This is one of the few urban fantasy series that I make sure I stay on top of (and with the number of series I’m in the middle of, this is no mean feat). With the change to hardcover and my all-my-books-in this-series-are-paperback-dammit stance, I bought the UK copy, only to find that the paperback in the UK is oddly bigger than usual and messes up the conformity of my bookshelves anyway. Why do you do this, publishers? Why? My book-buying OCD dislikes you.
River Marked is the 6th book of this series, which you should really read in order. If you haven’t read the last book, I urge you to skip this review and go to an earlier one, since the premise itself has a spoiler for earlier books.
**** This review contains spoilers for earlier books ***
The Premise: Mercy Thompson is a magnet for trouble, and has no reason to believe that a romantic getaway with her significant other will be any different. A relaxing trip for two at a private campsite begins idyllically, until Mercy and Adam rescue a terrified Native American man floating alone on his boat. This encounter brings Mercy and Adam face to face with an evil in the Columbia River, but it also gives Mercy a chance to meet her father’s people and to learn some surprising things about her heritage.
My Thoughts: Compared to the other books in this series, River Marked is a bit toned down. After a shindig where Mercy sees the people she loves, she finally gets a bit of relaxation and alone time with Adam. The Pack and Mercy’s responsibilities, including worrying about vampire Stephan are touched upon, particularly at the beginning of the story, but the focus quickly shifts to couple-time. I don’t think there’s been much space devoted to just Mercy and her romantic relationship in previous books, so this trip alone as a couple comes at what feels like the right time. I liked seeing Mercy actually having time for herself and not necessarily being Everyone’s Keeper. Yes, there are problems looming in the horizon, but for now things in the Tri-Cities can take care of themselves and Mercy takes a break.
That said, Adam shows his brains and his familiarity with his mate when things begin to happen and not being too surprised: things just happen around Mercy. His expectation of disaster, but also his respect of Mercy’s ability to deal with it highlighted why he’s the right guy for Mercy. That said, he isn’t thrilled at the danger to his wife, and there are moments where his protective instincts override all else, but he doesn’t call in the cavalry, nor does he expect Mercy to walk away. He assesses the problem, takes into account his wife’s ability, and decides he, Mercy, and a handful of Native American allies can handle it. This is a book that focuses more on Mercy’s romance than previous books. This is good in some ways – I liked seeing Mercy in a happy, established relationship (and there were some real misty-eyed bits), but it danced a little on the over-emphasizing line for me with the constant references to Mercy and Adam’s healthy sex life. Even though it was mostly alluded to and not gone into detail, it wore thin for my tastes, but this is a relatively minor complaint, because it was balanced with what I DO like to see; the quiet, realistic moments as a couple in a healthy relationship.
But my favorite part of River Marked was the new and surprising discovers that Mercy makes during the story about her heritage as a half-Native American. Mercy and Adam are close to tribal territory and their rescue of one of their own kicks off a series of visits from men who recognize Mercy as a skinwalker (although they call it something else) and who knew her father, Joe Old Coyote. I always like seeing some interesting new world building, so I was fascinated by the new information that gets dropped (like a bomb) in River Marked. There have been installments in this series where the concentration has been on the Fae, or on vampires, or on werewolves, but never really on Mercy and her own history and her own magical abilities like this before. It was a pleasant surprise and I’m hoping we get some reappearances by one of the characters she meets in River Marked in further installments so we can find out more.
In contrast to Mercy’s usual adventures, this one is almost quiet, despite it coming with the usual dangers of death and dismemberment. It doesn’t take long for everyone to figure out that the danger is some sort of evil lurking in the water, and the problem is just how to stop it. This is a relatively straightforward problem in comparison to some of Mercy’s other adventures, although I found the river creature as creepy to read about as it is to watch Jaws. Blergh, not wading into any rivers for a while.
Overall: I’d call this a solid, maybe a bit muted installment of the Mercy Thompson series. With 5 books of non-stop action, there had to be a bit of a breather where Mercy could pull back a little and have the focus on herself and this was it. That’s not to say that there was no action – there was, but in my mind this is more of a character growth rather than action driven installment in comparison with the rest of the series. I also found this review a bit hard to write because it’s difficult to qualify how I felt reading this book, which was: it basically delivered what I expected. I liked it, but it also didn’t blow me away, but on the other hand, “solid” and “as expected” from Briggs feels like a high bar.
See Michelle Read – positive
Un:Bound – positive
Book Binge – 5 out of 5
Persephone Reads – “I enjoyed it, but not wholeheartedly.”
SFF Chat – “while I did enjoy reading River Marked it wasn’t my favorite book of the series”
Books & other thoughts – positive
Tynga’s Reviews – positive
Wicked Lil Pixie – 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell (reviewed with Silver Borne) – “Even if I did not love as much as the previous book I still loved it”
Scooper Speaks – positive
The Book Smugglers – 8 (Excellent)
Smexy Books – B