Adam grinned at me, "That which doesn't destroy us . . ."
"Leaves us scratching our heads and saying, 'What's next?'" I said.
There's always plenty of things that can answer that "What's next?" question in the land of Mercy Thompson -- but Storm Cursed seems to have extra nexts in it. Briggs is such an excellent series writer -- there's always a great mix of classic favorites (Zee, Uncle Mike, Mary Jo and Ben) and the new (Goblin King, the events of Silence Fallen, the baddies of this book) -- like a favorite band touring in support of their new album that no one's heard yet, she sprinkles in enough of the familiar with the new that you can enjoy the songs you can sing along with and appreciate the new for what they bring to the table.
We start off with the typical mini-adventure featuring Mary Jo, Ben and Mercy -- with a little bit of Larry mixed in. There's a goblin on the run from law enforcement after causing some mayhem in California who thought the Tri-Cities would be a safe place to lay low. Boy, was he wrong. This goblin accomplishes a lot of other things, though. He brings Mercy and the pack into a new part of the area and the law enforcement there, for starters.
This sets things up perfectly for Mercy and Mary Jo to come to the aid of said law enforcement when it comes to a very strange supernatural outbreak. Miniature zombie goats. 'nuff said.
Zombie goats -- no matter their size (as important as it is to Mercy and Stefan) don't just show up one day. They're the product of witchcraft, and with Elizaveta still in Europe following Silence Fallen the Ti-Cities is ripe for new witches to move in and usurp her. I'm not going to tell you if they're successful or not, but they sure make things interesting for the defenders of the area like Mercy and Adam. This also gives Sherwood Post, the mysterious wolf sent by the Marrock to be a part of this pack after something happened that he can't talk about/remember involving witches. He apparently picked up a thing or two, and gets the chance to demonstrate that.
I've liked Sherwood since he showed up the first time, and now I'm super-intrigued by him.
There's a big, summit-like meeting between representatives of the U.S. and the Fae leadership in the making -- and the Pack has a lot to do with making sure it happens without a hitch. Naturally, for reasons that are unclear (at first), the new witches in town are working to disrupt it for their own ends. Because there's not enough going on without that -- an excess of nexts, really.
Speaking of excess -- Coyote is lurking in the background of many of these events and he's determined to keep Mercy in the middle of things, for his own reasons. If he'd just been up front with her, I think she'd have been on-board without hesitation (and certainly seems glad to have helped once she figures out his play). Instead, he manipulates her into doing what he wants -- which is bad for the character, good for the reader, because he's so much fun to read, especially when it comes at Mercy's expense.
No matter what happens in a Mercy Thompson book -- they're filled with fun, and it's easy to fool yourself into only remembering the fun parts and pushing the darkness and trauma aside in your memory until the next book comes along and reminds you just how messed up things can get for Mercy and the rest. This book is no exception -- but in may ways the evil they confront this time is a special kind of Evil that requires at least one capital when you talk about it. What happens throughout this book, what's uncovered here -- especially the last few chapters -- is probably the most inherently disturbing that Briggs has given us yet. I wondered at more than one point, if even Atticus O'Sullivan could hate witches as much as Mercy does (for good reason!). I decided the two would probably end up in a tie, but that Mercy has more recent evidence for her prejudice.
There's something that happens in the climactic battle scene that I want to talk about more than I want to talk about anything else in this book -- because in the long run it's going to be bigger and more important than anything else that happens or I'll eat my hat. It's so small, so quick that it'd be easy to miss -- 2 sentences on one page, then twelve pages later 2 more sentences. And Briggs has at least one novel's worth of plot seeded right there. I love when I see an author do something like that and make it look effortless. And I think I'm underselling it. But I'll have to leave it there -- maybe in book 12 (or 15) when it happens, I'll remember to say, "Remember that thing I didn't talk about in Storm Cursed? This is it."
Overall, this is another very solid entry in an incredibly reliable series, and I'm already excited to see what happens in book 12. Still, I get the feeling that Briggs is holding back a lot lately -- here more than usual. Maybe it's to keep the tone light, maybe it's to keep the page count in check. Maybe it's just me. But it seems to me that the last few books could've easily been deeper, darker, and more exciting, if Briggs would just allow that to happen -- like she's pulling her punches. As much as I love these characters, this world and Briggs' writing, I just can't get as excited about them as I want to. This is a great read -- please don't misunderstand me -- but it could be better, it feels like it'd be easy for her to make it better. So I've got to stick with 4 stars -- which feels like I'm pulling my punches, too.