Mercy Thompson Series Review: Blood Bound

Hey guys! Finally, our Mercy Thompson series review. Things are gonna be a bit different this time around, though. In order to keep it to a reasonable length (lol yeah right) we’re going to nix the whole Characters/World/Plot format, and focus on our issues with each book, one by one. We’re not going to cover Moon Called again, as that was our very first review for this blog. You can check it out here if you’re interested in our take. Also, be aware that there will be SPOILERS for every book up to and including Silver Borne.

Before we get to the book individually we would like to talk about the issues we have with the series as a whole.

We’ll start with our biggest, most lasting issue with this series as a whole: the sexism. We touched on this in our Moon Called review, but we’ll recap and summarize here. To put it bluntly, female werewolves in Mercy’s world cannot hold any power. Regardless of their wolf’s dominance, unmated females are automatically ranked lowest within the pack, and have no chance of moving up on their own. They are victims of – and generally resign themselves to – abuse doled out by the males in the back because, by and large, they don’t have the authority to challenge it. It is portrayed as pretty rare to find a pack that doesn’t victimize it’s women, and even rarer to find a wolf who will view one as equal.

The only way a woman can claw her way up from the bottom of the food chain is by attaching herself to a higher-ranking male, but even then, her individual abilities are not recognized, because she is bound to her mate’s rank.

Unfortunately women aren’t the only ones resigned to sexist roles in the Mercy Thompson world. The vast majority of male ‘wolves are dominant, macho, easily-angered, testosterone-crazed, violent MANLY MEN perpetually engaged in pissing contests with everyone they meet. In fact, the official Mercy Thompson explanation for the refusal to allow women into pack hierarchy is that all the really powerful weres are ancient and therefore “old-fashioned” (primary love interests included). Apparently they were absent for the sixties, or at least didn’t understand what all the bra-burning was for.

For the ‘heroes’, Briggs wraps all these unattractive qualities in cloaks of ‘protectiveness’ and ‘their nature’ and adorable quaintness, and we’re expected to forgive it.

These issues make it really hard to get into the romantic aspect of the series. Its difficult to root for either Sam or Adam when neither of them really show genuine love for Mercy. Sam’s only interest in Mercy as a mate is her ladyparts, and her (suspected) ability to bear his children. Then there’s Adam. There’s no part of that relationship that’s healthy.

In order for Mercy to be with Adam, she is forced to sacrifice much of the independence and self-reliance she’s worked for, because of Adam’s dominance and status as an Alpha. But the sacrifice is not mutual; Adam does not give anything to be with her. Instead, he forces changes on Mercy in the name of ‘protecting’ her and integrating her into his life, which she later, thanks to Briggs’ god-hand, ends up thanking him for. None the changes are not strictly necessary; they’re manifestations of Adam’s possessiveness and need to control Mercy’s life.

The second major problem we have with the series is Mercy, as a character, and how Briggs deals with her. Mercy is billed as a tough, independent, stubborn, don’t-take-shit-from-nobody person, but Briggs continually undermines these traits with the way she has Mercy behave. Mercy begins the series as the above described character, with her own home, business, and little interest in romance or a pack, and book-by-book, Briggs breaks her down.

We don’t like bashing authors, but we’ve come to feel that Patricia Briggs is making a statement, perhaps subconsciously, about what she believes a real man is, what a woman’s role really should be, and what kind of relationship the two should really share.

For all her weaknesses, Briggs’ strength lies in compelling and distinctive side characters. A big issue that we have with a lot of books is that the supporting cast is very one-note or bland. But with Briggs’ books you get a wide variety of intriguing and well rounded people. Even if you don’t end up liking Mercy, Adam, or Sam you will find yourself reading for Jesse, Warren, Zee, Stefan, or Ben (who are some of our favorite characters).

So with that out of the way, let’s get started.

Blood Bound cover Under the rule of science, there are no witch burnings allowed, no water trials or public lynchings. In return, the average law-abiding, solid citizen has little to worry about from the things that go bump in the night. Sometimes I wish I was an average citizen…

Mechanic Mercy Thompson has friends in low places-and in dark ones. And now she owes one of them a favor. Since she can shapeshift at will, she agrees to act as some extra muscle when her vampire friend Stefan goes to deliver a message to another of his kind.

