Shifting Shadows is a collection of urban fantasy stories from Patricia Briggs’s MERCY THOMPSON universe, along with a couple of outtakes or brief scenes from recent novels in the series. Several different characters, who will already be familiar to readers of this series as secondary and minor characters, are given the protagonist role in these short stories, along with at least one new character that I believe is completely new to the series, Elyna in “Gray.” Like the novels in these series, these stories alternate between werewolves, vampires, fae, ghosts and witches as the basis for the plot, so there’s quite a bit of variety in these tales, even though they’re all from the same universe.
The stories in Shifting Shadows are set in internal chronological order. Six of these stories previously appeared in print elsewhere, and the other four first appeared in this volume.
“Silver:” Long, long ago in Wales ― likely over a thousand years ago ― Samuel and his father Bran, the Marrok (or head) of all the werewolf packs in North America, lived as humans. Unfortunately Bran’s mother is a truly evil witch and sets a werewolf on them, turning them into werewolves and her slaves. At the same time, the fae Ariana develops tremendous magical powers with silver. Her father, the faerie forest lord, becomes consumed by his jealousy and seeks out Bran’s mother, the witch, to gain power over his daughter. Readers of Silver Borne will recognize this as the long-ago beginning of Samuel and Ariana’s relationship. It’s a rather grim tale, but contains a note of hope. 3.5 stars.
“Fairy Gifts:” Another character’s back history is told in this story, which is set in a much different time and place: Butte, Montana in the late 1800s, when Chinese immigrants provided labor in the mines. Thomas Hao, a teenage boy whose father is in the opium distribution business, is turned into vampire through the acts of his angry, dictatorial father. (Awful parenting seems to be a theme in these first two tales.) Hao meets Margaret Flanagan, a young fae who attracts disaster at the hands of other fae because of her powerful father. Margaret, who will profoundly affect Thomas’ life, also plays a brief role in Fire Touched, the most recent novel in the MERCY THOMPSON series. There are some great twists and turns in this story. 4.5 stars.
“Gray:” Elyna, a recently married woman, was involuntarily turned into vampire during the 1920s. Briefly escaping the vampire seethe (clan) just after she is turned, she runs home. Famished with thirst for blood, she unintentionally kills her beloved husband Jack. Many years later, Elyna returns to live alone in her old apartment in Chicago, unable to leave her memories behind. There she has to deal with both Jack’s ghost, which is still haunting the apartment, and the brutal vampire gang that has taken over Chicago. This story is a poignant look at love and relationships, as well as a glimpse into vampire politics. 4.5 stars.
“Seeing Eye:” Yet another back story: Moira the blind witch meets Tom the werewolf when he insistently rings her doorbell one evening. He asks for her help saving his brother, who has been kidnapped by the local witch coven and is likely to be a human sacrifice on the next night, Halloween. What Tom doesn’t know is that Moira has a terrible history with this coven. This is a decent story but I didn’t really feel it, perhaps in part because I haven’t read Hunting Ground, where these two characters are introduced later in their relationship. 3 stars.
“Alpha and Omega:” The novella is the beginning of the relationship of Anna, the Omega werewolf, and Charles, Bran’s younger son and werewolf enforcer of rules, and hitman. This story is the beginning of the ALPHA AND OMEGA sub-series that interlocks with the main MERCY THOMPSON series. This novella has previously been reviewed. 3.5 stars.
“The Star of David:” For a change of pace, here we have a follow-up story of a minor character rather than their backstory. David Christiansen was formerly in the military service with Adam, the local Alpha werewolf in the Tri-Cities area of Washington state, and the husband of Mercy. They were both turned into werewolves during their Army Ranger days. David, a black man who has a minor role in Moon Called, now runs a team of mercenaries that specializes in extracting people from hostile situations. Early in his werewolf days, David killed his wife, who was cheating on him, in a fit of uncontrollable anger. As a result, he has been estranged from his daughter Stella for many years. But now Stella (whom David calls his “star”) needs his help with a supernatural problem involving one of the foster kids she supervises. Set at Christmas time, this is a touching story about, as Briggs states in her forward to this story, “grace and forgiveness and family.” 4 stars.
