This is book 4 of the Mercy Thompson series. Although it is a complete story, some of the dramatic impact comes from knowing who these people are and how they got here, so read the series in order starting with Moon Called.
I took a long time with this book, even though it's just as fast paced and about the same length as the earlier Mercy books, because I was distracted by other stuff and not reading much, and my reading experience suffered, but just going over the book in my mind for this review has made me realize that it's a better book than I'd realized at first. It is a standard trope of the genre that vampires are inscrutable and engage in mind-bogglingly complicated plots, but in this book, Briggs doesn't just tell us this, she shows us, remarkably convincingly. There is interesting werewolf stuff too, and some pretty insightful just plain people stuff.
9 out of 10.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
Mercy is working through her rape trauma, having a panic attack when she tries to sleep with Adam, when Stefan drops into her living room, horribly tortured and almost dead. He feeds from her, coming close to killing her, and then from Adam and Paul who come to rescue her. Then her shop gets trashed, including an occult symbol of two crossed bones on her door. It's vampire magic, naming her a traitor. Just then, a college friend shows up out of nowhere and asks for Mercy's help with a ghost. Mercy is convinced that the vampires are going to kill her. Maybe she can run away, but she doesn't have the money, and she's too bound to Adam anyway. She goes to Spokane and discovers that her friend's husband's best client is James Blackwell, the vampire who owns Spokane and doesn't tolerate any other supernatural creatures on his turf. Even Stefan thinks this guy is really scary. Mercy looks at the clues and comes to the conclusion that Blackwell is trying to expand into the Tri-Cities, and passes along a warning to Marisilia, which apparently makes her happy, because she becomes willing to negotiate with the wolves. She arranges a vampire trial, where Stefan, who has renounced the seethe, witnesses against Estelle and Bernard, who have been plotting to overthrow Marisilia. Stefan as a now independent witness means that vampire rules allow her to kill Estelle and return Bernard to the European vampire who made him. Mercy discovers that her panic attacks are from Stefan, who was tortured terribly as Marisilia killed his sheep while he was helpless. To rescue her, Adam binds her to the Pack, without bothering to ask the rest of the Pack; some of the Pack are quite displeased about a coyote being made part of the pack. Mercy manages to accept the Pack, animosities and all, and to sleep with Adam. Then Corban, Mercy's friend's husband, shows up with a taser, just at the moment that Mercy is conveniently psychically burned out from opening herself too fully to the Pack bond. He says that Blackwell has Chad, his deaf son, and then he ties her up and stuffs her in his trunk. Mercy shapeshifts, freeing herself from her bonds, but she believes that if she pops the trunk and runs, she'll be killing Chad, so she goes along. She soon discovers that Amber, her friend, is a zombie under Blackwell's control. Blackwell intends to hold her prisoner and take her blood, because Blackwell's vampire gimmick is that he can use the magic powers of the people he drains, and Mercy has the power to control ghosts. Blackwell can walk in the day because he's drinking the blood of an oak man, a fae who is part tree. The walking stick shows up and the oak man uses it to stake Blackwell when Mercy throws herself at him to save Corban. Dying, Blackwell gives his blood to the vampire ghost; with blood freely given, she has the power to command Mercy to die, but Mercy manages to hold her off. The oak man blows a hole in the prison, allowing sunlight to come in and finish off Blackwell and apparently the vampire ghost.
Then, having defeated the Monster, we learn the full depths of Marisilia's plot. She didn't really kill Stefan's sheep; she faked it to make him believe he was cast out, so that she could get rid of Estelle and Bernard. But she didn't really kill them, and she wants Stefan back. And Stefan, though he is upset about his sheep, could forgive her this, but he's really pissed off at her because she tried to have him kill Mercy. Marisilia claims to still wish Mercy dead, but she says she can't kill her. It's not quite clear if she's bound by the treaty she made with the wolves, or by her love for Stefan, or because under all of the layers of vampire inscrutability she likes Mercy after all.