But this new vampire is hardly ordinary-and neither is the demon inside of him.
In Blood Bound, we are thrown into the world of the vampires when Stefan asks Mercy for her help dealing with a demon-ridden vampire sorcerer. Yes, you heard us, a demon-ridden vampire sorcerer. That is quite a resume. At any rate, to repay the favor she owes Stefan from the previous book, Mercy accompanies him to greet this visiting DRVS. One massacre later, Stefan stands accused by his seethe of killing multiple humans and attracting unwanted attention to the vampires, and only Mercy, with her resistance to magic, knows the truth. With the information Mercy provides, the Werewolves and Vampires ally temporarily to track down the sorcerer and his maker.

One of our biggest problems with this book is that Mercy doesn’t do anything until the end. Mercy is a frustrating character in that for all of the “independence” and “stubbornness” she is billed with, she often allows the men in her life to make decisions for her. It’s not really that she’s incompetent, just that despite her supposed qualms about their archaic way of thinking, she trusts these guys’ judgment rather than her own. So if Warren or Adam or Sam tell her that she’s too weak or that it’s not her place to do something, she’ll argue a bit for show, but will ultimately give in. Because of this she sits the entire first half of the book out until there is no one else left to take care of business, and then gets off her ass.

Hey Mercy, um, why are you the protagonist again?

Anyway, in the process of ignoring the central plot, Mercy spends her time exploring her submissive side with her fellow love-triangle participants. Aside from the usual daily exchanges there are two scenes in particular that serve to develop the relationships between Mercy and her men. Neither of them do much to bolster our confidence in these romances.

In Mercy and Sam’s scene, Sam comes home from a bad day at work right on the edge of Changing. In Mercy world, this is very bad, because he could potentially freak out and eat her. In order to avoid being attacked and get close enough to comfort him, Mercy has to crawl on her belly to his side. She holds him as he tells her about his life after their split, which left him emotionally damaged. It’s a sad confession, and this scene would have been really effective if it didn’t start out with her crawling on her belly. TO APPEASE A GUY. This is a prime example of Mercy’s “defiance” in action – she qualifies it in her head as not being true submission because she doesn’t mean it, but that doesn’t really matter because she performs the act anyway. As usual, and as will become more frequent in later books, Mercy is forced to give something up – be it dignity or freedom or what have you – to bond with one of her lovers.

The scene with Adam and Mercy is slightly more disturbing than the one above, mostly because it is meant to be romantic. For us, however, this is where Mercy starts being chipped away so that she can fit into a relationship with Adam. To summarize, while angry at Adam, Mercy agrees to spar with him in his dojo and ends up in a steamy encounter. Simple enough. However, all through the steamy massage &etc, Mercy is unwilling – reluctant to be touched or to let go of her anger. Eventually she relaxes and does not object to Adam’s rather forceful advances. In the heat of the moment, Mercy finds herself wanting to let Adam just take her; to submit to him willingly. Only later does Mercy realize that her reluctance was overridden by Adam’s Alpha mojo – or, the submission-inspiring influence his dominance has over pack members.

This has all kinds of creepy date-rape-ish inclinations, but the important thing is that, while annoyed with herself for being affected by his Alpha charm, instead of becoming weary of Adam and his influence, Mercy excuses Adam’s slip and begins pondering allowing herself to give in to him. This demonstrates two important things, to our minds. One: Mercy’s willingness to blame herself for the actions of others, and two: the start of the loss of her independence, and transformation into a submissive mate.

Another subplot that kept Mercy busy this go round (while, you know, everyone else hunted down the big bad) involved a young girl, about 13 years old, who had been attacked and turned into a werewolf. Since the wolves are out to the public now, and Adam is known as the local Alpha, the girl’s father comes to Mercy in the guise of a reporter and begins inquiring about Adam’s character. He eventually reveals that his daughter has not yet learned to control her wolf, and he is afraid for both her and the general public. He wants to get her help, but is wary of werewolves in general. Mercy consults Bran on his behalf, who tells her that there are only a handful of packs that he would trust not to abuse a girl that young. We really shouldn’t have to explain why this is highly disturbing, and what it says about both sexes positions and attitudes in Briggs’ world.

Anyway, there does finally come a point where Mercy runs out of men to submit to, side stories to see through, and fae bars to sing Christmas songs in (no really, she does, and there is NO POINT TO IT AT ALL), and must go about tying up the main plot. This comes when all the other wolves and vamps who have been pursuing the demon-ridden sorcerer have been captured, and there is really nobody important to override Mercy and tell her not to try and help. Through a very convenient use of her seemingly unsuitable powers (really, it takes a big stretch to make her ghost-powers relevant at all), Mercy tracks down the sorcerer’s lair. She and her previously captured companions then engage the sorcerer in a very frantic and anti-climactic fight, in which Mercy – gasp! – actually kills him. Granted, she has Stefan’s blood, and Andre’s help, but by god, she kills him. YAY MERCY YOU ACTUALLY DID SOMETHING USEFUL!

