full of action, and the tension mounts appropriately to a bloody and desperate conclusion. All in all, a perfectly cromulent novel, and one that should more than satisfy fans of the series.
Night Broken is available March 11th from Ace Hardcover