This is Mercy Thompson book 5. It's a complete story, but it does use established characters. If you read it by itself it would probably make sense, but there are things you need to know about the characters that aren't fully spelled out to get the full impact. Start at the beginning with Moon Called and read them in order.
I finished this last night, somewhat after I should have been asleep since I was getting up at 5:30 this morning. If I put this off, I will be less tired, but I will also be likely to forget more, so I'm pushing myself to do it now. I will also mention that this is the second of the two books that I was bad and bought in hardcover at InConJunction rather than waiting for paperback.
This series continues to be superb. The plot has enough complexity to be compelling and not so much that it ties my brain in knots. The world is illuminated a little more and continues to be consistent, believable once you've bought into the genre, and compelling. And, as always, the characters are the key. Briggs' heroes and supporting good guys leap out of the page and command attention and emotional involvement. They are somewhat larger than life, yet they have flaws and weaknesses, and the way they manage to persevere and conquer their own weaknesses makes them shine. I read the first half of this book quickly, and it was glorious. Then I foolishly allowed myself to be distracted, in part out of a foolish desire to try to make it last. This left me feeling that the rest of the book was merely great, not perfect, as I was not quite as fully immersed in it. (Note to self: when a really good book demands your full attention, let it have it, even though it hastens the time you'll be reading a less good book.) However, I do realize that about this time in the unfolding of the plot, the story did start unfolding in a way that was just a little more predictable and less compelling.
9 out of 10.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
Mercy goes on a date with Adam. It was supposed to be a big romantic evening, but he got so frisky he messed up his tux, so they ended up at a bowling alley. The other bowlers are becoming nervous because they recognize Adam the werewolf. Mercy gets the notion that she needs to show the people that Adam's awesomeness is a good thing, and she comes up with the idea of faking being an incompetent bowler and throwing her ball at a toddler so Adam can jump in the way. The loyal reader knows that Something Is Really Wrong Here -- Mercy would *not* do something like this, even though Adam does justify Mercy's confidence by in fact catching the errant ball. We continue to see wrongness in her unwillingness to open up to Adam about her feelings afterward. Then Mercy gets called to the hospital to pick up Samuel, who's been in a car accident. Loyal readers again know what's happening immediately; it wasn't an accident, it was a suicide attempt, thwarted only because a cop came along. (He wrecked on a bridge. He tried to crawl out of the wreck and go into the river, but once the cop was there, he wouldn't go because the cop would probably try to rescue him, and he won't endanger an innocent that way.) Only Samuel isn't in control any more. His wolf, who does not want to die, has taken control. Mercy has a problem. Werewolf law requires that a werewolf whose wolf is in charge be put down, because they go berserk and kill lots of bystanders and then go poof in a little while anyway. Mercy trusts Sam (the wolf) not to be a danger. Maybe she's right, and maybe she's being stupid, but she's willing to bend the law where Adam and the Marrok presumably wouldn't be. So she agrees to hide Sam for a while. She uses her fight with Adam as an excuse to keep him away. Then she takes Sam, who has turned fuzzy by now, with him to the shop, forgetting that she'd arranged to have Gabriel's family come over to clean in return for work on their family car. She pretends Sam is a dog. The baby falls in love with the giant puppy, who permits her to ride him like a pony and generally behave in ways that would be dangerous if Sam were a dog. Then a guy shows up at the shop with a gun. Mercy hears screams from the garage and she's convinced that Sam has snapped. She grabs a handy stick and disarms the bandit. Who turns out to be a reality TV bounty hunter who's trying to serve a warrant on Adam. He just assumes the werewolf he found at the shop is the one he's looking for. Adam shows up. Ben spots a fae skulking on a roof and chases. The fae drops the rifle and gets away. The rifle was loaded with silver bullets of the same caliber as the pistol the idiot was carrying. Gabriel's mom is incensed with Mercy for letting her baby play with the werewolf on the pretense that he is a dog, she feels betrayed and decrees that Gabriel is no longer to have anything to do with Mercy. Mercy pretty much agrees with her, because she knows that this werewolf is more dangerous than Gabriel's mom knew. The whole scene was actually a setup to kill Mercy, not Adam, and make it look like an accident. Mercy's friend the bookstore owner goes