Patricia Briggs has a steady pattern going in her Mercy Thompson series (and her Alpha and Omega series). I read them for her great depiction of long-term, committed relationships in urban fantasy. They’re my candy reads when I need a cute, snarky, action-packed book to lift my spirits.
But Silence Fallen comes with caution tape.
“Fair warning—the timeline is not completely linear,” Briggs says in a note to the reader, as if responding directly to beta reader or editorial feedback she couldn’t quite address in the prose itself.
On the first read, I remember being tired, not quite tracking what happened from chapter to chapter, and never remembering enough to be confused about the timeline. This read, I’m not sure what my problem was. The timeline isn’t linear. Some scenes go back in time when switching POVs. Some scenes go back in time in the same POV, showing scene B before scene A, so the readers could experience the full impact of conclusion C afterward.
I liked it. I’ve certainly gone back in time when switching POVs. I trusted my reader to keep up, but it may have been easier, since most of the time when I’m doing that, there isn’t much cross-communication between my plot lines. Or scenes overlap, and we have reference events showing how they happen relative to each other.
Briggs handled it by having one of her main characters comment on the timeline at the beginning of each chapter.
I’m going to have to keep in mind how many people that doesn’t work for.
The real warning I needed the first time through this book was the completely unexpected character twist at the end. Somehow, I never saw it coming.
This time, I gleefully read through, picking out every detail along the way.
Briggs introduces a familiar character under a false name midway through the book, and on the first read through, and I had no idea until the last chapter, when his identity is revealed. On the second read-through, I got to see how Briggs did it.
First, she highlighted mannerisms that were completely uncharacteristic of the character we knew. Over and over, interspersed through the chapters, she emphasized how other characters responded to this trait. It worked, because what we do know about this character is that he’s a good actor, and he’s good at going unnoticed. Now, we not only have a reference to this exceptional talent, we’ve seen it fool some very powerful people. Fantastic long-term character development!
Second, when mistaken for a relative, he distanced himself from the relative by emphasizing the differences in their heritage. Factually accurate but incredibly misleading, even to the audience.
Third, she was intentional about his name. We don’t get a name in his first scene, despite his several lines of dialogue and the cadence of introducing all the other characters. That should have been a clue. When his name was introduced, it was at the end of a chapter, a position of importance, and Briggs spent half a page highlighting where the name came from. Maybe that should have been a hint, too. (The next chapter ends with a full-page discussion of the character’s real identity. Nicely done, Mx. Briggs!)
Next, we see our mystery character giving advice to an Alpha werewolf and that advice being graciously received. Sure, Briggs highlights that submissive wolves aren’t unintelligent, and it’s not totally uncharacteristic for this Alpha to work as a team with those under his care, but from other characters’ reactions, we see that this dynamic is unexpected. It does seem a little too easy, and it should be, since he’s not who he says.
What should have been a dead giveaway was when the narrative shifts into a third POV—that of the mystery submissive wolf with the totally-not-assumed name. In a critical moment, he pulls the Alpha aside for a corrective conversation. It’s explained to other characters as a measure of their trust that the submissive wolf can confide in the Alpha from a different pack, but as the readers watch through the strange wolf’s eyes, we see his absolute certainty that this is the right thing to do, and that it must happen now. There is no hesitation. There is no deference. It’s not the attitude of anyone submissive at all. By now, I should have known I was misled. And he’s awfully well informed about everything… We even see the Alpha’s absolute faith in the mystery wolf, asking the mystery wolf to shoot him if things don’t go well. But, surely, Alpha is just that nice of a guy…in the middle of a vampire seethe…with his wife missing.
We see the mystery wolf’s POV again in the next chapter, and there’s something off about him. As events rise to the climax and fights break out, he’s not afraid. He watches, clearly picking a preferred winner but unconcerned that the outcome will be anything other than what he expects. He takes time to enjoy the aesthetics of the fight and mull over why it’s progressing the way it is, which is a really effective way to communicate his age. He’s seen it all. He sees the patterns enough to have confidence in the result, and he can take him to enjoy some aspects of it. Two pages later, we see that it isn’t that he doesn’t care. He cares enough to help the noncombatants out of the way and do so with extreme competence. In the aftermath, he pulls together the available resources to heal the Alpha he’s traveling with.
Briggs continues to play with her audience. In the next chapter, the mystery werewolf is introduced to a man who already knows him, but while she’s built up the tension between this man and the wolf’s true identity, the tense reunion passes quickly and almost unremarked. (Which Briggs retcons later by acknowledging a recent favor done to assuage the past hurt.)
Three pages from the end, Mercy calls out the mystery wolf’s true identity, and we get the impression he was present just in case and did almost nothing—almost nothing but the key moment of pulling the Alpha aside and talking sense into him.
I hope to pull off this kind of well constructed story someday. In the meantime, I just purchased the next two books in my favorite format—mass market paperback! I’m looking forward to some more downtime with some favorite characters until classes start up again.