Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet, interviewer and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013 and Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night Series, Book Three) is forthcoming in January 2016. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we.
by Helen Lowe
In “Fantasy Heroines That Rock My World” I am shining a spotlight on favorite Fantasy heroines, not only revealing who they are but why I feel they kick butt and take names as characters. By and large, I don’t read a lot of paranormal urban fantasy, but this week I’d like to spend some time with Patricia Briggs’ wonderful Mercy Thompson.
So as I said, not a big paranormal urban fantasy reader. But then I read a post by Patricia Briggs, titled Mercy and her Friends In My Back Yard—and I definitely wanted to know more about the coyote shapeshifter, Mercy Thompson. From page one of the first novel (Moon Called), I was a Mercy Thompson fan, and remain an enthusiast for her continuing adventures.
In the opening pages of Moon Called, the reader quickly learns that Mercy is both a shape-shifting coyote (a Native American skinwalker, mind, not a were-coyote) and a motor mechanic. The concept of heroine as grease-monkey appealed to me at once, but again in those early pages the reader is introduced to two more very important aspects of Mercy’s character: she is independent, liking to stand on her own two feet—and she also has a kind heart.
“I snagged a rag to wipe the oil off my hands, and said, “Can I help you?” before I got a good enough look at the boy to see he wasn’t a customer—though he certainly looked as though someone ought to help him. The knees of his jeans were ripped out and stained with old blood and dirt. … He looked gaunt, as though he’d been a while without food…”
The boy is a fledgling werewolf, but despite an instinctive reaction to “drive him out of my territory”, Mercy instead gives him the casual work he’s seeking even though she knows “it was not the wisest answer.” This tells the reader something else about Mercy, which is that her good heart, together with her coyote’s curiosity, frequently gets her into trouble—supernatural trouble, that is, since she lives next door to the local werewolf leader and the Tri-City area of Oregon also turns out to be well populated with vampires, fae, and ghosts.
Anyone who has seen a natural history program about how wolves react to coyotes encroaching on their territory will know that it’s generally doesn’t end well for the coyote. Fortunately, Mercy has considerable smarts and nerve to balance out the kindness and curiosity. She also has a gift for making friends throughout the supernatural community—as well as enemies—and she doesn’t back down for anyone, not even the werewolf neighbor. Not that she’s stupid about giving back as good as she gets: she is very aware she’s a coyote in werewolf territory:
“In response to these complaints, I bowed my head, spoke respectfully to his face—usually—and pulled the dilapidated old [car] I kept for parts out onto my back field where it was clearly visible from Adam’s bedroom window…The trick with werewolves is never to confront them straight on.”
Not only does Mercy stand up for herself, she is very like Buffy in that she not only almost always saves herself, but she usually saves the day as well:
“I don’t know why it had taken me so long to realize that [redacted] dead on my front porch meant that something bad had happened at Adam’s house. I abandoned the dead in hopes of being of use to the living, tearing across my back field at a sprinter’s pace, the rifle tucked under my arm. … I stepped out where I could get a better aim and lifted the rifle, pointing the barrel at the strange werewolf, waiting until I could take a shot without risking hitting Adam. … I shot the wolf in the back of the head from less than six feet away…”
So, yes: not only capable, independent, courageous, and good-hearted, aka a heroine in fact as well as name (which is not always the case in paranormal urban fantasy)—there’s just so much about Mercy Thompson to like. As a coyote “walker”, she also has magic of her own and uses it when supernatural saving-of-the-day is called for.
But that’s still not quite all. Despite being a coyote in a wolf’s world, and a woman car mechanic in a man’s world, Mercy’s relationship with her werewolf lover is that of equals—and when it comes to choosing her lover, Mercy also displays sound judgment.
For all these reasons and more—which I hope you’ll find out for yourselves by reading the books—Mercy Thompson rocks my world.