On Mercy Thompson and Kate Shugak

I’m having the somewhat mind-warping experience of reading two amazing books about two of my favorite characters right at the same time — and it struck me that despite seemingly huge differences, Mercy Thompson and Kate Shugak have a lot in common.

First, a bit about both.

Frost BurnedMercy Thompson, the heroine of Patricia Briggs’s popular urban fantasy series, is a VW mechanic living in the Tri-Cities area of the state of Washington. Mercy is a coyote shapeshifter who seems to always find herself at the center of trouble. Over the course of nine novels so far, Mercy has become more and more involved with the local werewolf pack, first as a neighbor and a nuisance, but eventually as the Alpha’s mate and wife. Along the way, Mercy has taken on a whole host of bad guys, from demonic vampires to volcano gods, and has lived to tell the tale, sometimes only by the skin of her teeth.

15998421And Kate Shugak? Kate is the heroine of a mystery series by Dana Stabenow. Kate is a former investigator for the Anchorage DA’s office who lives on a homestead in the wilds of Alaska and would love to be left alone — except she keeps getting called back into the life of investigating crime and corruption. The bad guys here aren’t supernatural. So far, I’ve read six of the Kate books (out of 20 currently published), and I’ve seen Kate take on oilmen, drug dealers, sleazy businessmen looking to worm their way into exploiting natural resources, and smugglers of native artifacts.

So why do I equate the two? Let’s see:

Kate and Mercy are both outsiders. Kate grew up surrounded by family and tribe, but has spent most of her life wanting to distance herself from her grandmother’s manipulations and native politics. Mercy spent most of her life believing herself to be the only coyote shapeshifter in existence, never quite fitting in among the werewolves who’ve always been around her. Additionally, Kate and Mercy both were raised by foster parents, and seem to both carry scars from the absence of their own parents in their lives.

Kate is an Aleut. Mercy is of Native American heritage. Both have to deal with the blatant and implicit biases and injustices that come their way as women of color.

Kate is a kick-butt investigator who isn’t afraid to fight, is amazing with firearms, and can defend herself and anyone around her when things get dangerous. Mercy is a highly trained martial arts expert, who throws herself into a fight when needed, and will always do whatever she can to protect anyone who needs her.

Kate and Mercy have relationships that matter to them, but they’re also strong women who would never take orders or be less than 100% themselves just because of a man.

Kate and Mercy are survivors. They’ve been through hell. They’re scarred. They’ve risked themselves time and time again to do the right thing and protect those weaker than themselves.

Kate never goes anywhere without her huge dog Mutt, half-Husky, half-wolf. And Mercy seems to always be surrounded by her very own pack of wolves, most especially her beloved Alpha wolf Adam.

Kate and Mercy are both highly self-sufficient. Kate lives alone (with Mutt) at her homestead, miles from the nearest town, where she single-handedly hunts, chops wood, fetches what she needs, repairs building and vehicles, and keeps herself alive throughout Alaskan winters. Mercy is a talented mechanic who can fix anything with a motor, skilled with her hands and making a go of being a woman in a man’s world, defying gender roles on a daily basis.

Above all, they’re both smart, strong women who love deeply, cherish their independence, champion those who can’t stand up for themselves, fight for justice, and take no bull from anyone.

So despite the vast differences in their worlds — one full of the supernatural, the other a mundane world full of complicated people and politics — both Mercy and Kate are stand-out heroines who deal with tough surroundings and dangerous threats, but always remain true to themselves.

See, this is what I get for reading the new Mercy novel while in the middle of a Kate audiobook! I find the two running together in my mind, and can’t help thinking that it’s too bad that they belong to different worlds. They’d make an awesome team.

In any case, I absolutely love the world of Mercy Thompson, and I’m falling more and more under the spell of Kate Shugak. I hope to have many more books about both in my future!


4 thoughts on “On Mercy Thompson and Kate Shugak

  1. Just finished Shugak #6 myself, and am ready for Breakup. I’m loving the series too, never heard of it until I saw Diana Gabaldon’s recommendation on her website.

    • You know, I couldn’t remember where I’d first heard about Dana Stabenow, but I have a feeling now that you mention it that it was Diana Gabaldon for me too! I’ll be starting Breakup this weekend too!

  2. They sounds like very good characters and sotries, but personally, even after your breakdown of the both of them, I incline toward Kate Shugak the most. Probably just a matter of personal likings 🙂

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