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REVIEW: Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs

Dear Ms. Briggs,

I’ve been putting off writing this review for some time. As readers, we each have our own preferences and quirks in what we like to read. We also have our personal hot buttons with regards to what we don’t. While I liked the first two-thirds of Iron Kissed, the last third hit my biggest hot button hard and it’s taken me this long to work through my distaste and articulate why.

Jane posted a favorable review a few weeks ago, which contains a good summary of the book, and I encourage interested readers to look at it if they’ve not done so already. I found it beyond my ability to write about the book without mentioning significant spoilers, so let that be a warning to people who haven’t read the book yet and wish to remain spoiler free. This second half of this review is not vague.

First, the good part. I admit I don’t particularly care for the Fae when it comes to urban fantasy, or any fantasy for that matter. I don’t actively dislike them the way many readers do vampires; they just don’t do anything for me. But I really enjoyed the way the Fae were portrayed here. They had the right mix of otherworld strangeness and danger, and it worked well. The mystery plot was my favorite part of the book, and it showcased how good the writing is. In urban fantasy, often times the mystery plot gets sidelined for the romantic plot and that very rarely works for me because I prefer both plots to be strong and on even footing. I like some meat with my romance and if I find the main plot is merely scaffolding for a romance plot, I become cranky. I don’t have that complaint here.

That said, I will be honest and say the love triangle of the Mercy Thompson series has never worked for me from since the very beginning. It has nothing to do with the fact it’s a love triangle. I can go either way with those, depending on how they’re executed and handled. It has to do with the fact that choosing between Adam and Samuel never felt like an actual choice to me. For all that their backstories were different, their interactions with Mercy were too similar — that of an overbearing Alpha wolf relentlessly pursuing his potential mate — and most of the time I wished Mercy would ditch both of them. I knew that would never happen, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t harbor that hope.

While I liked the fact that the love triangle was resolved midway through the book and did not resort to the “One of them dies” option, I felt a little disappointed. After all that build up through two and a half books, the actual resolution was a letdown because  again, it didn’t seem like Mercy made an actual choice.   I think I would have been more satisfied  if  Mercy had chosen one of the men instead.

And now for the bad, and my disappointment, and the part of the review that is laden with spoilers: the tragedy that occurred at the climax of the book did not work for me at all. It didn’t help that the antagonist obviously needed to read the Evil Overlord List. Specifically Points 26 and 53, taken from the traditional fantasy landscape and adapted for an urban one. He pulled one of the biggest clichés ever to grace the fantasy genre: invite the enemy into your lair, tell them your plans for world domination, and gloat. All he lacked was the flamboyant cape to twirl and curly mustache to stroke. I’ve read a number of fantasy novels that use this particular cliché. They all end the same way: the enemy gets free and kills the bad guy, because the bad guy is so convinced of his own brilliance, he never considered the possibility of failure. This plot sequence might have worked for me once but after a hundred or so times, it loses its impact.

But that’s not my hot button. If I were that picky about insecure, undersexed, megalomaniacal antagonists, I’d have stopped reading the fantasy genre years ago. My hot button is rape. The issue of rape comes up in other genres and mediums, but what I’m specifically referring to here is how rape is used as a narrative shortcut in the fantasy genre. Longtime fantasy fans might be familiar with this storyline: Woman gets raped and survives, so she learns swordfighting (or magic or political dealing or…) to get revenge on her attacker (and/or fight bad people like her attacker). The trope even has its own name: Rape and Revenge.

Then there’s the other main rape trope in fantasy: A woman is doing a man’s job in a man’s world and because it’s dangerous for a woman to do a man’s job in a man’s world, she gets raped. But if the job is that dangerous and the default punishment for taking that risk is rape, why is it that male characters rarely suffer the same fate? And that’s why, when I reached the climax and read what happened to Mercy, I nearly threw this book against the wall. If it’d been a less skilled writer, it would have but Moon Called and Blood Bound had built up my trust and I  hoped the remaining pages would save me from disappointment. When they didn’t, I was left feeling hollow and cheated.

I’m not saying these tropes should be thrown out and never written about again. But what makes readers weary of them, what makes them a well-trodden cliché, is that they’ve become shortcuts and substitutes for actual character and plot development. Need to give the heroine an angsty backstory that makes her vulnerable? She was raped! Need to explain why the heroine fights crime? She was raped! Need to make the strong, independent heroine an emotional wreck so she’ll run to the hero for help? She gets raped! And then she can heal herself through the magical power of sex with the hero.

If it were organic and essential to the plot, there’d be no complaints. But more often than not, it’s a piece of information that’s never mentioned or referred to again or, as I felt was the case here, it’s a convenient plot device used to make the characters do certain things and act a certain way.

I’ve no doubt the Mercy Thompson series will continue on to bigger and better things. It’s getting its own comic book, and I predict hardcover format in the not too distant future. But for all that we try to approach our reviews here at Dear Author with a critical, detached eye, it’s still a reader blog at its core and you can’t control reader hot buttons. This was a well-written book and if I were grading solely on the first two-thirds, I’d give it a B+.

That said, endings also matter, and an ending can determine whether I plan to pick up the author’s next book. Sad to say, the last 50 pages of Iron Kissed left such a bad taste in my mouth, I don’t even want to look at my copies of Moon Called or Blood Bound anymore, let alone any future books in the Mercy Thompson series. So while this bus continues on the road to continued bestselling success, I think it’s time for me to get off at this stop. Some readers pass over books about vampires. I pass over books in which rape is used as a plot point to force the heroine along a certain path and nothing more. Using Dear Author’s grading scale, this ultimately gets a C+ from me.

