River Marked by Patricia Briggs – Review

— Warning! —

I believe I’ve avoided outright spoilers, but you might be able to infer some from this review

Book Jacket:

Car mechanic Mercy Thompson has always known there was something different about her, and not just the way she can make a VW engine sit up and beg. Mercy is a shapeshifter, a talent she inherited from her long-gone father. She’s never known any others of her kind. Until now.

An evil is stirring in the depths of the Columbia River-one that her father’s people may know something about. And to have any hope of surviving, Mercy and her mate, the Alpha werewolf Adam, will need their help…

You can read an excerpt here.


Like just about every Urban Fantasy fan, I  love the Mercy Thompson series. Mercy is exactly the kind of friend you’d want to have in your corner – smart, caring, and talented at trouble. To see a female lead who can be tough without being hard, who knows when to push and when to back down, and has a healthy sense of humor, is just a joy. It’s always a pleasure to spend time with Mercy.

River Marked in many ways delivers what fans of the series have long been waiting for – an exploration of Mercy’s heritage. As much as I enjoyed the fascinating addition of Native American mythology, I found myself a little resistant to some of the ideas Briggs introduced, and here’s why – Briggs herself has said she made Mercy a mechanic to ground the series. With vampires, fey, and ghosts milling around, Mercy has always been the anchor that tied everything to the real, ordinary world; the touchstone. In River Marked, Briggs goes a step further and starts to mythologize Mercy’s origin, and I found myself resisting it. I want Mercy to be real, normal – which might seem ironic given that she can shift into a coyote, but even so the character has always exuded a present day, down to earth, solidity. In this book, Briggs has made a choice that shifts Mercy’s paradigm – not that it changes who she is, because Mercy is as snarky and canny as ever –  and I feel a bit like Briggs gave the rug under the series’ feet a good hard yank. I still massively enjoyed reading this book, no question, but it just chafed me a bit.

Plot-wise, River Marked is the most straightforward Mercy Thompson book yet. It’s very much a let-me-take-you-to-a-new-place-and-show-you-around kind of story, and I found myself missing the usual snarl of intrigue and mystery. In most books in this series, Mercy gets pulled into danger by a web of friends and favors, and you always get the irresistible sense that, like Mercy’s coyote half, she just can’t help herself – if there’s trouble, she’s going to be in the thick of it. Between her innate curiosity and willingness to help people in trouble, Mercy is always getting herself involved. In River Marked, instead of Mercy being drawn in, or making a choice to be involved, she and Adam are essentially led by the nose to a spot where trouble is going to happen, and dropped there. Mercy isn’t really figuring much out this time around, instead she’s being nudged, led and told. The people with the answers were showing up just a little too easily, and I missed that sense of more going on than we understand – like in Silver Borne (which I’ve heard people say was light on eventful happenings), strange things were happening, two plots were underway – a fey plot and pack intrigue – and Mercy was key in figuring out both. By comparison, River Marked is a straight up find the monster and kill it story. It’s a spare plot, more like a travelogue, and the solution pretty much lands in Mercy and Adam’s laps. Mercy plays a vital role in the final confrontation, but it never feels like it’s her impetus, her unraveling of the mystery – instead she’s being, well, used. So while I was enjoying the heck out of the scenery – it’s a beautiful part of the world and the mythology is fun to explore – I just had a sense that this story was a little too guided, and a little too simple.

In the same vein, throughout the book I found myself expecting small happenstances to tie into the story comprehensively, and felt kind of let down when they didn’t. In the beginning of the book, when Mercy and Adam are hiking, there’s a little boy Adam helps down the mountain, and I just kept waiting for it to somehow resonate – maybe the boy was Otterkin, or would later be a victim – and it never did. It was just a scene of Adam helping out a kid and another chance to appreciate Adam’s hunky-ness, nothing more. Likewise the ghosts Mercy encounters provide a few nice emotional beats, but they don’t really factor into the larger story of figuring out what the monster is and how to kill it. Plus, the Otterkin didn’t seem to be that integrated into the story – I really wish they had been interacting with Mercy throughout, but instead they felt kind of tacked on at the end.

And yet, even with my plot qualms, it’s impossible not to enjoy watching Mercy and Adam spend time together. Patricia Briggs always writes fantastically interesting relationship dynamics, and I love how she never lets anything be smooth or simple – even when Mercy and Adam are ridiculously happy they still have things to work on and work out. It was a refreshing change of pace to see Mercy and Adam away from all the influences of friends, family and pack, and outside their usual stomping grounds, and this entire book is basically one big chance to spend quality time with the couple – who can resist that? Plus, the wedding scene is just icing on the cake.

So with fabulous scenery, fascinating mythology, and a story that will never once loose your interest, River Marked is a fun read. It isn’t perfect, and I can’t help wishing there had been a bit more to it, but it delivers Mercy and Adam in spades.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to tak my word for it…

The Book Smugglers say:

I loved River Marked for its solid storytelling, its exploration of Mercy’s particular brand of magic, and its rock solid characterizations. Another brilliant entry in the series, and probably my favorite entry since Iron Kissed.

Loves Vampires says:

River Marked is a solid addition to the Mercy Thompson series and while the action is perhaps a little slow to start the story more than makes up for lost time once the excitement finally kicks-off. It’s the story of a werewolf and a coyote on a camping trip that turns into a dangerous monster hunt – what’s not to like about that?

All Things Urban Fantasy says:

…I think River Marked is probably my favorite Mercy book since Iron Kissed.  Mercy is a lot more emotional this time, and not without reason, as she has to deal with revelations about her father, her heritage, and what the future of her relationship with her mate will be like.