Oops, almost forgot to look this month. They are all Amazon imprints again.
Mercy Blade opens a month after the conclusion of Blood Cross. Jane and Rick are back at her mountain home, packing up her belongings so she can move to New Orleans to take on the job offered by the Vampire Council when the world finds out that Weres (shifters) are real. Meanwhile, Leo has been accused of murder by the U.S. werewolves and Jane has a mystery to solve.
So here’s the thing… I really, really enjoy the parts of the Jane Yellowrock books that revolve around the book-specific mystery, and this is especially true with Mercy Blade. I became immersed in the detective work surrounding the death of the mysterious panther-were. Following Jane’s thought process and the police procedures as Jane tries to put together all the pieces is fascinating. I love how she finds little threads and pulls until she unravels the truth. However, I have issues with almost everything else.
First, I feel the world building is a bit forced. We are three books into the series and no mention of the weres or the Mercy Blade before now? Maybe it was meant to be, but then, the fact that EVERYONE keeps Jane in the dark so completely is irritating and annoying. She’s supposed to be in charge of security, and I agree with her that both Leo and the police should have informed her of what is happening in NOLA. I was okay with this in the first couple books, but by now, having Jane know nothing when she starts the book and has to pull teeth for information is old.
Next, Jane nearly dies too often in every book. She gets mauled, shot at, and destroyed multiple times now in each book. This is old. I know she works in a dangerous profession, but can’t she just get nicked from time to time, rather than knocking on death’s door?
Finally, I am not a fan of Jane’s “love life.” While I don’t need romance in my urban fantasy stories, if it’s going to be included, I don’t want this… I’m too much of a romantic to follow Jane’s mish-mash of emotions and sexual cravings. I don’t like when Beast controls her - pushing her to mate with someone other than her boyfriend. I don’t like cheating. I can embrace multiple partners, but it needs to be consensual and in the open, and I feel like what happens in this book was neither. I’m greatly simplifying what is going on in Mercy Blade, but needless to say, I have issues with it.
On the bright side, Khristine Hvam continues to provide excellent narration. And while I was annoyed with some of her accents and male voices in the beginning of the series, I find she’s settled down and firmed up many of the voices.
So in the end, while so much of Jane’s story calls to me, I find myself overly irritated and frustrated far too often. Mercy Blade has some fabulous moments, but unfortunately, they are overshadowed by messy and irksome complications.
My Rating: C/C-
Nell continues to work with PsyLED, the supernatural crime fighting organisation. And more and more she is drifting away from her insular church routes, leaving behind its thinking and training. Her magic is also growing as her insight and power is becoming more and more of an asset to PsyLED
But when they become embroiled in a supernatural murder case that involves a United States Senator, Nell may have to draw on her power more deeply than ever before: with the risk she may lose all of the new freedom and experiences she has discovered
I do like more of Nell’s self-growth and awareness this book; her acknowledgement and clear labelling of her experiences as abuse and how that has changed her. How this affects her views of current relationships, how it has scarred her and how it colours her interactions in real life.
I also like how she’s even applying this to the “saviour narrative” that she learned and is more and more challenging. Like she acknowledges her family tried to save her from abuse and that marrying John saved her from a far worse fate. But she equally can see how her relationship with John was abusive and twisted her own experiences and expectations of relationships. Just as she loves her family and knows they tried to help her, equally she has little faith in them keeping her little sister safe against the church. Her whole complicated relationship with her family is fascinating- her love and faith in her family tempered with her deep, wary awareness of what they’re part of. And even the family recognises that - the confines they live in that they can’t seem to break: they rely on Nell with her outsider ways to do things they will
Then there’s the love triangle - and for once a love triangle I actually like: because of what it recognises for Nell. The conflict of old versus new, safety and familiarity over what could be and, ultimately, who Nell is and who she has become
Equally I love how Nell is both fiercely confronting anyone else who would treat her in a patronising or sexist manner, and challenging her own church instilled attitudes while also realising that not everything that’s happening around her fits in that lens: especially with the wereanimals and other supernaturals.
Nell is the gem of this story: her growth her, experiences, her interactions with the others really makes this series. And on top of that we have her unique supernatural nature, how her powers control and lure her, the dangers of them, the alienness all add up to something quite unique.
On top of this we have an excellent world setting with some intriguing supernaturals that do not occur in many other places - but at the same time the plurality and breadth of the world doesn’t impose on the story. The focus is far more on the current unknown than the hugeness all around and it is an excellent setting to have a the police investigation, with a lot of grunt work, following evidence, dead ends, red herrings, more grunt work and general, despite all the woo-woo, a very realistic look at an actual investigation
On top of this I like that Nell actually lives in between her investigation. She is concerned with food, she cooks, he has family commitments, she gets stuck in traffic, she commutes. She sleeps.
Which also brings in the supernatural and the complexities that came from this revelation, including conflict within Psyled and the difficult questions about what to do with dangerous and potentially hostile supernaturals: can you even judge an entire species? I like this, I like it a lot. But… yes, there are moments when I stopped and thought “hey, wait, what just happened? Who is this? Why? What?”. Sometimes I did get lost in the cast of characters.
We do have some diversity as well - in addition to Nell’s battle against partriarchal norms, she has a number of women around her: 3 members of Psyled are women, including the second in command of the unit, JoJo, a Black woman (who is, interestingly, the only member of of the group who isn’t a supernatural. Her usefulness to the group isn’t special powers - but intelligence and accomplishment and education. This is particular noteworthy because her value is one that is literally based on her own achievement rather than the special magical woo-woo she happened to luck into and it’s a wonderful subversion of the POC-as-source-of-woo-woo trope), the ultimate head of Psyled Soul, a witch and Nell herself. We have a female Asian vampire who doesn’t play a major role but is definitely an influential force because of what she represents
The Soulwood series is probably the most original Urban Fantasy series that I've come across.
It shares the same world as Jane Yellowrock and was introduced through a Jane Yellowrock short story but, over the course of the first three books, it has established a strong, independent identity.
Nell Ingrams, the main character in the books, is not human, at least not anymore. Fighting for her freedom from the polygamous church she was born into and from men who wanted to seize the land she inherited when she became a young widow woman, has caused her to draw upon her connection to Soulwood, her land, in ways that have made her less and less human.
She is a now a probationary Special Agent in the part of the FBI set up to deal with parahuman cases. The cases themselves are fascinating but the power of the books comes from Nell's development as a person, living in a world where she has to make hard choices that will define who she will become.
"Flame In The Dark" sees Nell and the other members of Unit 18, faced with a series of attacks that may be political or parahuman or both but which always include fires at the scene of the attacks and are committed by an attacker who scorches and kills the land he steps on.
Discovering what this is about and trying to bring the bad guys down provides an entertaining, action-packed mystery that is the source of about half the pleasure I got from this book. I didn't guess where the mystery was going but I did believe the outcome. This is the hallmark of a good mystery for me.
The rest of the pleasure I got from the book was watching Nell grow and change in unique and unpredictable ways while still remaining recognisable as the Nell I met in the first book. In this book, Nell confronts the fact that she is not human and works through what this means. She starts to build closer links to the people in Unit 18 and becomes more confident in her work. She also makes some decisions about the relationship that she will have with her family, especially her younger sister who is the same kind of non-human as Nell, and with the Church she left but cannot fully leave behind. As the book progresses, Nell's non-human nature becomes more apparent, yet her appeal as a person gets stronger.
I think Faith Hunter has struck gold with this series. I hope she gives us many more opportunities to follow Nell's path through life.
I recommend listening to the audiobook version of "A Flame In The Dark" which is skillfully narrated by Khristine Hvam.