~Jia

This book can be purchased in mass market or ebook format.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

47 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 18:42:34

    I'm not saying these tropes should be thrown out and never written about again. But what makes readers weary of them, what makes them a well-trodden cliché, is that they've become shortcuts and substitutes for actual character and plot development. Need to give the heroine an angsty backstory that makes her vulnerable? She was raped! Need to explain why the heroine fights crime? She was raped! Need to make the strong, independent heroine an emotional wreck so she'll run to the hero for help? She gets raped! And then she can heal herself through the magical power of sex with the hero.

    I agree with you there and I don’t care for such plot devices but I don’t see that applied in Iron Kissed. We’ll just have to agree to disagree with that. Also, the argument about Mercy not actually having the choice to choose her mate worked out for the best (for me) and I applauded her for doing it that way because some readers had liked one or both men and didn’t want to see one or the other one hurt or feel left out which is the by product of love triangles that doesn’t make them all the popular. The option to kill one of the other suitors is a cheap shot, honestly. The easy road if you will. Then you have LKH and Janet Evanovich who have milked the “love triangle subplot” for what it’s worth, in letting their characters NOT choose and go back and forth between the characters which is one major reason why I quit reading the series. But that’s another thread for another time.[g] Sorry to see that the last 50 pages of Iron Kissed made you jump off the boat.

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  2. MaryKate
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 18:48:50

    Really interesting take on the book, Jia. I loved this book and have re-read the ending several times. It was a relief for me to have Mercy resolve the love triangle as I’d felt that if it went on much longer, it would have been overdone. But then, I’m a sucker for her relationship in particular with Adam.

    It’s interesting how our hot buttons can influence our reading. I had the same thing happen with Laura Lee Guhrke’s latest book. I had a really hard time with it because love by deceit is a very strong hot button for me. I would have graded it a C- at most because of the issue even though many other readers found tons about the book to recommend it.

    Though our grades differed completely I appreciate your balanced review of the book.

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  3. Jia
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 18:52:26

    I think it’s one of those risks you take, as a reader, when you follow a series. The author has to make choices and decisions with regards to her story and vision, and sometimes that means going in a direction that leaves some readers behind. I still think it’s a well-written series — probably one of the best UF series currently out there — but there are some reactions I can’t control. What can you do?

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  4. Angela James
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 19:01:18

    I would agree with Keishon here. It was such a huge relief to me, not to have the love triangle drug out, because that theme honestly exhausts me in books, I feel it’s so overdone. I also thought the resolution was a very natural one, not contrived, it just was like…yes, that’s how it should be.

    As for the rape, I thought it was powerfully done. I would have been more disappointed had the author had a last minute “save”. Doing it this way says that Mercy is living in a world where bad things can and will happen to her, she’s not always going to have a miracle occur to keep her from the really bad stuff.

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  5. Jia
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 19:10:50

    Oh, I wasn’t asking for Briggs to give her a last minute save. That’s cheating as well.

    I’m questioning why is the bad thing that always happen to the female character rape. Is rape really the only bad thing that can happen to a woman? She could lose a hand. She could be paralyzed from the waist down. There are many, many bad things that can happen to a female characters to demonstrate that it’s a big, bad and scary world out there… and yet, the default for many fantasy novels is rape. Why is that? That’s the trope I’m questioning.

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  6. Angela James
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 19:19:12

    Hm. That’s a good question. Just thinking out loud, but I think that bad things are shown to happen like that, though paralyzing a character might change the scope of the books. Maybe it’s used because people see that as the ultimate act of harm against a woman? And because, when you have an antagonist who wants to “win”, it’s the ultimate act of exercising your power over a woman?

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  7. Keishon
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 19:31:23

    Is rape really the only bad thing that can happen to a woman? She could lose a hand. She could be paralyzed from the waist down. There are many, many bad things that can happen to a female characters to demonstrate that it's a big, bad and scary world out there… and yet, the default for many fantasy novels is rape. Why is that? That's the trope I'm questioning.

    See this is where we differ, Jia. I didn’t see Mercy’s rape as anything other than a unfortunate consequence for the events that happened in the last 50 pages of the book. What you’re saying is that fantasy authors always resort to rape as the most hideous thing a woman can endure and we all know that’s not necessarily true but why would I want to see Mercy maimed?[g] or have her physically flawed? I don’t read very much fantasy for this to be a problem but obviously you have and like you said, it’s an uncontrollable reaction to the book. I just say it’s unfortunate but I have been there before myself where my reaction to a book was so vastly different from the majority (I’m used it). But I think there are certain tropes in genre fiction that are unavoidable and maybe a staple of the genre? Who knows but I get what you’re saying. It just didn’t bother moi.

    I just read Angela’s comments and I agree with her that “drastic action” other than rape falls under a different label other than “urban fantasy.”

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  8. Josie
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 19:37:53

    There are many, many bad things that can happen to a female characters to demonstrate that it's a big, bad and scary world out there… and yet, the default for many fantasy novels is rape. Why is that? That's the trope I'm questioning.

    Good question Jia – I don’t personally like the plot device either but my guess would be that it’s because it is one of the most traumatic experiences a woman can go through and the ‘how or if’ question of recovering from that can shape their character and affect their future.

    At any rate it certainly made me feel uncomfortable reading about it. However, I liked the way Briggs handled the aftermath of that and it me a bit more respect for Ben as well. I think it will be very interesting to see how this changes Mercy.

