Amazingly, this one is almost literary. First the details. “Iron Kissed” is the third book in the “Mercy Thompson” series, by Patricia Briggs. The cover is off-putting: a woman bent over with low-cut jeans and high-cut top showing off her tramp-stamp lower back tatoo. The other covers in the series highlight her breasts. I’m not sure if that means anything.
The backstory is a bit blah, but also new. We’ve got mostly peaceful werewolves, dark fairies and a few vampires, plus a reference to a sorcerer in a previous book. They’ve been public knowledge for a medium amount of time — pro-human/anti-monster groups are forming, laws are about to be passed, and so on. The supernatural creatures would probably be on the losing end of an all-out war, so tread lightly. The fairies are actually on a reservation, but one where not-all-is-as-it-seems.
Our heroine is a unique coyote-shifter. She’s not a werecreature, but she was raised by them. Due to her mysterious native American ancestry she can turn into a coyote at will (she’s naked when she turns back. She’s naked a lot in this book, but not in a sexy way). Her coyote powers are hiding and a really, really good sense of smell, letting her tell who was in a house and so on. Oddly for this sort of book, she has zero body issues. Men seem to fall for her, but we never get a description and she never thinks about her inadequate looks. She’s also the first female urban fantasy detective who can keep from mouthing off to every single authority figure she meets, which is refreshing.
The Romance element is ultra-traditional and a bit boring (but I’m not complaining). Two werewolves love her — one is funny, musical and picked her out as a good breeder when she was 14. The other is an aggressive pack-leader and terrific kisser who believes in sex after marriage. We’re told she must choose in this book, or things will explode. So far, so good. But then she figures out that the first guy has lost interest in her. Over a few scenes where it’s established she can keep her independence, she decides to be the Alpha female of the pack with good-kisser #2. It ends with her in coyote form in the lap of her new sexy werewolf husband, petting her lovingly (but she’ll be naked when she changes back, so that’s sexy, right?)
The subplots are nice. The werewolf’s daughter was beaten up by some angry humans and our heroine has to calm down the testosterone-raging dad, support the daughter emotionally, and resolve it without bloodshed. Near the end, a guy appears to commit suicide, but it was actually mind-control magic; she nicely decides to let the brother know the true story, for closure and stuff, even though he’s one of the guys who beat up the daughter. We also learn the names and a little history of every werewolf in their small pack. And of course, we get a summary of the last book — she killed some mega-enchanced vampires or something.
The plot works in a low-key way. She’s brought in only to smell around some murder scenes. She smells-out the killer, her father figure goes to confront him, but the guy, a human, has just been murdered. The fairies want to cover it all up by letting her father-figure take the fall. Even he wants to. But she’s just too darn stubborn. After hearing her first lover play a great set at a big music festival and hearing everyone say how great he is and how any women he loved would be soooo lucky, she uses her coyote powers to sneak into the dead guy’s house and get a good sniff around. Thankfully, her powers of super-smelling aren’t used as a plot device in every scene, and she’s stumped, for now.
More super-powerful people tell her she really has to stop, but she’s too stubborn. A bad guy chases her and she leads it to the werewolve’s house, but she sort of helps fight it off. Then she’s following up on either a subplot or possibly a new love interest when, wham, it’s the killer! I can’t decide if that was a clever misdirect, or overly-manipulative writing. Her big effort here is that even though he’s mind-controlling her, she tricks him into going somewhere her werewolf pack will be. Then kills him anyway by tricking him some more. The big finale is getting the ultra-powerful creatures to compromise so everyone’s happy. So basically, she solves it in proper UFDR fashion: by being stubborn and using her head.
A really odd part, the bad guy mind-controls her into wanting to bang him. We’re vague about how far they get, but then afterwards we learn he’s definitely raped her. Then one of her boyfriend’s pals gives him a long explanation of people’s reactions to rape and how he can best support her. You don’t read that every day.
All together, the urban fantasy part is a bit bland. But there’s 12 books in the series and there are lots of loose ends in this one to use later. The character is a bit boring. Sure, she has 2 gay best friends, but they aren’t in it much. She also owns an auto-repair business but it seems tacked-on (and this is the cover with her fixing a car, tatooed butt hanging out). At the same time it’s missing lots of the schlokiness of other books like this. We don’t get pages of pointless banter, deranged arguments with anyone not completely cooperating, or long descriptions of what she and her unique pet do to relax (she doesn’t even have a pet). Her motivations and the way the story moves actually makes sense. I’m a little curious how she relates to her new werewolf pack in her new role. This series seems very readable.