missing. Mercy has a book she borrowed from him. She gradually twigs to the idea that someone really wants this book, so she hides it with Kyle. Sam and Mercy go to the bookstore to look for clues and find that it's been trashed by fae. They get jumped by one in the basement. Mercy had snuck out of her trailer without the bodyguard Adam meant her to have. Then arsonists blow up Mercy's trailer. Adam thinks Mercy and Sam are inside and runs into the fire. Mary Jo who was supposed to be guarding knew that Mercy wasn't in there but didn't stop Adam. Adam is badly burned. Ben is also burned, not as badly. Mercy wakes up to find Adam in her head, frantic, thinking she was dead. Adam is taken home to recover. They know someone is using pack magic against Mercy. Adam is supposed to be protected from anyone untrustworthy getting near him while he's so vulnerable, but Paul manages to sneak into his room and challenge him. By stupid werewolf rules, Adam has to fight, immediately, or lose his status by default. Then Mary Jo pulls a fast one on the pack by challenging Paul for the right to challenge. As a female she isn't supposed to be able to do that, but it seems that she's got the hots for Adam. She fights Paul and loses, but in doing it she weakens Paul enough that when he goes on to fight Adam, Adam is able to just beat him and not kill him. (Even severely weakened, Adam is quite the badass.) And it comes out that Henry is the manipulator who's caused the whole mess. If Paul had killed Adam, Bran would have killed him, but Henry figured to inherit power out of the mess. Henry gets locked in the cage and ends up kicked out of the pack and delivered to Bran, who is trying to sort him out at the end of the book. But while this plot is being sorted out, the other thickens. Gabriel is kidnapped and the kidnapper is revealed as a faerie queen. Phil's grandmother, whom Mercy didn't trust when she met her earlier, turns out to be a powerful fae artificer who was done really dirty a long time ago. The faerie queen wanted an item that would steal a fae's magic and give it to the queen. Ariana would not agree, but her father ordered her to do it anyway. And set fae hounds on her, to savage her every day, until she broke. Only he ran out of power to summon the hounds, and called up werewolves by mistake. Ariana half made the item, it didn't fully work. She started to recover her sanity. She started to recover her magic once she didn't have the item -- the magic eating part works, but the passing it to another part doesn't. But a reminder of her ordeal -- meeting a hound or a werewolf -- puts her into a blind panic attack where her magic can endanger bystanders. Mercy lets Jesse tag along when meeting Ariana. It turns out that the sweater Jesse has from Gabriel won't let Ariana track Gabriel; she can use an object to track the person to whom it matters most, and the sweater now tracks Jesse. But she can track Gabriel through Jesse herself. Then Sam shows up and she nearly freaks out, but Samuel realizes that Ariana is someone he once loved and tried to help a long time ago. She hadn't known who he was so she'd never been able to track him down. Samuel suddenly has found something to live for. Zee opens a portal into the faerie queen's Elphame (sic), but he can only hold it for a little while. Mercy, Jesse, Sam, and Ariana go down the rabbit hole. The faerie queen catches them. Mercy challenges the queen. The queen demands that she hold her servant as it changes. Mercy wouldn't be able to hold the first form, fire, so Ariana takes her place. They agree that for each form Ariana can hold for three minutes, one of the prisoners gets to go. Mercy is the last, and the last form is that of a hound, and Ariana can't do it. The others leave. Mercy reveals that she doesn't own the book -- it still belongs to Phil, just rescued. So the queen tries to make Mercy a thrall. She shrugs off the binding, but then she has her witch do something that attacks Mercy's bond with Adam. Mercy gets trapped inside her own mind. After some time, Bran makes mental contact with her, and she starts being able to visualize the pack bonds as silver garlands. She starts to connect with them. Bran guides her to finding her broken mate bond with Adam, and she reconnects it. The cavalry arrive and kill off the faerie queen and the witch and Mercy and Adam are reunited in a touching final sex scene, where Adam is so hot for Mercy (who has been lost Underhill for a month) that he's not able to be gentle, and Mercy is so hot for Adam that she can shake off her remaining rape trauma and meet and match his unrestrained ferocious passion.
This is troublingly close to "they lived happily ever after". The series could end here; the most important multi-book plot arcs are resolved. Samuel is saved, Mercy is recovered, Mercy and Adam are really solidly together, and we don't have any obvious antagonists lying around. I'm pretty sure, though, that there are more books coming, and I am confident that they'll be good books that deserve to be written, not just fan service or contractual obligation.