    I was pleased with the outcome of the triangle too! Thank God it wasn’t dragged out. All in all, I really enjoyed this instalment.

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  9. Barbara B.
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 20:07:59

    That reminds me of how many female cops on TV used to get raped back in the ’80s and ’90s. It seemed as if Didi(sp) on Hunter got raped at least once a season. Hunter never once got raped as far as I can remember.

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  10. K. Z. Snow
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 20:47:21

    Excellent review, Jia. It, and the subsequent comments, gave me a lot to think about regarding my own fictional preferences and aversions. I like when that happens!

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  11. raspberry swyrl
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 20:57:15

    I agree the love triangle was resolved a little too easily. All that build up over two books and then its all platonic hugs and sugar and whatever. I agree, I would have rather her chosen Adam then having them come to some ‘big realization.’ But I do give her props for not dragging the love triangle on forever.

    I haven’t read as much in this genre so I did not know that is how rape is used by authors. To tell you the truth I still have mixed feelings on it being in the book. On the other hand, Mercy was already a superduper fighting chick…so it would be interesting how this is going to play out in the next book.

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  12. Jia
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 21:09:53

    raspberry swyrl: That’s it exactly. I’m glad it was resolved. Dragging out a love triangle over several books is, well, a drag. It’s just that I expected something more out of a resolution. Not a “Oh, I really just love you platonically.” In some ways, that’s a cop out too. Not as big as the “One dies” option, in my opinion, but it’s still a little too easy.

    Maybe I just expected more from Briggs. I don’t know.

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  13. Vicky
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 21:53:55

    I think your review is fair but I didn’t see it this way at all. It was incredibly sad and moving and I really liked the book. I don’t think Briggs chose that trope to take the easy way out.

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  14. Kitty
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 22:55:59

    Wow. Interesting. I was raped by someone I knew at age seventeen, and I didn’t have the reaction that you had to the last third of the book. I guess for me, it struck a chord because Tim used it as a way to demean and degrade Mercy, and to pump himself up. That rang true with my own experience. For what it’s worth, I felt like Briggs did an excellent job both with Mercy’s feelings immediately afterward (which were of course still colored by the effects of the goblet) and her determination not to be a victim. I thought it was a job well done, but of course that’s just my two cents worth.

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  15. Robin
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 23:33:02

    Jia, I haven’t read this book, but I have a similar hot button when it comes to rape as a trope/motif to represent female vulnerability. The device abounds in Romance, as well. Where it crosses the line for me is when the sexual victimization of a woman is portrayed in a way that makes me feel like the *author* is herself victimizing the character. I don’t know exactly how to articulate this line, but there are definitely books I’ve read where I feel the author is heaping so much humiliation on the heroine that she/he becomes complicit in her victimization. OTOH, there are times when the threat of sexual violence can be very powerful for me as a reader. For example, in Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series (I don’t know what genre that falls into precisely) we are often reminded how vulnerable women are, but I never feel Harris herself is exploiting the device, so I don’t feel the characters are being used. It’s a fine line for me, that varies from author to author, book to book. I didn’t realize it was prevalent in fantasy, though, which is very interesting to me.

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  16. Kaitlin
    Feb 20, 2008 @ 02:27:16

    Hmm…I actually loved this book and say it’s my favorite of this series. I understand your comments about the rape and can understand your viewpoint.

    I actually reviewed Iron Kissed on my blog and referenced the rape as well. It didn’t bother me near as much as you, because to me, it was a very powerful moment in the book. Instead of doing the usual fight and revenge thing, it was a mind-trip that totally threw Mercy for a loop. The way it made her feel and the fact that it wasn’t her who killed him made it all the more interesting.

    And I do understand where you’re coming from in the sense that so many fantasy novels use rape as a way for the heroine to become the strong kick-ass character to then go kill bad guys, but I didn’t see it that way in IK. I think it was used as a way to a. show dominance (or attempted dominance) by Tim, which is something we know Mercy always fights. b. in a lot of ways I think it made her grow as a character, in the sense that she’s now got to deal with the afteraffects of it. and c. though she was raped, to me she never came across as a victim, not even when she was dealing with what she was feeling right after it happened.

    I like the fact that Ms. Briggs didn’t shy away from it and used it in a way that made sense. Instead of it being random & weird, she showed it as an awful, bad thing, but also the strength of Mercy’s relationships with her friends and Adam.

    Was it just me or did Adam get hotter in this book? Just wondering. :D

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  17. Taekduu
    Feb 20, 2008 @ 02:48:42

    I had major issues with the book as well. Mine had less to do with the rape and more to do with the story. Patricia Briggs has used rape/molestation/torture in her other work but I think the way she does it is best illustrated in her Ward of Hurog duology. Throughout the books you understood that these things happened not because deus ex machina but that they could simply because people could be evil in war. One character was raped as a young boy and submitted to a nonconsensual relationship through his adult life (protecting others) and another is brutally tortured and as part of the general personal dismemberment also is raped. The most interesting part was not the actual acts themselves but how characters felt and responded and moved on while never forgetting the actual precipitants.

    In all of Ms. Briggs series I have always felt that there is almost a gritty realism to this fantasy world that comes out when bad things happen to good and bad people. You often cannot find that in fantasy or it is treated lightly. Mercy had never had anything like this happen to her before, she always thought the worst would be getting her throat ripped out by a vampire. So, to me at this point she is a little wiser and jaded and might look at things just a little different. Will it change her, probably, all experiences do, but underlying is this same chick who came out and killed the guy anyway. Regardless of what our personal triggers are, we are all vulnerable, women more than men, children more than adults.

