“When it had followed me home like a stray puppy the first time, it had seemed harmless. But fae things are rarely what they seem. And even very minor artifacts, given enough time, can gain in power.”
When the Grey Lords send a troll to terrorize the Tri-Cities, Mercy and Adam lay down the law, declaring the region pack territory without considering the potential ramifications. Then a once-human child who has escaped from Underhill after hundreds of years knocks on their door, seeking to claim sanctuary from the fae in their newly declared territory. The boy has superhuman powers, and yet is powerfully afraid of being sent back to the reservation. Taking him in would prove to all comers that the Columbia Basin Pack is serious about protecting their territory, but it may also provoke the all-out war between the fae and the werewolves that the Marrok has been trying to avoid.
Mercy and Adam’s declaration forces the pack to draw together, preparing for the rest of the Tri-Cities’ supernatural residents to test their resolve and their ability to defend their territory. The fae begin targeting their friends and family outside the pack, including Adam’s ex-wife, Christy. Christy sheltered with the pack in the last installment, Night Broken, and caused no end of trouble, so this time Adam chooses to dispense her to a tropical locale, getting her out of harm’s way. As well as Patricia Briggs handled that drama in the last installment, I was glad not to revisit it in Fire Touched. There are some significant—and long overdue—developments for the pack dynamics in this installment, but this progress, which comes early in the book, allows the focus to turn to the increasing tensions with the fae.
From the vast legion of secondary characters spawned by this series, for Fire Touched Briggs brings in Thomas Hao, master vampire of San Francisco, and his fae companion Margaret Flanagan. The two were featured in the short story collection Shifting Shadows, where the tale “Fairy Gifts” recounts their meeting. Margaret has come to the Tri-Cities to give her final refusal to submit to the Grey Lords’ order that all fae retreat to the reservations, and prove that she has the power to enforce that refusal. Other significant players in this volume are Zee and his son, Tad, who are long-standing characters, as well as newer additions like Joel, the tibicena Mercy brought into the pack in Night Broken. Certain fae also play a significant part, as it becomes evident there are rival factions even among the Grey Lords.
Fire Touched mixes action sequences with more emotional interpersonal moments. Mercy and Adam have a long overdue conversation about the way some members of the pack treat her. While Adam is busy dealing with the fall out of their new situation, Mercy realizes that a new member of the pack who has been sent to them from the Marrok’s pack of troubled and damaged wolves is still suicidal, and only asked to come to the Columbia Basin Pack so he could find an opportunity to act on that impulse. And when Mercy and Margaret meet, Margaret uses the opportunity to pick Mercy’s brain about how to get Thomas to stop treating her like an invalid. Perhaps working on the common criticism that Mercy does not have many relationships with other women, Briggs seems to be kindling a friendship between the two, but their conversation doesn’t exactly pass the Bechdel-Wallace test. Mercy also briefly reflects that she should make more of an effort to stay in touch with her college roommate, Char.
Though there are a lot of emotional moments, the pack also battles a troll and responds to surprise attacks around the Tri-Cities, keeping the action rolling. After being in a holding pattern for several books, development may finally be underway for human-fae relations. The Columbia Basin Pack also seems set to take on even greater significance in the werewolf world, and it will be interesting to see how that shakes out. There is no plot information available yet for the next installment, but if I had to put my prediction hat on, I would guess that Adam may be challenged for leadership of the pack by an outside contender. As always, Briggs leaves me antsy for the next volume.
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