Smoke Bitten is the twelfth book in the Mercy Thompson series and can only be read as part of the saga. Too much character and world building take place in earlier novels for this story to make sense to anyone who hasn’t read those tales and this volume contains spoilers for the earlier works. You have to really like a series to read that far into it, along with the adjacent narratives (Alpha & Omega) that make up the Mercyverse and their various short stories. I have read everything, which makes this a review by a fan for other fans. My grade reflects that.
Things have been a bit tense in the Thompson/Hauptman household as of late. Adam’s daughter Jesse has informed everyone that she will be going to a different university than initially planned. Adam’s ex, Christy, blames Mercy for this but Adam knows it is because he is an alpha-werewolf and head of the Columbia Basin Pack. Over the course of the last few years he has made powerful enemies who are vampires, witches, and werewolves, against whom the human Jesse would stand no chance on her own. She needs to be somewhere the pack can protect her, which is why she is attending a more local university and not one close to her mom. Those in the pack who are friends of Christy also blame Mercy; not just for the change of plan but for the fact that as the daughter of a god of chaos she has attracted a lot of trouble, hence their having such powerful enemies. Those nay-sayers are quick to add their voices to the family discussion. Auriele is among the most vocal of those complainers, coming dangerously close to breaking a recently imposed law by Adam that forbids pack members to attack his mate.
When Mercy goes into her yard to give everyone, including herself, a chance to cool down, she makes an unfortunate discovery: Underhill has opened a door to the fairy realm in their landscaping. Centuries ago, when the fae were cast out of their home, they were forced to leave behind some of its nastier, deadlier denizens. Without the ruling council to force them to behave, those creatures roamed freely through the realm, wreaking chaos and destruction, killing each other at will. Only the deadliest survived and they are all trying to get into the human world. Having a door in the backyard means something quite nasty might escape its prison and land right smack in the middle of her lawn.
Just a few hours later, Mercy is proven right about that concern. A being who enslaves people with a single bite, then assumes their form and heads out on a murder spree, is now running around the Tri-Cities having come through the door in her garden. She and Adam begin a hunt to kill it only to discover a whole other host of problems along the way. Now it will take the whole pack to deal with the troubles but as Honey points out, the pack has been losing members and is reaching a critical point in numbers. They aren’t up to tackling yet another magical enemy, much less several of them, but it seems as though they have no choice.
Fans of the series will remember that an important group of witches played a role in the last novel, Storm Cursed. We learn in this book that Adam is still experiencing some nasty side effects from his final encounter with them. We also revisit Mercy’s changed relationship with Wulfe, whom she hit with some kind of magical whammy at the end of the last story. Wulfe is now stalking Mercy, an unfortunate complication since he is one freaky powerful vampire. This looks like it’s going to be a continuing thread and I have to admit I am deeply interested in where it is going, especially given the last scene in the novel.
The narrative is, of course, filled with other familiar characters like Stefan, Sherwood, Zee, Tad, and Beauclaire. Especially of interest is the relationship between Tad and Jesse, who seem to be growing closer. Definitely something to watch for in the future. Underhill, in its guise as a creeptacular young girl, plays a pivotal role in the story as do some rogue werewolves, and the new fae enemy.
As always, Briggs’ world building is phenomenal and the universe she has created is detailed, original and complex. She’s done a fabulous job of constructing a believable environment where modern technology and magical beings exist side by side.
As great as all that is, there were some problems with the text. I struggled with the backstory for one of the rogue wolves since it seemed to go against information given in previous chronicles and conflicted with what we know of Bran’s and Charles’ characters. Additionally, I found myself frustrated by the extremely action-packed pace of this novel. In the earlier works, problems slowly cropped up and built to an explosive ending. These last few books, we aren’t a chapter into the story before we’re chasing murderous goblins or fighting fae and the narratives just don’t have the time to spend on character and relationship building that they used to. Additionally, the Mercyverse now has so many denizens that it is almost impossible for beloved figures to do more than make cameos. Hopefully, the next tale won’t just include fan favorite cast members but will spend more time exploring who they are and how they fit into this world.
Quibbles aside, Smoke Bitten is a must read for its intended audience, and will be a page-turning pleasure for fans. As stated before, it is definitely not the place to begin if you aren’t familiar with the series – that would be book one, the outstanding Moon Called – but I promise by the time you work your way through the excellent beginning novels and get to this one, you will be quite delighted with Smoke Bitten.