If we had any hope for a shake-up in the formula, though, the first few pages of River Marked were quick to assure us the character dynamics had not changed. Not even a full chapter in, and we see Mercy, well, pulling a "Mercy" during an argument with her "babysitter", Darryl.
With Adam out of town, Mercy is out on her own for the evening, on her way to BFF Warren's place for a movie night. She decides to stop by and check on Stefan, as both she and the book seem to have realized that we haven't heard from him since Bone Crossed, and that this can't be good, given the state he was in. Anyway, she's at Stefan's house, trying to bully him into coming out with her, when Darryl calls to check in, because she's hasn't made it to Warren's yet. Apparently, the pack, at Adam's behest, has decided to ignore the fact that Mercy is a 30-year-old woman who doesn't need to be monitored like a child or prisoner, and has been keeping close tabs on her.
Mercy, totally justifiably, is sarcastic and defensive when she answers the call the first time, and hangs up on Darryl without giving him any real information. It's perfectly clear that she is fine, though, and that should be the end of it. Yet not two pages later, Darryl is calling her back, and Mercy instantly renegs on her rebellious stance and answers. She obediently fills him in on the details of her whereabouts and intentions, as if it was any business of his in the first place.
It's business as usual - the wolves are trying to control Mercy's every move, because after all, they know what's best for her, and though she makes a big show of rebelling (because she's a STRONG HEROINE OK?), Mercy follows this up by almost immediately doing exactly what they want her to. Nice to see things haven't changed.
The whole idea that "everyone else knows best" has been a problem for us throughout the series, but the wedding that kicks off River Marked is probably the single most frustrating demonstration that we've seen yet of just how little Mercy's desires matter to any of the other characters. We weren't too thrilled about the wedding to begin with, obviously, but a wedding's a wedding, and we didn't really expect it to be a Thing. We were so very unprepared for the sheer level of dickishness that the event would involve.
The set-up here is that, despite her desire to elope, Mercy and Adam have opted to have a wedding simply to appease Mercy's mother. She's not enjoying it, which makes sense, because a big, elaborate wedding seems at odds with Mercy's low-key personality. But she's doing it anyway, because her mother is Ultra Girly, and missed out planning a wedding for Mercy's half-sister, because she actually eloped.
However, unbeknownst to the happy couple, most of Mercy's family actually believe that she'll freak out during the preparations and end up eloping anyway, so they decide to be super-supportive about this, and take bets on when this will happen. Pretty soon everyone is in on this bet, including Mercy's mother - you know, the one she's DOING ALL THIS FOR in the first place. She goes so far as to goad Mercy into eloping by scaring the hell out of her with descriptions of horrifyingly elaborate decorations and stunts.
In the midst of all this, they all start feeling bad about driving Mercy to elope, so they start planning a surprise wedding on the side, that naturally still includes all of the things that Mercy found so repulsive in the first place.
This is probably supposed to be utterly hilarious, but it's not. It's not funny, it's not cute, and it's not sweet, no matter how much the book wants us to believe it is. It's actually pretty fucked up. This is Mercy's wedding, and by all rights it should be what Mercy wants it to be, which is pretty clearly elopement. But none of the characters take that into consideration - Mercy gets a wedding, first for the sake of indulging her mother's fantasy, and then to assuage everyone else's guilt.
It's pretty clear throughout the book how much Mercy's desires don't really matter to anyone. She bends for the sake of indulging everyone else, for the sake of keeping the peace or smoothing things over, and this dynamic even manages to extend into her marriage.
We were actually pretty surprised to get a scene in which Mercy's mother expresses some skepticism regarding Mercy and Adam's relationship. Seemed like everyone was already on board with that, but apparently not, and thank God perhaps sanity will finally be restored. It starts out well enough, with her mother warning Mercy that Alphas have their ways of influencing people, getting them to agree to things they normally wouldn't, and that this might not make for a healthy relationship. True enough, and a good point. But then she goes on to say this:
"...but remember confrontations aren't productive with an Alpha. You'll just lose - or worse, make him lose control."
"He won't hurt me, mom."
"Of course not. But a man like Adam, if he loses control, he'll feel terrible. He'll worry that he might have hurt you. Making him feel horrible isn't what you want."
So the advice Mercy gets from her mother is: don't argue - not just because you won't get anywhere, but because it will make Adam feel bad. Yet again, Mercy's being told that she's going to have to change her behavior to accomodate Adam's temper. And this would be ignorable if it were just her mother's opinion, but horrible part is, Mercy ACKNOWLEDGES THAT THIS IS TRUE, and acts accordingly. This is really just how their relationship is going to work.
The tail end of Mercy's conversation with her mother illustrates our other problem with this book's approach to Mercy's and Adam's relationship. Mercy's mother advises her daughter not to let Adam turn her into a "good little wife", because it won't make her happy. This is awesome, and again, we're glad that SOMEONE is acknowledging this possibility. But again, the discussion goes south. Mercy insists that Adam doesn't want a "good little wife", to which Mercy's mother says:
"Of course not. But he was taught how to be a husband when it was assumed that his wife would be a combination cook/housekeeper/mother who would need him to provide and protect her. He knows in his head and his hart that you are an equal, but his instincts were instilled a long time ago. You are going to have to help him with that and be patient with him."
You know what we never get tired of? People making excuses for Adam and the other wolves' behavior. There are dozens of them: it's their wolves that are aggressive, it's just in their nature, they're just old-fashioned, they're just being protective, they just love you so much. They shouldn't need excuses, and the excuses don't fix anything, but we've said it before, and we and the book just seem to disagree with that.
No, the real problem with this is that once again, we're being told about Adam and Mercy's relationship. We're being told that Adam sees Mercy as an equal, and this is supposed to make everything okay. But you know what we rarely, if ever, see? Adam treating Mercy as an equal. Christ, in this very book he has her baby-sat the same way he does his sixteen-year-old daughter. How does that demonstrate equality?
The problem here is that the book just doesn't seem to want to change the dynamics or Mercy and Adam's relationship, so it contents itself with telling, excusing, and explaining them away...
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