    As for the whole relationship thing, I never thought Samuel had a chance. It seems very much like she ended that relationship in her head long-ago, despite the attraction and the residuals were things she needed to work through as an adult. Adult love vs teenage infatuation can be different.

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  18. Jia
    Feb 20, 2008 @ 05:28:21

    Robin: I suspect rape motifs/devices/tropes can be found throughout all the genres. I see it in fantasy and you’ve seen it in romance. Barbara B above mentioned cop shows and I know it’s a topic that comes up in comic book discussion constantly, so it’s not even limited to the written word. Fantasy, as a genre, stretches back for a long time, so it has a body of work and for much of that body of work, the genre was dominated by male authors and male characters. Female characters were often the prize or the damsel in distress or some combination of the two. When there were female characters who weren’t the damsel in need of rescuing, they tended to be either the evil seductress bent on using sex to destroy the hero or the avenger who embodied the rape and revenge archetype. Red Sonja is an example of this. C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry was another, if I’m remembering correctly. The first (?) Jirel story, “Black God’s Kiss”, was published in the early 1930s.

    So when you have a genre of work that extends back that many decades, certain tropes become embedded and sometimes lead to ruts. While the rape in this book wasn’t an instance of rape and revenge, I do think it was used in a certain way that was unoriginal. The comments here show that many people found the rape powerful, emotional and moving. I found it manipulative, cheap and generic. It was nothing I hadn’t seen before and it was almost paint by numbers for me. Every reader is different.

    As a reader, you can’t control hot button topics. You can try but in the end, I think the hot button wins out.

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  19. Elizabeth
    Feb 20, 2008 @ 10:11:46

    I love these books and will definitely keep reading them, but the ending of this one annoyed me. I wasn’t bothered by the rape so much as the scene back at Adam’s house. The way Briggs utilized Whatsisname-the-British-werewolf (sorry, don’t have my book handy) to explain to Adam all about Mercy’s reaction felt contrived. I get that Whatsisname must have been raped himself at some point (There’s a raped male character for you, Jia!) but the whole overwrought pedagogy thing was a little annoying and just didn’t feel organic.

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  20. Jia
    Feb 20, 2008 @ 10:35:18

    Elizabeth: Ben? But I agree with you. I found that scene overwrought too, and perhaps a little patronizing as well.

    (There's a raped male character for you, Jia!)

    I’d much rather we skip the rape and find more original ways of characterization and plot development. But again, it’s a matter of reader differences and backgrounds. What bothers one reader won’t bother another; what’s unoriginal and generic to one is emotionally gripping to another. That’s the beauty of books and why there’s room for all of us.

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  21. hotflashes
    Feb 20, 2008 @ 14:08:18

    The problem that I have with this review is that Briggs did not use the rape scene in any way, shape or form as quoted in this review. It’s clear it’s a hot button for the reviewer. I respect that. It is one of my hot buttons too. But when it is NOT used by the author “as an angsty backstory or as an explanation to fight crime or to make the heroine strong and independent, then it’s just a prejudiced view by the reviewer because Mercy has been strong and independent, doing what she does, growing with each story as a character, long before the rape scene.

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  22. Valerie
    Feb 20, 2008 @ 14:43:49

    Excellent review, Jia, and the comments have been fascinating.

    I actually stayed up last night reading this book. I too have a strong distaste for rape as “entertainment,” and have abandoned many books, movies, and favorite TV series because of a poorly handled rape scene. So, on the one hand I agree with you…rape can be used as a cheap plot tool to manipulate the reader/audience, and that just pisses me off. On the other hand…

    Mercy’s rape was, I thought, handled tastefully. I was really uneasy and annoyed when I realized what was happening, and read the rest of the scene with a frown, just waiting for it to deteriorate into a graphic scene or a way to weaken Mercy’s character. It just didn’t happen.

    Really, based on my own personal experience of rape and its aftermath, I felt a strong current of truth in Mercy’s reactions, her internalizing of guilt and shame, and the way Ben and Adam responded to her. I was surprised by how quickly she chose to become sexual with Adam, but then…I wasn’t. In my own case, I had such a strong drive to assert my personality, my control over my body, and to reassure myself that I was still sexually healthy and strong, that I too moved quickly back to a sexual relationship with my lover.

    After all, Mercy wasn’t rescued from Tim’s assault. She took care of Tim herself. Adam, Samuel, and the pack actually helped save Mercy from Mercy…her mortal wounds were not only physical.

    The more I ponder the last 50 pages of that novel, the more impressed I am by Briggs’s writing.

    Val

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  23. Estara
    Feb 20, 2008 @ 14:52:10

    I completely related to this review: I have decided that *I* am willing to read another Mercy Thompson book because I loved the first two and a half ones (and in that case I give an author one final chance), but you’re not the only one to have made a full stop here: http://buymeaclue.livejournal.com/466616.html .

    And you are so right about the cop-out with choosing the guys.

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    Feb 20, 2008 @ 16:28:05

    [...] Author reviews both Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs, and JD Robb’s Strangers in [...]

  25. LesleyW
    Feb 20, 2008 @ 16:51:25

    I think the rape for me was less about showing how strong Mercy is, and more how weak Tim was. It took me a couple of stop and starts to understand what was happening – which I thought showcases how well Patricia Briggs wrote that scene, from the point of view of someone who is drugged.

    I’ve blogged in the past about how urban fantasy heroines (not born with their powers) often attain powers after being raped, murdered or assaulted in some fashion. Maybe it’s not just about strength through adversity but also about being brought that close to death. I think I also suggested some alternate routes to attaining power.