She continues her streak of useful stuff-doing when she figures out that Andre is actually behind the whole demon-ridden vampire sorcerer thing, and turns him in to Marsilia, who clears Stefan of his misdeeds, but refuses to punish the true culprit. In an extremely tacked-on-feeling sequence that was probably only included to set up the plot for a future book, Mercy temporarily goes badass and takes matters in to her own hands. She tracks down Andre’s lair with her VERY USEFUL, DAMMIT ghost-seeing powers, and kills him. HOLY SHIT MERCY YOU DID IT AGAIN, TWICE IN ONE BOOK WE’RE SO PROUD! BUT she botches it, because, you know, she is a woman, and doesn’t think shit through, and Stefan must come to her rescue, retrieving her vampire-slaying items and killing the witnesses to her crime. Not that that helps any if you’re to believe Bone Crossed, thanks for killing innocent people for no reason, Stefan.

Okay. So that aside, there were a few things we liked about Blood Bound. Like Honey. Honey turns out to be one of the few female weres who comes to like Mercy (OMG NO BABY ENVY!), and grows on you quite a bit through this and the following book. Then there’s Stefan, who we figure would probably make a better boyfriend than either Adam or Sam. This is also the book where Ben’s development into an interesting and likable character begins, which we enjoyed. We also liked the relatively straightforward plot (you know, the main one that Mercy wasn’t really involved in), the vampire world that the book explored, and the concepts that this book brought to the table (demon-ridden sorcerer? Wordy by neat. The truth chair? Kinda cool).

All in all, we’d say:

two stars

The Mercy books are freakishly readable, and, as we’ve mentioned before, at the very least, fun to bitch about.

And then, there’s Iron Kissed

TO BE CONTINUED…



 

12 Responses

  1. Vicki

    July 2, 2010 5:18 am, Reply

    Maybe it’s because I’m tired of over-analyzing books, or maybe I’ve been dazzled by the non-sucky wolves, but I’m not finding the level of anti-feminism that you guys are.

    Mercy strikes me as fiercely independent throughout the books, regardless of the ‘submissive’ acts she performs. She knows the rules and lives by them. She’s stated multiple times how breaking these rules can get you killed, and you’ve pointed out how ‘shitty’ her powers are in comparison. You can’t fight a tank with a BB-gun. So she puts up what resistance she thinks she can get away with.

    As far as sitting out of the action for most of the book, as maddening as it may be for us, it seems to fit her character. While she’s independent, she’s not reckless, nor is she even keen to get involved in supernatural matters. She doesn’t go looking for trouble, and she honestly doesn’t think her wimpy powers would do much good against a demon-ridden. It’s not until her friends are in trouble that she decides it’s time to take action.

    A bit of a let-down for the reader? Perhaps. But Mercy’s never been painted as Xena, Warrior Princess. Her actions seem consistent to her personality, which rings true with Briggs’ characters on the whole. (Woot! Ben is my absolute fave)

    As far as Adam/Sam go, I’m kinda with you, but romance has never been my area of expertise. (I’d much prefer Ben *whistle innocently*)

    Looking forward to your next review.

  2. Kayla & Cyna

    July 2, 2010 7:55 am, Reply

    We have analyzed these books a lot, mostly because they’re one of the few series that really got us talking and venting, amongst ourselves and with other people.

    She knows the rules and lives by them. She’s stated multiple times how breaking these rules can get you killed […] So she puts up what resistance she thinks she can get away with.

    That’s exactly it, though. These rules are inherently sexist and wrong – the book openly acknowledges that. And yeah, she resists in her head, maybe, but that doesn’t count for much when she ends up doing what they tell her, anyway. Then she throws out a token ‘oh, if I were in charge, how I’d change things’, but she doesn’t do anything. More than that, as she slowly becomes absorbed into the werewolf world, she just seems to accept it, and the issue gets raised less and less often as the books continue. A woman’s place in Briggs’ universe is something that needs to be addressed in-world, and it just isn’t.

