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The guilt-free fantasy of Patricia Briggs

March 22, 2011 |  6:00 am

River-marked Fantasy fiction has a poor reputation among those who carry a torch for great literature. And that’s putting it mildly.

In her 2005 book, "Fantasy Fiction: An Introduction,"  Lucie Armitt, a professor of English at England’s University of Salford, wrote that  " ‘Fantasy’ is a word commonly disparaged by literary and nonliterary voices alike....[it] takes on a kind of vertical trajectory that must be flattened, smoothed out, replaced with a more acceptable ‘horizontal’ outlook. So we are encouraged, in life, to keep our feet on the ground and our ambitions firmly anchored while fantasy writing guiltily reaches for ‘blue sky.’ "

Nonetheless, millions of us find it easy to live with the guilt, if the bestseller lists are any indication. And one such book is  Patricia Briggs' "River Marked," which entered the L.A. Times' bestseller list Sunday (at No. 6).

Werewolves? Check. Vampires? Shape-shifters? Check. Check.

"River Marked" is an "urban fantasy" whose main character is a car mechanic/shape-shifter -- with a degree in history. It’s one in a series (the Mercy Thompson Series, to be exact) that started in 2006 with  "Moon Called."

As the Las Vegas Review Journal explains it: "Readers who follow Mercy know she lives in a complex world where the Fae live on a reservation outside the Tri-Cities [Washington] and werewolves are the latest paranormal creatures to have come out of the closet. Vampires, too, exist, but not to the general knowledge of the public. Chance, friendship and her own loyalties have embroiled Mercy in the troubles of all those groups at one time or another."

So, who is Patricia Briggs? You won’t find many profiles in the so-called major media. But at her publisher's website, Briggs explains that she’s been  "a storyteller all my life. When I was in high school, I used to amuse myself by driving through the woods at night and seeing how long it would be before I scared the pants off my friends -- and if I could do it before I scared myself."

Some of Briggs’ work references Native American culture. On her website, she says she knew, from the beginning of the Mercy Thompson series, that "I would need to work in more walkers and the Native American culture in our area."

She continues: "I am not attempting to preserve culture, or record actual events or stories. Instead I bow my head in gratitude to those storytellers who have gone before and paved a way for me to play in their stomping grounds."

How successful is Briggs? Bestsellers are one indication.... Here’s another: She’ll be at Comic-Con this summer. It seems as though reaching for that "blue sky" is working out.

-- Alice Short

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