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  26. DS
    Feb 20, 2008 @ 20:05:21

    I haven’t read this book so I can’t comment on the rape, but I did recently reread Steal the Dragon, her first(?) book. I was disappointed because my memory of it was better than my experience this time around, oh, the plot holes– but the moment at which the book became interesting again for me involved a scene where the heroine endures water torture. There was also a rape which was handled pretty well– not gratuitous or prurient. These helped me get through the astounding [read annoying] coincidences that moved the story along.

    Rape and torture are themes that run through several of her books and would probably require a larger overview of her work than would (or should) be undertaken in a review of a single book.

    Thanks for the info that the triangle was resolved. I was dithering on continuing with the series even though I liked the first book because triangles where the central character goes back and forth irritate me no end.

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  27. Rose W.
    Feb 20, 2008 @ 20:51:40

    Jia,

    I found your review very interesting. I did not like “Iron Kissed” as much as the two previous books in the series. I was disappointed with how the Sam/Adam triangle was handled, but I put this down to the fact that Ms. Briggs understood that she had fans that were pulling for both Sam/Adam. It struck me that the resolution was too fast in that she figured this out over pizza. Additionally, I missed a subsequent conversation with Sam over how he was doing. Especially in “Blood Bound” Mercy was concerned with Sam’s mental health.

    I did not like the rape scene because I care about Mercy as a character, but the rape to me was more about Tim’s low image of himself and having power over someone and it felt like something this character would do.

    According to Ms. Briggs’ website the next book will start where this one ends and I have confidence that the small things I did not like about this book will be explained in the next. I do hope you give the series another try with the next book.

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  28. Sam
    Feb 20, 2008 @ 23:02:17

    I’ve read the first Mercy book and had the second in my TBR pile. But after reading this review and a couple others, plus all the comments here, I think I’ll just drop book #2 into the bag to go to the UBS and forget about this series.

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  29. Karen
    Feb 21, 2008 @ 09:33:22

    Definitely agree with you on pretty much all of this. First 2/3 of the book – excellent, even though Adam annoyed me even more than usual… Also I missed Stefan. I kinda wished Mercy would just dump both alpha males and try a bit of vampire lovin’… ;)

    Then the last third of the book took a sticky turn that pushed *my* hot buttons. Yeah, I’d like to know know why Ms. Briggs decided to put Mercy through *that* particular horror. I’m not saying Mercy shouldn’t be put through hell – that’s what writers tend to do to their protags (especially in urban fantasy), but why *that* particular hell… There are so many other things that could happen to test Mercy. And why did it only take her 50 pages to start coming to terms with it??

    I am still going to read Book 4, if only to see how things continue from here… Perhaps we’ll see something there that justifies the inclusion of this ‘plot device’ (because that’s what it felt like to me). I hope so.

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  30. LesleyW
    Feb 21, 2008 @ 13:22:31

    I think it was more to do with the way the character of Tim thinks. He was a weak man, and to his way of thinking Mercy had found him lacking. She threatened his masculinity and to regain his power he did what he did. I think if she hadn’t killed him he would have killed her, because ultimately after the act he was still the same weak man he was before and inside himself he would have known this.

    I’m curious to see where book 4 goes. I’m not sure that Mercy and Adam will be having sex. For me, if Iron Kissed had a fault at all, (I enjoyed the book), it’s that I think it ended in the wrong place.

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  31. Jorrie Spencer
    Feb 21, 2008 @ 16:09:44

    Interesting review, Jia. I just finished Iron Kissed and while I enjoyed it and will read the next book, I preferred the first two Mercy books. I think largely because I found the earlier mysteries more interesting, as well as the explorations of werewolf/vampire lives more interesting than the fae.

    After all that build up through two and a half books, the actual resolution was a letdown because again, it didn't seem like Mercy made an actual choice. I think I would have been more satisfied if Mercy had chosen one of the men instead.

    I thought Mercy made a choice, actually. In that, she hasn’t wanted Sam as a mate for quite a long while. But she loves him and worries about what will happen if she rejects him, because he is old and fragile. So she can’t. I suspect Sam’s future will be addressed further in the next book.

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  32. Urban Fantasy: Briggs and Chance « Jorrie Spencer
    Feb 21, 2008 @ 16:17:22

    [...] are two, more informative reviews of Iron Kissed at Dear Author, with grades of A- and C+. Note that the second review has [...]

  33. Heidi Leighton
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 12:33:11

    I liked your review but I have to say I really liked this installment of the Mercy Thompson series. I liked the resolution of the love triangle, it made sense to me that as an adult you have to work through your feelings for someone you were in love with as a teenager and wanted to marry. As for the rape scene, I spent the entire time I was reading it crying. I did not expect it to end in actual rape at all…I guess I’m a real newbie when it comes to this plot device. I did think it was handled well, with no graphic details, and Mercy’s emotions rang true to me as well. All in all I’d say Iron Kissed is my favorite of the series so far. I think Briggs is writing some of the best, most mature urban fantasy today. At least her series is not all about sex LOL.

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  34. Tasha
    Mar 01, 2008 @ 23:58:06

    I agree with you on most points.

    I think the reason I found this so obnoxious is that too often, sexual assault is used in fiction as a means of getting two people together–when the reality is usually the opposite–and has no real emotional fallout beyond the pivotal getting-the-two-people-together scene. Most women are not going to leap into the arms of a new lover six days later, and Mercy is already too close to “perfect” for my taste. This is probably the last I’ll read in this series.

