I’m a huge fan of Anne Bishop. I’ve devoured everything she’s read, and the Black Jewels series is one of my all time favourite dark-fantasy-romances.
I was thrilled when her new urban fantasy series, The Others, hit the streets. Written in Red is the first in what is currently a three-part (with at least 5 planned) series: 1) Written in Red, 2) Murder of Crows and 3) Vision in Silver.
The books set up a parallel universe where humans share their world with ‘earth natives:’ creatures who span the range of usual suspects in urban fantasy and fairytales such as vampires and shifters, to more weird and unusual creatures such as the elementals, women who embody air, fire, winter, spring, and more.
But unlike in some urban fantasies, Bishop’s Others aren’t that keen on humans. An uneasy interaction exists where the Others rent land to humans, and provide them with natural resources, in exchange for access to human-made products.
To keep this peace, each human city has a ‘Courtyard’, where the earth natives who deal with the humans live. One such Courtyard is Lakeside, and is headed by the shapeshifter Simon Wolfgard.
The Others #1: Written In Red
Written in Red begins with a strange human turning up at the gates of the Lakeside Courtyard. Meg becomes employed as the Courtyard’s Human Liaison – dealing with humans on behalf of the Others.
But she’s not just human. She’s a Cassandra Sangue, a Blood Prophet – a woman who when she bleeds, sees the future. Her entrance into the world of the Courtyard brings chaos to the earth natives who lives there, who find themselves adopting the gentle girl who is trying to find her way in the world.
Like all Bishop’s books, the book has dark and adult themes. Meg has escaped from a lifetime in captivity, where she was held by people who imprison blood prophets and sell their prophecies. The blood prophets’ bodies are sold as well as the cuts on their body that bring their visions of the future to life.
The Others have a pragmatic and sometimes cold view of the value of human life, and Bishop brings alive their alien perspective beautifully. There’s casual violence and cruel death along with cookies and friendship.
Despite the dark themes the book remains an addictive delight. Meg has a sweetness about her that is endearing, but the sweetness is combined with strength of character and perseverance. Simon is a snarly (love that word) predator who adopts Meg into the Courtyard, as much to his own surprise as to anyone else’s. There’s no actual romance in book one, as the characters get to know each other, though there are strong hints for the future.
There is also a strong and diverse cast of secondary characters, including Monty, the police detective who has his own issues, and gets involved with the Courtyard, slowly coming to understand that working with the Courtyard and not against them could mean the difference between the destruction of the city or not.
I enjoyed the fact that Meg, whilst clearly having some special qualities, makes a difference in the world of the Others through her kindness and inner strength rather than any kind of fighting skills. Her innocence (partly from the fact she has been brought up in a closed world, partly from her own heritage as a Cassandra Sangue), as she is continuously exposed to new stimuli and people, combines with an optimism that should be belied by her previous treatment, but isn’t.
The Others #2: Murder of Crows
The Others #3: Vision in Silver
The third in The Others series, Vision in Silver deepens our understanding of the lore of Bishop’s latest world. The Cassandra Sangue have been freed, but there are consequences that the Others, and the humans that work with them, didn’t foresee. The Humans First movement capitalise on this, and use the situation against the Others – with no real idea of what they’re up against.
One thing I liked about this book was that it showed a little of Meg’s flaws. Meg has an innocence and a sweetness about her, for sure, but just like any child introduced to the world, she can also be selfish. She’s given some firm-but-fair feedback from one of the other characters in the book, as she continues to find her way outside the compound she was brought up in.
There’s a plot thread that centres on the police detective Monty and his ex-wife and daughter which means that Monty and the human police get an even bigger role in the book, and more violence and clashes between the ‘wolf-lovers’ and the Humans First league (book). Other secondary characters such as Tess and Vlad, as well as the others in the ‘human pack’ are also developed.
The conflict between humans and the Others gets larger and larger, until the Courtyard’s ‘Human pack’ are threatened. Simon has pretty much adopted them by this point, and is looking ahead to find a way to protect them in the same way he looks out for the earth natives.
Meg and Simon sit as a buffer between earth natives and humans, and in this book Simon in particular starts work towards a vision of them sharing the earth in a way that has never been attempted before.
Bishop’s world building continues to be intense, with small details and big all taken care of to create a realistic and yet uniquely individual world. The relationship between Meg and Simon continues to grow, with their alien perspectives creating an unusual romance that they’re not quite aware of yet – but the reader most definitely is.
I’m very glad that a fourth book is scheduled for release next year, and a fifth has been slated. The books are fun – often laugh out loud funny – touching, and totally engrossing. Highly recommended.