“Roses in Winter:” This is another follow-up story of a very minor character who has never even appeared in person in the MERCY THOMPSON books. Kara is 13 years old and has been a werewolf since about age 10, which is unheard of, since the violent change from human to werewolf almost invariably kills anyone under 18. Once her parents finally figured out where to go to get help for her, as was related in Blood Bound, she was sent to the Marrok’s pack. However, Kara still is unable to voluntarily change from human to werewolf and back ― and under werewolf law, anyone who fails to gain this control within twelve months is killed as an unacceptable risk to humans and to the werewolves’ relationships with human society. An unexpected friendship with Asil “the Moor,” an ancient and powerful werewolf, helps, but it’s not at all clear that Kara will survive under these strict rules, especially with some political conspiring and pack power struggles going on. Although the beginning of Kara’s story was only briefly referenced in Blood Bound, I really appreciated seeing what happened afterwards, and Asil is a complex, minority character who always brings depth to the story when he makes an appearance in this series. 4 stars.
“In Red, with Pearls:” A story from the life of Warren, second in command in Adam’s werewolf pack. It’s tough being gay in the werewolf world, but Warren has found both a pack that accepts his sexuality and a human boyfriend that accepts his werewolf side. While working as a private detective for his boyfriend, Kyle, a beautiful zombie hitwoman is sent to assassinate Kyle. Warren ends up investigating the case, trying to figure out who wants Kyle dead, and why. He has the help of Nadia, the daughter of the witch that is on retainer to Adam’s pack (werewolves need a little help with cleanup now and then, when they don’t want trouble with law enforcement). This story got just a little tedious during the detective part and then almost exploded with complications and twists at the end. Although it was enjoyable reading and Warren is an appealing character, I thought the extent of the disclosures at the end was a bit over the top. 3 stars.
“Redemption:” Ben, a recurring character who is part of Adam’s werewolf pack, gets his own story here, a mix of workplace humor and drama, and personal redemption from issues and misdeeds in Ben’s past. Ben is a brilliant database administrator and programmer, but also a misogynist with a filthy mouth. As this story begins, Ben is trying to break his swearing habit, at least for a week (there’s a bottle of old scotch riding on his bet with Adam). This is made more difficult by the frustrations of his high tech job and co-workers who aggravate him. But as Ben realizes that he has a need to protect a vulnerable co-worker, he also is able to forgive himself and grow as a person. Or werewolf. I loved the tech industry setting and the humor in this story, which meshed surprisingly well with Ben’s terrible past and the conflict in his current job, and Ben is a unique, flawed character. 5 stars.
“Hollow:” Mercy finally gets her own story in this collection. Since she has the ability to see ghosts, occasionally someone asks her to exorcise a ghost that’s causing trouble. In this case, a woman asks her to try to help a man she loves who’s being haunted by the ghost of his murdered wife, to the extent that he’s become a recluse. Thirteen years ago he was accused of her murder, and though he was acquitted, many think he actually did the deed. As always, when Mercy gets involved with a problem, it ends up being a lot more complicated and dangerous than anyone expected. A nice plus here is the presence of Zack, the pack’s new submissive werewolf, who’s been assigned as Mercy’s bodyguard for the day. 4 stars.
There are also a couple of outtakes or bonus scenes at the end of this collection, just a handful of pages each. The first is a scene with Samuel and Ariana from the end of Silver Borne, and the second involves Adam, Mercy and Coyote at the end of Night Broken. These aren’t stand-alone or particularly weighty, but they’re enjoyable to read if you’ve already read the books that these scenes come from.
Shifting Shadows is an enjoyable exploration of the “Mercyverse” from the viewpoints of multiple minor characters, which is a nice change of pace. Many of these characters are minorities, but it never feels artificial or like Patricia Briggs is simply trying to check off the diversity box. I can only recommend this short story collection to someone who’s already a MERCY THOMPSON fan and, preferably, has read most or all of the books in that series (I do strongly recommend the series as a whole; I just don’t think this is the best place to start if you’re new to the series). But for those who are fans of this series, this is a great collection with no real missteps and a few excellent stories.