Review: Written in Red by Anne Bishop
This book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis branch.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.
Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.”
I was a little skeptical when I picked up this book, because the premise sounded like it could easily veer into overused tropes, but I was pleasantly surprised. There is a heck of a lot to like about this novel. It clocks in at a hefty 448 pages, but those pages will fly by faster than you can imagine.
Forming a solid foundation for the tale is some superb worldbuilding. Readers first get an abbreviated history of humans and Others learning to live together (or not, as the case sometimes is) and how relations between the races now stands. Throughout the story, Bishop sprinkles in details about the world, although much of it deals with the Others more than humans. The writing is evocative enough that I got really drawn in to the world of the Courtyard and its daily operations and denizens. A lot of this worldbuilding helps to reinforce the notion that Others are very different from humans and have different needs and wants. The running joke about “special meat” may be black humor, but it does underline how most Others see humans as food.
What drew me most to this story were the characters. Meg in particular grows and changes a great deal as the novel progresses, going from a scared girl with no experience in the world to a woman whose very innocence helps to build bridges to the beings that most other humans think of as scary monsters. The author also does a great job with the Others such as Simon and his nephew Sam, Henry Beargard, and the enigmatic coffeehouse owner Tess. It’s constantly evident that they do not think like humans, but over the course of the story they become likeable even in their strangeness.
That very strangeness gives rise to some moments that are humorous and charming by turns. Little Sam, who spends most of his time as a wolf cub, plays like a puppy and “talks” to Meg in Wolf. I kept getting the amusing mental image of a pup growling and grumbling in a squeaky voice as though expecting to be understood. The ponies that deliver the mail become greedy for treats, and the Crow shapeshifters develop an obsession with Tinker Toys. But it’s not all fun and games, and there are a few scenes in which humans run afoul of the Courtyard and pay for it in very violent ways.
This novel is fun and funny, with enough darkness to make you appreciate the light moments all the more. Written in Red is a layered, complex story that dodges all the common tropes of urban fantasy and delivers a breathtakingly unique world. I can’t wait for the sequel, as enough is left open to promise much more action in the future.