    Yeah, we recognize (and should have worked it into the review) that Mercy isn’t Warrior Woman. But then it’s like…well, why tell these stories from her POV if she’s just going to sit a lot if it out? Okay, it’s an interesting character concept, but when you put her in a world full of super-strong weres and fae and vamps, it feels like a waste. I guess you could call it a Zeppo kind of story; the life of the sidekick while she waits for the hero to come home, but that sort of storytelling just doesn’t work for us when noting very interesting happens while she waits. lol, maddening and a let-down is a good way to put it.

    Yeah, Ben’s progression through the series was a pleasant surprise. He gets to be pretty likable for a woman-hating prick šŸ˜€ We like the brotherly kind of relationship he develops with Mercy.

    Thanks for your comment! We really like discussing these books, especially with others with a different POV! We’ll try to get the next review out a bit quicker this time šŸ™‚

  3. Kayla & Cyna

    July 2, 2010 7:55 am, Reply

    We have analyzed these books a lot, mostly because they’re one of the few series that really got us talking and venting, amongst ourselves and with other people.

    She knows the rules and lives by them. She’s stated multiple times how breaking these rules can get you killed […] So she puts up what resistance she thinks she can get away with.

    That’s exactly it, though. These rules are inherently sexist and wrong – the book openly acknowledges that. And yeah, she resists in her head, maybe, but that doesn’t count for much when she ends up doing what they tell her, anyway. Then she throws out a token ‘oh, if I were in charge, how I’d change things’, but she doesn’t do anything. More than that, as she slowly becomes absorbed into the werewolf world, she just seems to accept it, and the issue gets raised less and less often as the books continue. A woman’s place in Briggs’ universe is something that needs to be addressed in-world, and it just isn’t.

    Yeah, we recognize (and should have worked it into the review) that Mercy isn’t Warrior Woman. But then it’s like…well, why tell these stories from her POV if she’s just going to sit a lot if it out? Okay, it’s an interesting character concept, but when you put her in a world full of super-strong weres and fae and vamps, it feels like a waste. I guess you could call it a Zeppo kind of story; the life of the sidekick while she waits for the hero to come home, but that sort of storytelling just doesn’t work for us when noting very interesting happens while she waits. lol, maddening and a let-down is a good way to put it.

    Yeah, Ben’s progression through the series was a pleasant surprise. He gets to be pretty likable for a woman-hating prick šŸ˜€ We like the brotherly kind of relationship he develops with Mercy.

    Thanks for your comment! We really like discussing these books, especially with others with a different POV! We’ll try to get the next review out a bit quicker this time šŸ™‚

  4. Rummanah Aasi

    November 26, 2010 5:21 pm, Reply

    I have to say that I’m with Vicki’s point of view. I think Mercy’s ‘lack of involvement’ also comes from the fact that she is plainly not as physically strong as those around her. She also knows her limits and that she can be easily killed. For once, her is a paranormal female character who isn’t reckless. She’s intelligent and knows when to hold back.

    As for the relationships, I don’t think they are that cut and dry. Sure Sam is at the point of his life where he wants to settle down. He’s been through it all and I can’t blame him for that. As for Adam, I don’t think I know much about him to make a firm decision against or for him.

  5. Kayla + Cyna

    November 27, 2010 4:15 am, Reply

    It’s true that Mercy isn’t a strong character, but I guess, for me, the fact that she let these sort of high-and-mighty-acting guys boss her around wasn’t something I could get over. I suppose I’m more the type who would bull-headedly do it anyway, probably more so because someone told me I couldn’t, and Mercy’s sit-home-and-wait approach bugged the shit out of me.

    But that’s Sam’s only interest in Mercy – the baby thing. Sure he feels affection for her, but that affection is very largely tied to the fact that she could give him children and a family. What kind of relationship is that? And Adam…ugh. His violent outbursts turned us off him for good.

  6. rassaku

    October 23, 2012 6:53 am, Reply

    I think this is why Briggs’ other series, Alpha and Omega, worked better for me. I’m not sure it’s any better about the sexual politics (I read it fast, and I’m not a woman, so it’s usually only the creepy male-gaze misogyny that jumps out at me) but at least the main character isn’t being billed as a Strong Female Character (she’s an abused woman who grows into her strength) so it’s not nearly as off-putting when she doesn’t behave like one.

    • Kayla + Cyna

      October 23, 2012 2:40 pm, Reply

      I’ve only read the first Alpha & Omega short story, but I’ve actually heard it’s worse, especially the relationship dynamic. I particularly remember Charles coming upon rape-victim and perpetually abused Anna in the short story…and then immediately feeling the compulsion to rape her. OUR HERO, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. He even physically corners her, but because he’s the love interest, he doesn’t actually rape her. He just wants to. Doesn’t every man? So that’s TOTALLY OKAY, RIGHT? LOLOL.

