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Saturday, April 20, 2013

'Written in Red' The Others #1 by Anne Bishop


From the BLURB:

Meg Corbyn is on the run. Alone and desperate, and ill-equipped to deal with the real world after a lifetime of imprisonment, Meg stumbles into Lakeside Courtyard, where the Others reside. Meg knows entering a courtyard is a dangerous risk -- most people who tangle with the Others end up dead -- but it′s the only place she′ll be safe from the people chasing her.

For Simon Wolfgard, leader of the Others residing in Lakeside, Meg is a puzzle until he discovers she′s a valuable blood prophet and can see the future. Then he has to decide if she is worth the potential fight to keep her in the Courtyard. It will be a fight not just with the humans but with the rest of the Others -- as well as a fight with his own confusing feelings towards Meg...

For Police Office Montgomery, Meg is the property he′s supposed to recover -- and the spark that could start a fight with the Others that would wipe out the human city of Lakeside.

And for Meg, who has seen her own future, living in the Courtyard is a chance to have a life -- for what little time she has left.

Meg Corbyn is desperate to escape the Controllers, and the cutting that she was bred for . . . Meg is so desperate that she’s even willing to hide in plain sight, amongst monsters.

Even though Meg only knows and understands the world according to the flashcards and film reels the Controllers played for her, Meg knows enough to understand that the terra indigene are dangerous. They are ‘The Others’ – often cloaked in human skin, but they are far from human. The terra indigene is the collective name given to any variety of monsters and ‘others’ – they can be wolves and vampires. They can transform into birds, or control the elements – and some are so ancient and dangerous, that nothing is known about them at all. 

The terra indigene live separate from the humans, in their own territories where few ‘monkey’ humans are permitted to work or visit. There is no human law recognised, and secrecy is key. 

Running from the Controllers and desperate to live on her own terms (at least, until the prophecy of her death comes to fruition) Meg stumbles across a job advertised in the terra indigene Lakeside territory. The job is for ‘human liaison’, and Meg thinks it’s her best bet to live amongst the ‘Others’ where human law has no standing and she may just be out of reach of the Controllers who hunt her.

Simon Wolfguard is leader of the Lakeside Others – and he knows Meg Corbyn is hiding something, and running from someone. Furthermore, she does not smell like prey (the way other ‘monkeys’ do) so he is intrigued . . . and agrees to let her work and reside in Lakeside. At least, she’s permitted there until Simon uncovers her secrets – and then it will be for him to decide if she is too much of a threat to live.

‘Written in Blood’ is the first book in a new urban-fantasy series called ‘The Others’, by Anne Bishop.

There has been quite a buzz building around this book for weeks now. I've seen the cover cropping up on numerous review blogs, and it has received a rash of five-star reviews from a number of credible GoodReads members. The tipping-point for me came when the wonderful Wendy Darling of ‘the midnight garden’ wrote a stellar review that had me absolutely convinced I had to make Bishop’s book a priority read. And now I owe Ms Darling a great big ‘THANK YOU’ because ‘Written in Red’ is going on my 2013 favourites list. . . 

Anne Bishop is the author of successful high-fantasy series ‘The Black Jewels’ – and she brings that wonderful fantasy-complexity to this new series. ‘The Others’ is set in an alternate world to ours – ‘Namid’ – continents are renamed, as are days of the week (it seems to be quite Wiccan-inspired; ‘Moonsday, Windsday’. . . ) Bishop begins the book with ‘A Brief History of the World’ to orientate readers – but from there it’s a freefall into the story. For much of the book we follow Meg Corbyn, who is herself a hatchling in this world, having been confined by the four-walls of ‘the Controllers’ and taught everything by watching movies and flashcards . . . so Meg’s uncertainty of this world also aids readers, and we stumble along together. 