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  35. anialove
    Mar 14, 2008 @ 21:33:03

    I enjoyed the novel, but I do have issues with the rape. I’ll still give the series a chance, but I thought it was a bad move on Briggs’ part.

    However, I choose to comment a bit late because I just read Vicki Pattersson’s The Scent of Shadows, which had the best handling of rape I’ve read in a long time. She both follows and subverts cliche in certain ways.

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  36. Jessie
    May 15, 2008 @ 19:44:41

    I agree with some of the things said, but this book was my favorite of the series as well. This book is read buy a couple of different generations which has seperate view points. the rape scene it shows that no matter how safe something seems, it could be a wolf in sheeps clothing( no pun intended). this scene and the folowing showed me that there is always some one who will be there for you no matter what.

    I am young so I could just not have understood all that much but Mrs. Briggs did this scene for a good reason not to just make a quick ending. the love scene was great as well because nowa days this goes on a lot. there are love triangles everywhere and I am glad that it was solved in this fashion. to me it was kinda obvious that Samuel would be put to the side walk because Mercy, after she left the marrock pack, stopped loving samuel in that way. one reason she put up with him is that she didnt want to hurt him and he kept her from doing what she wanted to do which was to submit to Adam.

    I hope you understand what i am talking about.

    I cant wait to read more of her books:)

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  37. nikki-san
    Jul 20, 2008 @ 03:24:53

    I can understand your point that rape is often over used and can be a cliche but we live in a world where the statistics are one in four women will be raped in their life time and some statistics are now saying that it is one in three. I think an author, like Patricia Briggs, who recognizes and validates what goes on in someones head when this happens and then also shows the character recognizing what her (or his) attacker did to them and conciously making a decision to over come it is important. There are some people out there struggling to deal with what happened to them that can relate to and draw strength from characters like Mercy. I appreciated how this was done in Iron Kissed and am sorry that it has caused some people to decide not to continue reading this series.

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  38. Bemused Reader
    Aug 01, 2008 @ 13:48:59

    Jia,

    Right on, Woman. I just read all three books in about a week and a half, but I won’t read the fourth. There was no reason for the rape, though it made me glad that she did not write a rape screen for Jesse in the first book. It also didn’t make me any happier that she had Ben tell his story about being raped as a child. In the end, this plot device was lazy and awful. BTW, has anyone noticed how many similarities there between Mercy and Sookie Stackhouse — fiercely independent young woman with slight magical ability attracts hordes of magical creatures with problems only she can solve/help with because of her unique abilities. Is terribly attractive to them all, completely unaware of her ability to bind them to her, kicks butt regularly, has little to no family around, living on the edge financially, has hints of greater power lurking underneath, drives broken down car. Geez.

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  39. Brenton
    Aug 19, 2008 @ 13:12:52

    Alright, I just finished reading the book last night and I just had to google the book’s title to see what other people thought about it. This book, as Jia put it, left a horrible taste in my mouth. I am just not sure why, but the rape thing really gave me the creeps. I am not sure if it is because it was poorly done, but it just made me cringe, and I happen to be a 21 year old male. I am going to continue reading I guess, because I enjoyed the first two. Its not that I am overly sensitive, because I am not, but why take this girl that I have grown to love in the last two books, and have her raped? Bad taste in my mouth.

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  40. LesleyW
    Aug 19, 2008 @ 15:38:28

    I really hesitate here to suggest what Patricia Briggs might have thought during her writing process.

    But I don’t think it’s a case of taking a nice girl and having her raped – which I agree would be reprehensible.

    And more that she (Mercy) is at the whim of a character who does see that as an outlet for his own feelings of inadequacy and inferiority.

    We are in Mercy’s POV, so we know the thought processes behind her visits to Tim, and we know that Mercy is not malicious in her intent. Tim, however, does not know this. Tim has a whole set of motivations and desires that we aren’t privy to. At the point of Mercy’s betrayal he ceases to see her as a person and from that moment on he can (in his own mind) do what he likes to her.

    It’s not just a case of being true to Mercy’s character, I think for the story to be believable it’s necessary to be true to Tim’s character as well. Mercy rejects him as a man, so his retaliation on some level has to reflect that. She’s made him feel like nothing – she’s chosen Adam over him, for him to regain his sense of worth, he has to bring her down to be less than nothing, so he regains his power.

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  41. HurogGirl
    Aug 24, 2008 @ 23:09:44

    Its not that I am overly sensitive, because I am not, but why take this girl that I have grown to love in the last two books, and have her raped? Bad taste in my mouth.

    Okay, Brandon. If it makes you feel that way in a book, how about real life? Look around you. One in four of the women you meet every day, including SOME WHO ARE RELATED TO YOU have been through this. Does THAT leave a bad taste in your mouth?

    It’s not gratuitous, it’s a common occurance, something that, as Lesley W. said, is true to the character of the villian of the piece.

    Mercy rejects him as a man, so his retaliation on some level has to reflect that. She's made him feel like nothing – she's chosen Adam over him, for him to regain his sense of worth, he has to bring her down to be less than nothing, so he regains his power.

    That’s what rape is mostly about.
    Fighting back is what interesting, viable protagonists are about. It could be rape, it could be your parents gunned down before your eyes, bruce wayne, it could be having been selfish once and seen your uncle/foster father killed because of it, peter parker. There are always emotionally wrought reasons for it in fiction, just as there are in life.

