Mercy Blade, by Faith Hunter, is the 3rd book in her longest “Jane YelllowRock” series. Her other is “Rogue Mage”. The book is a mess, like it was written by a hastily trained AI. Before making fun of it, the interesting parts:
The heroine, Jane, is a were-cat, but only sort of. She’s possessed by the spirit of a were-puma(*), which allows her to change into a puma(*) plus any animal she’s collected bones for, and may eventually turn her evil. Potentially more fun, the cat-spirit talks to her, in pidgin english. I say potentially since all it says in this book are things like “wolves bad”. But it does move the plot along, once, by yelling “mine” at the sight of her possibly ex-boyfriend with another woman.
In this world, vampires go insane for a decade after first being created, and frequently there-after. To make up for that, since ancient Babylon vampires have existed in symbioses with a rare shape-changing reptile who can cure their madness. And, for no good reason, these creatures also mercy-kill kill young vampires who never regain their wits. This is the “Mercy Blade” from the title.
In the series, vampires have been known to exist. In this book, to the general public’s great shock, were-cats reveal themselves. We find out that most were-creatures breed true, but not werewolves. They’re the lowest of the low, and can only grow the pack by biting humans. Other were-creatures ban this. To enforce it, they keep trained Scottish swampmen with super-speed and razor claws, whose only job is to instantly murder werecats biting humans for fun.
(*)The book calls her “skin walker” spirit a mountain lion. But it’s set in New Orleans (which we learn from the book is 90% bars and brothels, and no longer serves cajun food). Mountain Lion is more of a western term. She should be called a were-panther. Or a were-cougar. Puma, cougar, panther, mountain lion – all the same animal. But I digress.
The book has romance elements, but odd ones. We start with her and her boyfriend naked in bed, waking up. She drools over his abs and worries that she hasn’t told him her dark cat secret. In the last book, she rescued him in were-cougar form, but he got partial amnesia. But it’s only a matter of time since he figures it out, since he’s a human elite cop. We don’t see him for the rest of the book.
Next she meets a slim, sexy swordsman who saves her after he tricked her vampire boss into sending her to meet him at a werewolf bar (did I mention the plot makes no sense)? All of the werewolf clawing requires them to partly undress each other, tending to wounds. Sexy swordsman has powerful love magic, which she resists, but he’s still very mysterious and cute. But in later chapters he’s dropped as a love interest. I think the author forgot about it. He’s just a good guy who we think is a bad guy until the last minute, since he acts suspicious for no reason.
We next turn to her boss’s bodyguard, who Jane had a fling with before dating the cop. He begs her to let him hide out at her place, then makes sex jokes until she agrees to slow-dance with him, which gets her all hot. Then in a later chapter he sneaks into the shower with her, and she likes it. In the book it’s even more gross and rapey than I make it sound.
All through the book, she worries about her missing man. He’s been seen with a hot redhead, and isn’t returning calls, but he’s probably on an undercover seduction mission with the sexy werecat lady, or the werewolf lady, or both (it’s both). Jane can’t decide whether to wait, or to cheat on him (this is where her puma-spirit yells “mine”, letting us know she still wants him).
There’s a disturbing amount of, well, you decide: after most fights she’s described as bloody, dirty and stinky. She has to strip down and hose-off the gross sweat and dried blood, new blood; some hers, some not; out of all the crevices of her body. The shower scene actually happened when they both needed to clean off lots of blood at the same time. Later, her boyfriend was being turned into a werewolf. It involves biting, frequent sweaty sex with the she-wolf, and being kept covered in her sweat and saliva in-between. So, all of that is part of some sort of sex fetish, right?
Unlike a real UFDR, she doesn’t have female friends, or any friends, and very little inner life. Her best friend is her female roommate, but she’s out-of-town for the entire book. We get one brief phone call with her near the end. Sub-letting is a friend of her friend, a visiting witch, who Jane YellowRock dislikes and hasn’t talked to. The only two other women are the werecat and “werebitch”, who both rape her boyfriend, are otherwise huge sluts, and die horribly (by the Scottish lizard, and by Jane). Jane’s closest relationship is with her on-call all-male ultra-competent merc squad. Altogether, the book feels like more of a male sex-fantasy of the “she could beat me up anytime” type.
The writing is a awkward. My favorite passage, paraphrased, is “I loaded the Benelli M4 shotgun with seven 2.5 inch standard rounds”. This is part of the long description of weaponing up, including the many stabby hairpins she wears in her waist-length hair. She’s endlessly taking them out and putting them back in as she’s searched, or goes out dancing. She never even uses them. Back to the gun, as with every gun, we assume it has the normal amount of bullets of the correct size. In the movie version they can turn “I spent 15 minutes dressing myself in knives, leather, and guns” into a whole scene, which may require changing the type of shotgun for legal reasons.
Later on she’s chatting with her former lover about security (she works for the vampire who runs the city. Yawn). A page of techo-babble about cameras. In a book you can write “I told him about how security cameras have changed in the last 10 years, and he was so impressed he kept looking up to my eyes before going back down to my breasts again”. See how that tells us what we need to know? And now you have room for “I felt his hot breath on my neck as I described sliding in fiber optic cables”.
Rounding out this whole mess is the plot. The werecats of Africa are in town for a public high-level alliance with the vampires of New Orleans, to ensure their safety. Map check: New Orleans is in America, near Florida, which is nowhere near Africa. An alliance is pointless. Sexy elf swordman is the anti-insane-vampire creature, but was thrown out 50 years ago after an argument so bad they forgot he was vital to vampire ecology. As were the werewolves. They now have proof the head vampire committed murder and are pursuing legal remedies. But get bored and hire wizards to help them attack vampire HQ. Finally, the head vampire’s 2nd bodyguard has also been killing people and planting evidence to frame the sexy head bodyguard. Jane sums it up at the end: “there were so many plots no one could have figured it out”.
It’s not so much that it’s stuffed full of something for everyone. It’s the general incompleteness of it all. She’s multi-cultural – well, sort of. She’s more like a white man with a few scenes dropped in. But my biggest beef is she works for your basic city-running vampire. Those guys are supposed to be soulless and evil. You tolerate them, or work with them against something worse. It’s against the genre.
My ultimate beef is the deux ex machina of scent. At first her puma form can smell some clues. Then she turns into a bloodhound to really track one particular scent. Then we give up trying to explain. She can now smell werewolves in a moving car from 1/2 a mile away. From the scent of her boyfriend’s day-old blood she can tell he’s not dead. The last few chapters – she just smells everywhere she needs to be. Which is fine, since anyone who has a problem with that has quit reading long before now, anyway.