How “Fire Touched” by Patricia Briggs gets personal agency right
If you haven’t read any of Patricia Briggs’ books, I highly recommend them. They are fantasy books set in basically our world, but with werewolves, fae, and other magical creatures that humans are aware of, if not completely in the loop about the extent of their powers. And being set in the Pacific Northwest, there’s lots of cool landscape and locational shout-outs to the region!
“Fire Touched” is the 9th book in the Mercy Thompson series. Mercy is a mechanic who can shapeshift into a coyote and was raised (and now lives with) werewolves. She is also friends with vampires and fae, though the magical beings don’t usually get along with other types of magical beings. All sorts of drama between vampires, werewolves, humans, fae, and witches ensues.
In “Fire Touched” Mercy is asked to protect a human child who has magical powers because he was trapped by the fae for hundreds of years. So yes, he is not actually a child, but he looks like one and has not really developed social or life skills beyond that of a child.
I don’t want to spoil too much, and I can’t go into to many details without spoiling important events in the series for those who haven’t started it, but there’s one major thing that stuck out to me in this book and that is personal agency.
The way Patricia Briggs approaches personal agency in this book is so well thought out. Basically, Mercy is asked to protect this child for one day. He is not a well-behaved creature, and they teach him that he has to respect others in order to maintain his welcome. He needs protection because the Fae want him back and they don’t want to necessarily treat him well. There’s a moment in the book when he offers to go back in order to make everything easier for everyone else. Mercy says that’s not an option, and he basically says “you can’t tell me what to do”. She ponders, then says that he’s right. He can go back if he wishes. But they refuse to use his return to their advantage, so his return would not benefit them. I love this, because it maintains his agency while still refusing to let him suffer for their benefit
There’s a moment later when he ponders staying in Underhill (faery land, basically) to appease someone, and Mercy says (paraphrased) “If you want to stay, that’s one thing, but thinking you’re the only one who can make her happy, that’s a trap.” I love how she puts this, as it addresses putting yourself first and not allowing others to manipulate you.
The other thing I love about this series is that the cast is so diverse. It’s set in the Tri-cities (Washington), and involves characters from all backgrounds from all over the world, some real and some fantastical. It deals with conflict between people of different backgrounds and shows people overcoming differences for the greater good. There’s no default character. When a new character is introduced, you don’t assume they’re a certain color or orientation.
Overall, this is a fun read. There are points where the story is predictable, but there are also some great surprises. The books are formulaic to a point, but not so that they become boring or cliched (ok, there are some cliches, but they’re cliches for a reason, right?)
If you like fantasy and magical creatures, I definitely suggest the Mercy Thompson series.