    The handling of the details I found quite well done, there was so little that some people didn’t realize until they were done that it had occured. I particularly liked the fact that Mercy already had the strength to resist him, and continued after she should have been jelly. It wasn’t using the attack to “make her a kick ass fighter”. Fighting per se isn’t what she’s about, any more than any other coyote.

    That being said, I felt a small stumble over the resolution of the triangle too. That’s it? “You don’t really want me for your mate, just your pack”? But not beating a drum about it is perhaps a bit more like our mundane lives than the wrought things we expected, and make it that much more resonant with some of us.

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  42. Brenton
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 01:31:23

    Lol, okay HurogGirl, for one its Brenton, not Brandon. And for two, yes if I happened witnessed a rape through someones eyes, of anyone, especially someone I knew, than YES, “THAT” would leave a bad taste in my mouth. Knowing statistics does not really affect me, but reading about a character that I slowly felt like I knew, being raped made me cringe. She did not have to experience that to make the book better or more dramatic.

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  43. Carradee
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 19:17:46

    I know, I’m a latecomer.

    I actually liked Iron Kissed the most of the three. The last 50 pages were the ones that made the book, for me. I always had a sense that Ben was a bit too harsh, that he was shoving everyone away because he was hurt, and that part of the book explaining it didn’t sound forced at all to me. I thought it a major “Ah-ha! I was right!” moment.

    Rape is often not sex-driven. It’s a power issue. That fits Tim perfectly. If you think about werewolf pack structure and the brutality of packs outside the U.S., it also seems like it might fit Ben (depending on what his backstory actually is).

    Okay, so rape may be a “common” element of stories. So is romance. Not to dismiss anyone’s experience, but look at the statistics others have mentioned. One in 4, maybe even 1 in 3. That’s greater than a woman’s odds of getting breast cancer.

    Rape happens. And, sadly, it happens a lot. I know someone who both she and her brother were conceived by it-’from two different types of rape, by two different guys, less than two years apart. If you look at the statistics, even a lot of fraternal twins have different fathers.

    I like when authors can bear have something distasteful done to their characters and do a tasteful job of it, while keeping that something distasteful. Some sadly seem to relish it.

    I think writers “like” picking rape because it’s like someone with a health condition that it’s happened doesn’t affect how she appears, but it certainly affects her life. People can’t tell to look at her, so it has a lot more room for character development and growth.

    To explain by example, my endocrine system-’the one that makes and regulates the hormones, the chemicals that regulate your body-’is haywire. People can’t look at me and know that I woke up today with my hormones somehow off-kilter enough to give me that “nice” shakey-muscle feeling. Or maybe I’m depressed and choosing to act chipper despite it. Unless you happen to realize that gothic metal is my “I’m feeling great!” music and Christian teen pop means I’m really, really ignoring those thoughts of personal worthlessnes that are completely unfounded, you would be completely unable to tell anything’s wrong to look at me. I’m a good actress.

    But if I were missing a hand or blind or something, people would know. It would be the elephant announcing my issue. Jude Watson had a Jedi blinded in her Jedi Apprentice series, and yes, that affected the character, but the emotional aspect was actually rather straightforward (and not just because they’re juvenile books).

    Direct emotional trauma as occurs from rape doesn’t announce itself to the world and is more convoluted. Speaking as a writer who isn’t yet an author, emotional trauma helps you add depth to a character. Rape is common in real life, so it’s a common choice.

    Unfortunately, that does mean that it sometimes gets relegated into being no more than a device for exploring the character (which means the writer really needs to take a break and resensitize herself), but that’s not what I got from Iron Kissed. That Tim was pissed at Mercy for presumably leading him on was built throughout the book. His actions were a power grab for personal self-worth, which he evidently found dependent on female desire of him.

    The secretly broken characters are often the most popular with readers/viewers. (Doctor Who, anyone?)

    And re: Mercy bouncing back so “quickly” from the rape, I haven’t been raped. What I have is a lot of experience dealing with misbehaving emotions. Frankly, so does Mercy, from growing up around werewolves who could detect her emotions. There’s a point where you have to decide that you’re not going to let your emotions rule you and manage your life for you.

    That was what Mercy did at the end of the book. Is she making a choice in spite of her current inclination? Yep. Is she still emotionally messed up? You betchya.

    Now, on the topic of the love triangle… I like how it was handled. Samuel may be extremely dominant when he choses to be, but part of his entire problem is he’s old enough that he’s not exactly caring much, anymore. He’s trying to, desperately is for his da’s sake, but when you hit 1300 and have nobody “special” who hasn’t died, some even by your own hand from you trying to make them like you, you’re bound to be weary of living. (I pulled that number from Cry Wolf-’he may be older.)

    Mercy ultimately would have been another DEAD wife. That Samuel would be willing to give up before he gets ripped into shreds-’again-’speaks to his depression and fatigue. And may even be part of the reason for his extreme protectionism that Mercy realizes would have driven her crazy.

    Frankly, my impression from the books was that Mercy always was leaning more towards Adam than Samuel, but she didn’t want to be the reason Samuel took a permanent swim. So she didn’t let herself think about it-’she knew the answer if she stopped to think about it, certainly, but she didn’t want to go that far. (Like a girl who finds out before her 16th birthday that she’ll likely never be able to have kids. Avoiding the full consideration and musings on if she wants them spares herself a lot of pain.)

    Mercy thought only she was really affected-’other than the two males involved. When she saw that she’s ultimately tearing up an entire pack from her indecision, she let herself verbalize her choice, since her indecision was ultimately causing more harm than whatever decision might.

