Book Review: Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs
Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Anthology
Series: Mercy Thompson
Publisher: Ace (September 2, 2014)
Author Information: Website
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
I want to start by saying I’m not a big reader of short fiction, and on the whole I tend not to bother with any novellas, short stories or anthologies that are companion to an existing series. Part of this is due to my preference for full-length novels, but I’ve also not had the best experiences when it comes to the short format. Characters are world building are important for me, and with only a few exceptions, most short stories don’t go as in-depth into these aspects as I would like. Also, I always end up forming attachments to only a small handful of characters whenever I read a series, and I don’t often find myself as interested in companion novellas/shorts that feature the perspectives of other minor characters and people in a series’ “universe”.
That said, I had a really good time with Shifting Shadows. I’ve really fallen in love with the Mercy Thompson series in the last couple of years, which sparked my interest in this book despite it being an anthology. Aside from four new additions, most of the stories in here have previously been published, though I never felt the need to read them due to the reasons stated above, so I am reading everything with fresh eyes. Sure, as with any short story collection there are ups and downs, but overall I was very impressed with this book, and it probably ranks as up there as one of the best urban fantasy anthologies I’ve ever read.
Here’s a more detailed look at the contents:
According to the description, this is one of the new stories, written as an “origin” tale of sorts for the werewolves of Mercy Thompson’s world. We’ve always been told Bran and Samuel are old, but now we realize just how old. We’re talking possibly around the time Christianity first came to Wales. This story also has a bit of romance and sadness, detailing how Samuel and his beloved Ariana first met, but to me its true importance in the fact that it fills in a lot of history to help readers better understand the werewolf mythos as well as Bran and Samuel’s familial ties. A great starter to this anthology, and highly apt.
Unfortunately, after this comes a few stories that I just wasn’t as fond of. Thomas Hao was a vampire character I barely remember from his appearance in Frost Burned, though he may have been in any of Patricia Briggs’ other books/spin-off series, but since I haven’t read anything other than Mercy Thompson I really wouldn’t know. I like the “western” feel of this story, but other than that I have to say it was pretty forgettable. I was scarcely able to follow along with the story with its confusing back-and-forth time jumps, and I felt like I was dumped into the middle of a situation without knowing what was going on or who everyone was and why they mattered. Going back to my opening paragraph, this story is a pretty good example of my issues with series companion short stories.
The stories in here are arranged in chronological order based on the timeline of the Mercy Thompson series, and at this point we’re still in pre-Moon Called territory. Which is probably why I still found myself asking “Who are you and why do you matter again?” I feel a little guilty that I don’t remember who Elyna is, or even if I have encountered her before in any of the Mercy books. This is another one about vampires, but it’s also a ghost story at its heart. The story itself isn’t half bad, but again I would rather be reading about characters I’m more familiar with. This is definitely not one of my favorites either.
This story features Tom and Moira, two characters from Hunting Ground, book two of Briggs’ other series Alpha & Omega – which I have not read. But despite not being familiar with these characters, the author did a good job of really fleshing them out and I actually found myself curious to find out more about them beyond the events of this story. We have a perspective character here who is a witch, which was a treat. The plot also had a clear beginning and end, with the build-up and climax and everything good in between, so I didn’t feel lost at all. I loved how this story had a bit of mystery and sleuthing by the characters, and a sweet romance that ends up blossoming between them.
ALPHA AND OMEGA
I’ve always wanted to check out Alpha & Omega, though to be honest, I don’t know if I feel more or less enthusiastic about picking it up now, after reading this story. I was happy to meet up with Charles (yay, finally a character I recognize again) but I don’t know if I like the way he was portrayed here, or how Anna was portrayed either. Which is a bit ironic, I know, given how this technically gave rise to the series of the same name. It’s always grated on me a little, how the werewolf characters in the world of Mercy Thompson frequently let their wolf side take over all common sense and turn the human into chauvinistic testosterone-fueled meatheads. In this story, we are repeatedly told that Anna still has fire in her, despite being beaten and broken by her abusive pack, but it feels like whatever strength in her that’s fighting to get out is constantly being smothered by Charles’ overbearing need to own her and protect her. I realize this all fits in the context of Briggs’ “pack magic”, but it just always rankles whenever I see an over-possessive male and a helpless female that needs him to do the rescuing.
THE STAR OF DAVID
Hooray, we’re finally into Moon Called-territory and familiar ground for me. This is a great story about Adam’s fellow army ranger, David, whose tragic history illustrates the awful things that can happen when a werewolf isn’t in control of their wolf side. He reconnects with his estranged daughter in this heartwarming tale. My only problem with this story involves some of the implausible and unconvincing aspects of the situation, but given the limitations of the short story format, I didn’t let it bother me too much.
ROSES IN WINTER
This is one of the new stories, and it’s hands down my favorite out of this entire anthology. In my opinion, it’s worth picking up Shifting Shadows for this one alone. Again, I barely remember Kara since she was such a minor character (mentioned in Blood Bound, but never even appeared in any of the books) but I do recall Asil. Though I believe he’s a character in Alpha & Omega, he did make a very strong impression on me from his appearance in Frost Burned. But wow. I never imagined I would grow to love his character so much, and it was all thanks to this story. I had tears in my eyes at the end of this one, that’s how amazing it is.
IN RED, WITH PEARLS
This was a nice detective story, starring Warren. Someone sent a zombie to kill his boyfriend Kyle, and Warren’s not going to rest until he finds out who. Patricia Briggs did a fantastic job making him sound like the cowboy that he is, and I can tell she probably had a lot of fun writing this. We also get to see a few moments of tenderness between Warren and Kyle, but the best part of getting a story from Warren’s perspective is being able to experience his anxieties and doubts from inside his head. In the regular series, through Mercy’s eyes we see Warren as a happy-go-lucky, fiercely loyal friend. But as this story shows, there’s so much more to him beneath the surface.
