Patricia Briggs switched to writing urban fantasy after her first eight novels—which took place in various different second-world contexts—and has achieved no small measure of success with them. The Mercy Thompson series—about a coyote shapeshifter car mechanic set in a world where werewolves, vampires, and fae live among humans—has many flaws, but Briggs knows how to tell an entertaining story.
Shifting Shadows is her first short fiction collection, and consists of stories set in the Mercy Thompson continuum.
These include six stories previously published in other anthologies (“Fairy Gifts,” “Gray,” “Seeing Eye,” “The Star of David,” “In Red, With Pearls,” and “Alpha and Omega”); two outtakes from other novels—in this case Silver Borne and Night Broken—from the point of view of, respectively, the fae woman Ariana and Mercy’s husband Adam—and four stories appearing here for the first time in print, “Silver,” “Roses in Winter,” “Redemption,” and “Hollow.” The stories range in length from about 17000 words or 70 pages (“Alpha and Omega”) to no more than 3500 words or 30 pages (“Fairy Gifts”). Apart from “Hollow,” which stars Mercy Thompson herself, and “Alpha and Omega,” which is the origin story for Charles and Anna and the Cry Wolf spin-off series, none of the stories feature the protagonists of Briggs’ series in anything more than passing mentions. Two, “Fairy Gifts” and “Gray,” are built around entirely new characters, while the others feature characters that appear in the series in secondary roles.
“Silver” is the story of how Samuel met Ariana, how Ariana got her scars and made the fae artefact Silver Borne, and how Samuel and Bran became werewolves. Set in a not-very-strongly drawn early medieval Britain—the setting is its weakest element—it’s a story about coming of age and killing the people who control you.
“Seeing Eye” is the story of how Moira, the blind white witch who appears in Hunting Ground, met Tom, the werewolf who became her husband, and rescued his brother from her black witch father. It’s a fun story, combining the beginnings of a romance with a brief adventure.
“Redemption” is a story about werewolves and workplace sexual harassment, featuring Ben, the werewolf who has issues with women who shows up in the Mercy novels. “Roses in Winter” is the story of a teenage werewolf who’s taken under the wing of Asil the Moor—a very old werewolf who’s been asking the leader of his pack to kill him for years. “Gray” is a story about vampires, ghosts, and coming home.
“Hollow” is the Mercy Thompson story in this collection, about a millionaire who’s haunted by images of the dead wife he was acquitted of murdering. It’s one of the weaker stories in the collection. Also a weak entry is “In Red, With Pearls,” a story about gay werewolf Warren playing private eye when a zombie tries to kill his partner—in a detective story of any kind, it’s helpful if the hints about the mystery make sense when the culprit is revealed, and here that doesn’t work for me.
The strongest story in the collection, though, is “The Star of David,” a story about a werewolf mercenary reconnecting with his estranged daughter when she calls on his help in protecting a young man from the forces that put him in hospital. It’s touching in all the right places without quite ever veering into sentimental claptrap—as well as working its tension, both emotional and otherwise, into a decent climax with a solid narrative payoff.
As short fiction goes, these aren’t particularly exciting examples of the story-form. Their main attraction—and their main selling point—is spending more time with the characters from the Mercy Thompson and Charles and Anna novels. If that’s something you’re looking for, this collection is worth your while. If it’s not, well. This is a collection of fun, fluffy urban fantasy stories, diverting for an hour or two—but I wouldn’t pay hardcover prices for it.
Shifting Shadows is available September 2nd from Ace Hardcover.