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  44. Arirelle
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 17:13:24

    Ooh, I’m REALLY a late comer. xD
    Meh, I really wanted to share something that wasn’t covered as far as I could read….

    That is, Mercy’s actions that BROUGHT her to Tim, and the afterward scene. I realize that the ring was a powerful influence, but it didn’t seem to fit, that Mercy would be so idiotic, as to bring herself to that situation.

    If I remember correctly, she even challenged his masculinity, but in a , very… contrived way. She was, idk, arrogant? Or maybe the author just wanted it to happen. That’s what it feels like.

    If the goblet didn’t affect her as strongly, why did the ring affect her so much?

    Now, its been a couple years since I read this. So forgive me if my memory is faulty.

    According to my memory, the entire scene was rushed, forced and very contrived.

    Rape is a hot button for me as well. It seems like a very old standby of victimization, and one I don’t really wish to read about.

    I don’t enjoy it, and its often left me feeling voyeuristic, and that, as another commenter pointed out, the author’s are themselves victimizing their character. I don’t like.

    In reality, these characters would be most concerned with survival, and therein would do as much as possible to stay safe.

    A truly savvy character, such as how I perceived Mercy up till those last 50 pages, I…don’t believe would put herself into such a helpless scene. It,seems, contrived.

    As to the actual rape, and ensuing chaos, in her own mind, and the situations, I felt was pretty well written.

    I don’t believe she could have recovered quite as quickly as she did, but perhaps there is more to her character.

    In many ways, it was handled pretty cleanly. As for someone commenting on how damaging a maiming is compared to rape, and that they wouldn’t want to read about a character that damaged, i’d ask them to speak with a person that has had rape done to them.

    It is very damaging, to the psyche, to the emotions, to the behaviors of the person. Rape is SUCH a violation, it worse than maiming. It is invasive, much like a physic attack on a persons’ mind.

    To me, being beaten, or being in a fight where you’re damaged horribly, it is less traumatic. You can cope. Such invasive attacks such as rape, can not be resolved easily.

    In that way, I can understand rape and similar violations being used as part of the plot, and the character’s profile.

    But, it didn’t fit in this book. I was thinking, how could this situation degenerate so fast? It was a shock tool, and honestly, they never work. I don’t really want to read the rest of this series, nor the shoot off one about the female alpha.

    This world doesn’t seem to have a lot of hope, and reading these types of worlds seems to be similar to the act of hitting yourself in the head. No purpose and its just hurting you.
    That’s just my personal thing, I have it around rape, not because of personal experience but of empathic experience.

    Sorry for the long comment, the only reason I was drawn to comment was because of your writing Jia. It was a very good bit of writing and I enjoyed it. Thank you for writing this, it gave a different side then the usual “omg it was soooo good”.^^;;

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  45. Jia
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 17:46:39

    @Arirelle: Long comments are always weapon. While this is definitely an old post and I never did pick up the series after this (not that it needed my help in any way, shape, or form!), but I’ve since read some comments by the author that implied that the rape needed to happen in order for Mercy’s character to evolve. So your impression that the event was contrived is certainly not unfounded, I think. And learning that fact only served to cement my feelings on the book because there are so many ways to make a character evolve, so why is it that if the character is female, the method of evolution used is rape whereas you very rarely see that for male characters?

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  46. Arirelle
    Mar 20, 2010 @ 21:07:58

    Ehm, read yaoi manga, and you might just find that male side. But that’s a different story, the characters in yaoi are still representing the female side, therefor the “weak” gender, making it moot point.

    But you’re right. Its an easy plot point, that many authors can get away with. I think partially because of their target audience, but that’s just theory.

    When they want men to evolve, I see families, comrades dying, captured, tortured etc that gives the male character his new personality, so to speak, and changed purpose. All of sudden he’s hunting demons, being the good ol’ bounty hunter etc etc.

    Whenever I think upon writing a story, and trying to remain outside the box, I switch the genders. NOT the personalities. As I mentioned about the yaoi manga, you can change the gender but still its essentially a female personality and its still in the same role. Which is annoying.

    Change the gender, but keep the personality, the job and the trauma. The best example I can think of is Kate from Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels series. She’s put thru various deaths of close people, deals with her deep-seated lesson of staying separate from people etc etc.

    Many times I’ve thought, this is a character that could be male or female.
    Its the -personality- that is interesting to me, not the “sex” per se.

    I laughed when I read you didn’t pick up the series again. Neither have I xD

    I came across an excerpt from the next book after this one, and as I was reading it…ugh the feeling was definitely there again. I think I ignored many things about the previous books, because it wasn’t that big of an issue. After the third book however, heh. I couldn’t blame my ignorance any longer.

    There were numerous warnings that this author liked shock trips e.g. the poor wolf boy in the first book who ends up on her porch, dead. I paused at that. There didn’t seem to be much foreshadowing to it.

    I think I read the same things you did, a letter from Briggs in reply to someone else’s opinion. She said she couldn’t help it, but a writer is not just helpless flotsam, recording the views as the river sends her along.

    Anyways. I’m pretty surprised at myself, I thought I’d forgotten these books. Heh.

    I have to say tho, ever since this book, I tread carefully at which books I pick up by her. I fear that another contrived plot point might jump out at me, no matter what it may be.

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  47. Lizard Brain » Blog Archive » MLN on UF: Why Jayne Heller Won’t Get Raped
    Oct 29, 2010 @ 17:07:59

    [...] care about the character, there’s a strong negative reaction.  Enough that (my thoroughly unscientific survey shows) people step away from the [...]

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