Probably my second favorite story in the anthology, this one features Ben. It’s hard to get a bead on his character in the regular series. On the one hand, it’s been implied that Ben has a rather distasteful past, and his attitude towards women leaves a lot to be desired. On the other, Adam and Mercy seem to trust him implicitly, and Ben has gone out of his way for both of them on more than one occasion. This story gives the reader a better sense of who he is, and how he got this way. But it’s also downright hilarious. You gotta love Ben; he can be a real gentleman when he wants to be, and he takes crap from no one, not even when he’s not allowed to swear.
I was beginning to think we weren’t going to get a Mercy story at all, which despite some of the other great offerings in here, would have been disappointing. But fear not, this one’s all about Mercy, told from her point of view. And as Mercy stories go, I have to say it’s pretty standard – it reads like it could have been a story from one of the novels, but of course it’s much more condensed in this form. This meant I enjoyed it, but I admit, it does feel like Briggs crammed this one in just for the sake of having a story told in Mercy’s perspective. Just a little.
OUTTAKE FROM SILVER BORNE
Sorry to say, but…there’s probably a good reason why this was an outtake and never made it to the final book. Yeah, it gives a bit of closure to Samuel and Ariana’s story, but I wouldn’t say it’s needed in the least to enjoy the story of their relationship. I could take it or leave it. I think it was the right call to leave it out.
OUTTAKE FROM NIGHT BROKEN
On the other hand, I wish Briggs could have worked this one in somehow. I loved this scene from Adam’s point of view, at the end of Night Broken in the wake of all the craziness that happened. It endeared me to Adam, and my heart melts for his deep love for Mercy. It might just be me, but this scene would have also made the ending to that book a lot less confusing.
Concluding thoughts: there’s definitely a reason why this book is described as “Stories from the world of Mercy Thompson”, because as you can see, most of what you see in here isn’t about Mercy or even the people close to her. But with the exception of a couple of stories, that didn’t really put a damper on my experience reading Shifting Shadows. In fact, on the whole I think this book gave me a deeper understanding of the Mercy Thompson universe and made me appreciate it more. I’ve read similar anthologies and regretted it deeply afterwards, but this is not one of those cases. I highly recommended this for fans of the series, because if someone like me loved it, you probably will too.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Ace Books!
I’m a bit like you in that I don’t normally get along with short stories but I think I could probably get along with this collection quite well. I love The Mercy series. They’ve just been so entertaining. Plus I like Mercy. She isn’t this perfect character who can do everything. A bit tough but also a bit vulnerable.
Yeah I’m not a short story person and I’ve been burned by UF anthologies before (first one that comes to mind is Dresden Files…I can’t say I loved Side Stories). In the past, a lot of these types of shorts have felt lazy and rushed to me, but I’m happy to say Briggs seems to treat all of her stories and characters in them with careful attention.
I do like Briggs (although I have only read this series). Have you read any of her other series?
Nope, Mercy Thompson is the only one of her series I follow, though I am thinking of taking the plunge on Alpha & Omega!
Glad to see I’m not the only reader who shies away from short stories and novellas. Glad this one worked for you 🙂 I’ve not read any Mercy Thomas yet, maybe one day 🙂
Yep, I tend to shy away with only a few exceptions – the next one I’ll likely make is for Rothfuss’ upcoming novella, but even then I’m probably in no big hurry to read it.
I only have a few stories left in this – I need to buckle down and plow thru them already. I did thankfully finish another one this morning when I saw your review I realized that I only had less then 5 to go. Glad you enjoyed this one so much. Personally like you I prefer when the stories feature more key characters, secondary characters are great too – but ancillary characters that I can’t even remember – ehh I don’t have much interest in those.
I found it went pretty quick. Have you read Roses in Winter yet? OMG I was practically crying at the end of it, the best story in this anthology, no contest.
I’m certain I’m in the minority as I say this, but I actually prefer the Alpha & Omega series to the Mercy Thompson books (at least so far). It took about 4 books for me to get really invested in Mercy but only the one to feel connected to Charles & Anna. Part of that may be the dual POVs in that series – my favourite style – but I think it’s also because the series is more focused on world building. There’s a lot in there about Native American lore and how it’s impacted Briggs’ wolf mythology. Very cool stuff. And if you’re worried about the weird Anna/Charles dynamic, no worries – she really gives him hell for it in the novel. 😉 Anna’s background is also developed a lot more which made me feel more sympathetic towards her timidity and insecurities.
Thank goodness you told me, my interest in the A&O series has a bit of hope again. Dual povs would be a nice change from the Mercy Thompson books. And YES, I’ve heard all about the Native American lore in the series, and with books taking place in another part of the country with Bran and his pack, that is highly appealing. I’m very glad to hear Anna ends up gaining her strength back – I take no issue with Charles helping her out of her bad situation, chivalry is surely not dead with me! But when the male wolves get overboard with the possessiveness it does weird me out a bit.
It sounds like a lot of wonderful stories. It’s always tricky with anthologies but this one sounds perfect for me. I love the series and I think each is better then the last one and I confess I want to discover everything now. Plus this cover? I love it!
I do love the cover. The artist who does the Mercy Thompson books is really talented, and I love the running wolf symbol on the lower left.
Still haven’t read Patricia Briggs, but I want to. Short story collections can be dicey, I find that authors are usual either good at short stories or good novels. Rarely both. But I’m glad you enjoyed this collection, maybe something to go back to someday after I read some of her books:-)
It’s true, there are authors whose novels I love, but their short stories just do nothing for me.
I love both of Patricia Briggs’ series and I want this book! I usually don’t like short stories either so I’m so glad you like these stories.
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