      It’s more bullshit Briggs Alpha-male evopsych garbage, so yeah, I don’t hold out much hope for that series, either.

    • rassaku

      October 23, 2012 3:41 pm, Reply

      Yeeeah… I’m not sure I could tolerate it on re-reading, but then, I wasn’t planning to. šŸ˜€

      I actually came to Briggs via her older works, namely Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood, which are straight-up fantasy rather than urban fantasy, with a male protagonist who is a far cry from the alpha asshole template (and has raging chemistry with this shape-shifting dragon dude, aw yeah).

      Briggs does have a rather unsettling fixation with rape though, no denying that. In the Dragon ___ books, both the female love interest and the dragon dude have been raped in the past, and Briggs tries, at least, to handle the subject of rape survivors with more nuance and honesty than most fantasy writers who use it for emotional button-mashing, but the conclusion I kept coming to was that she was simply not a good enough writer to pull it off. They came off as kind of obvious and preachy, but her heart was in the right place in those early books, as I recall — the message being that one terrible experience doesn’t have to define you as a person or permanently mar your sexuality; that you can recover at your own pace, in your own way; that it wasn’t your fault. It’s weird that her later books are so fall-down fail on the subject.

      Reviewed 20% of Steal the Dragon here, hope that doesn’t make blogspot spam-filter my comment.

    • Kayla + Cyna

      October 23, 2012 4:39 pm, Reply

      I’m actually mildly shocked to learn that Briggs has a male character who isn’t an Alpha Douche, that seem so bizarrely out of her wheelhouse xD Then again, I’ve not read any of her fantasy, so eh.

      That’s one of the things I read most in praise of Briggs – aside from STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER, OMG! – that she handles the aftermath of rape well. And I guess she does, kind of, in the Thompson series, in that it isn’t immediately forgotten (low bar)]. It does touch on the same themes as you mention from the Dragon books, but I think that it’s the catalyst for such misogynistic and fucked-up character and relationship development is the primary stumbling block here. You can’t turn shit into gold.

      I had no idea that her Dragon series was so rape-heavy though. The fuck? It must be on her book development checklist.

  7. rassaku

    October 23, 2012 8:16 pm, Reply

    OMG that’s terrible, but I admit I laughed out loud. In my defense, it’s funny cuz it’s true, that’s about how lightly a lot of authors take it. (Pro-tip: what’s alright for Pyramidhead is not necessarily alright for you, people.)

    But no, the protagonist in the Dragon books is a legitimately good person (unless he did some isolated incident of fail-y and I just blocked it out/overlooked it, auggh, all this shit in the Mercy Thompson books is making me second-guess my opinions of the Dragon books) and actually quite different from the usual fantasy heroes. In his relationship with the love interest, he’s aware of what happened to her and knows that she’s strong enough as a person to overcome it, but that she’s still in the middle of that process, and he’s content to make his interest known and then leave it up to her to decide when/if she wants to pursue a relationship with him. (None of that “Don’t worry, baby, my cock will cure your trauma” bullshit.)

  8. Logan wayne

    January 15, 2017 7:26 am, Reply

    I do belive a point should be made on the males defense they are werewolves underline the wolf and alot of this is based on wolf behavior. Im not an expert and please correct me if im wrong but males are dominant in wolf society, you dont approach an angry wolf by making youself bigger unless you want a fight. Im just saying the author may have just been trying to bring the wolf into werewolf.

    • Cyna Cyna

      January 15, 2017 11:19 pm, Reply

      I mean, yeah, except that the whole concept of wolf behavior that a lot of PNR/UF writers based their wolf structures on is wrong? Wolves behave way differently in the wild, so the concept of alpha wolves and all that stuff is bad science to start with. If we’re going for accuracy, werewolf packs would consist of two adults and their children, getting into fights with other families over shit like territory and whatnot. Like a werewolf mafia. OMG BETTER STORY.

      More importantly, werewolves aren’t real. A werewolf can be whatever an author wants it to be (just look at what everyone and their mother have done to vampires). Briggs created this species this way, not for the sake of realism or scientific accuracy, but because this is the sort of werewolf she *wanted* to have in her world/story. And even more more importantly, like, the problem isn’t even that the werewolves *act* this way, the problem is that at its core, the narrative thinks this creepy possessive aggressive animalistic behavior is SUPER HOT and so indulges it to an absurd degree.

      tl;dr: not enough internal criticism.

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