Anne Bishop is writing about some ‘traditional’ monsters that we’re all familiar with – werewolves and vampires, shape-shifters, changelings . . .  but they are uniquely Bishop’s own in this universe. I’m not going to say that Bishop’s is the only werewolf book I've enjoyed (hello, Patricia Briggs!) but what makes this series so interesting is that it veers away from what has become a fairly unoriginal storyline in the urban-fantasy genre of late. Most books featuring vampires/werewolves nowadays are concerned with how these supernatural beings fit into human society – how they try to go unnoticed, or hold onto their humanity. In ‘The Others’, monsters don’t care about trying to fit in or be human. They’re not human. They’re monsters – and proud of it. They revel in blood and gore; they take their justice, don’t trust humans and barely tolerate them. They are gloriously, unabashedly and refreshingly monstrous; 

There would be a spike in the number of girls who went out for a walk in the woods and were never heard from again. There always were when stories came out portraying the terra indigene as furry humans who just wanted to be loved.
 
Most of the terra indigene didn’t want to love humans; they wanted to eat them. Why did humans have such a hard time understanding that?

The difference in this story is what happens when Meg Corbyn enters their world . . . she is herself, not quite human. She does not smell like prey, and she does not react to the monsters the same way other humans do. Simon Wolfguard, Lakeside leader, is especially confounded and frustrated by ‘the Meg’ (this, adorably, kept reminding me of ‘the Wendy-bird’). Meg forces the Others to think differently about humans and their treatment of them, to question their place in the human world and vice-versa. 

I've seen many people categorise this book as purely fantasy – but I think the ‘urban’ is important because Lakeside is like a miniature city of the terra indigene and much of the story hinges on the Courtyard, where Others and humans interact and often clash. And there are subplots going on that suggest this is a world in which crime, corruption and consumerism are at the forefront. Meg is being hunted by Controllers who want her body for how much money it can get them, they want her blood for the power it can reveal. . . But I also think Anne Bishop was having a bit of a tongue-in-cheek moment when she created a villain in human character Asia Crane – who has been promised her own detective TV show if she can gather information on the Others and goings-on of Lakeside, and sell the information to high-paying ‘backers’. Many urban-fantasy books feature the tough-as-nails female protagonist who is in some form of law enforcement. In Bishop’s book, the villain is practicing for such a part, but is ultimately playing a deadly game for the sake of fame. . . 

I have said that this is in no way a ‘paranormal romance’. That’s not to say there isn’t an attraction building, with the possibility of romance MUCH later on in the series. . . But those expecting to read ‘Written in Red’ and find hyper-sexualized, romanticized Alpha-male werewolf heroes will be very disappointed. What’s great about ‘Written in Red’ is that it’s definitely a book about connections, and how Meg makes a family for herself. Simon is a wonderful antagonist for her in the beginning, but then their relationship starts evolving and becoming far more complex and interesting . . . especially when Meg meets Simon’s young nephew pup, Sam, who has had a hard little life so far. I loved all secondary characters of Lakeside – and I especially liked their changing attitudes to Meg, how she worms her ways into their ‘pack’ and their hearts. 

‘Written in Red’ is a stunning blend of urban Gothicism – there’s nothing ‘paranormal romance’ here, and the refreshingly gory take on monsters who have recently been relegated to the romance genre (werewolves & vampires especially) is a terribly intriguing one. I can see why so many young-adult readers have ventured over to this book – it’s perfect for those craving a little more complexity to their fantasy, who don’t want their stories eclipsed by sex & romance, and are looking for a series they can settle into for a long-haul ride . . .  I actually think Bishop’s book should feature on YALSA’s ‘Alex Awards’ list of books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults. I know I’m hooked, and I've already marked in my calendar the release of second book ‘Murder of Crows’. 

5/5 

2 comments:

  1. I used to be an avid reader of Anne Bishop but I kind of fell off the bandwagon a few years ago. I think I am going to have to borrow this one because it is the start of a new series and see if I still enjoy her books as much as I did. If yes, then I will have to catch up on the Black Jewels books and the new Ephemera books that I haven't read yet.

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    1. Well, her other books don't really interest me all that much ... but 'Written in Red' blew me away. Maybe if you can recommend me one of her earlier seres, I'll give it a go?

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