Sunday, March 6, 2011

Not Quite Human Heroines

Two new releases this week rescued me from certain death by daytime television while I recovered from the flu: Patricia Briggs’ River Marked and Seanan McGuire’s Late Eclipses. After finishing the books, I realized that the heroines of these two series seem to get the stuffing beaten out of them on a regular basis. Fortunately, neither one is completely human, so they are able to make speedy recoveries. And, really, are the authors going to kill off the reasons for the series? Given the excellent writing in both novels, I certainly hope not.
            If you’re looking for either of these books in your local bookstore, you won’t find them in the romance section. They’re considered Sci-Fi/Fantasy, but both involve some romance. River Marked (the sixth book in Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series) definitely features romance: the novel takes place during Mercy’s honeymoon. (Note: this isn’t a spoiler – the honeymoon aspect is discussed on the book’s jacket.)
            For those of you not familiar with Mercy, she’s a walker, a shape-shifter who turns into a coyote. She was raised by werewolves and in this novel she marries Adam Hauptman, the alpha werewolf whose house is right behind her trailer. Mercy’s a lot of fun. She has a history teaching degree, but works as a Volkswagen mechanic and is fiercely loyal to her friends, an eclectic mix of humans, vampires, werewolves, and fae. Mercy is, like the great Coyote, impetuous, but she also believes in doing the right thing, no matter the cost to herself. She is frequently injured when she gets drawn into dangerous situations because she is defending her friends.
            In River Marked, Mercy and Adam are on their honeymoon when they rescue a man attacked by a creature in the river. This novel strays a bit from the other novels in the series, in that Mercy and Adam are on a trip away from the werewolf pack and their other friends. The conflict in River Marked stems from the fight with the river creature, but we also learn about Mercy’s Native American ancestry, something that hasn’t come up in the previous novels. This difference leaves me feeling somewhat conflicted. I enjoyed the novel and felt that it continues the arc of the story in the series well. However, like other reviewers I’ve read, I did miss the interaction with the pack and other secondary characters from the series.
            Seanan McGuire’s Late Eclipses doesn’t have the central romance between main characters that River Marked has, but there is certainly some sexual tension between the secondary characters and the heroine, Toby Daye. Toby’s story takes place in a San Francisco that coexists with the world of Faerie. But Toby isn’t a shape-shifter. She’s a changeling, with a pureblood fae mother and a human father. Just like Mercy, Toby stubbornly insists on being loyal to her friends and doing the right thing no matter the personal cost. Unfortunately for Toby, these character traits have had harsh consequences: she no longer has contact with her teenage daughter and several close friends have died.
            Toby is definitely a hero, but she’s come to the role kicking and screaming. In this fourth installment of McGuire’s series, the Queen of Mists has named Toby the Countess of Goldengreen, a faerie knowe. This is undoubtedly some sort of trap, since the Queen hates Toby, and very quickly two of Toby’s most powerful friends are poisoned in such a way that it implicates Toby. In her attempts to help her friends, Toby suffers injury and loss, but manages to recover. What is intriguing about Toby, however, is her ability to face unpleasant truths and move forward with the knowledge that she gains.  
            Both Mercy and Toby are likeable, flawed heroines who try to do the right thing with mixed results. In their worlds, they are at serious physical and magical disadvantages because of their human halves, but it is those human halves that make them believable. These heroines are fun to read, because they face very real dilemmas that often cannot be resolved in an easy fashion. Their loyalty to their friends is reciprocated, and while the situations they find themselves in often involve magic and monsters, their relationships and decisions are all too human. As readers, we don’t have to worry about faeries who make life-altering decisions about our lives or monsters who destroy our loved ones, but we do live in a complex world and have to make decisions when there is no one right answer. And that’s why it’s so very satisfying to read about Mercy and Toby: they get knocked down by monsters over and over again, but they keep getting up, even when it hurts.

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