by Anne Bishop
First book in The Others series.
Every time Meg Corbyn’s skin gets cut, she sees a vision of the future. This unique gift, which marks her as a cassandra sangue or blood prophet, makes Meg extremely valuable to the right people, and she has spent her entire life imprisoned. When the chance to escape arrives, she takes it – but once in the outside world, she has no idea how to survive. Luckily, she soon finds a job working as the Human Liaison at Lakeside Courtyard, a business district that belongs to the Others. Who are the Others? They are the non-human creatures – the vampires, the shapeshifters, the elemental beings – who tolerate humans for the goods they can create, but have not completely renounced hunting them as prey. Lakeside Courtyard is an experimental community, allow humans and Others to interact in the shops and café, but the men and women who visit must never forget that H. L. D. N. A. – Human Laws Do Not Apply – whenever they set foot inside. Meg doesn’t even know how to live a normal human life, let alone how to safely live amongst the Others, but these supernatural beings are the only ones strong enough to protect her from her former captors, who search endlessly to recapture her priceless skin and her prophetic powers.
This is one of the most entertaining books I’ve read this year. Where to begin? Let’s start with the idea of the cassandra sangue, which I thought was excellent. If a way to reliably predict the future was discovered, you know that someone would soon figure out how to monetize it. In a world where all major business deals and every military action can be “tested” before acting on them, the organization who controls the prophets has all the power. It’s all too easy to imagine how this would lead to those possessing the gift of prophecy would be kept healthy, well-educated and pampered – but always under the strictest control. It’s a scary idea, but yet it’s also, sadly, completely believable.
The Others, too, are wonderfully well-imagined. Bishop’s werewolves are not humans who occasionally don a wolfskin – oh no. They are bestial creatures who treat humans as little more than meat. They can adopt a human shape and act like one, when the necessity arrives, but it is not what they truly are. Likewise, there are other animal shapeshifters, like crows and bears, and even when they look like humans they retain characteristics of their animal self.
The book is full of dark humor. The butcher, for example, occasionally offers “special meat” for sale – always after a human has disappeared within the borders of Lakeside Courtyard. When Meg innocently calls and asks him what kind of “special meat” werewolf cubs eat, he is understandably freaked out. Time and time again, Anne Bishop strikes that perfect balance between silly and serious.
The secondary characters really bring depth to the world-building. While the exotic world of the Others can’t help but intrigue, the humans more than hold their own. There’s a police officer named Monty, new to town, who is trying to open lines of communications with the Others – who, you’ll remember, proudly ignore human laws. He refuses to bow to the fear and suspicion humans usually reserve for the Others. Another human, Asia, wants to be an actress. She’s convinced that if she becomes part of the Others community at Lakeside Courtyard, she’ll become the celebrity she deserves to be. Every time she appears, the world becomes viewed as if part of a CSI-type TV show, and she’s the star of the show.
I’d say that the book reminds me a bit of the TV series Grimm - great show, by the way - as they are both populated with supernatural creatures that can adopt human skins but are ultimately something very different. The major difference is simply that while the Wesen of Grimm try to blend into human civilization, the Others absolutely refuse to do the same.
Written in Red was a fantastic, suspenseful adventure that I highly recommend!
5 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore
2011: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
2010: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O’Connor McNees
2009: Women are the readers, according to UK Telegraph