What convinced me to pick up Written in Red, then? Another reader’s reaction. Wendy Darling of The Midnight Garden wrote an amazingly positive review and I thought: I’m on a werewolf kick anyway (The Silvered, The Shape of Desire), this is Anne Bishop, readers I trust loved it, and I like the sound of the set up. Dear goodness, am I glad I bought in. I read the book all in one (very long) night, and I thought and dreamt about it for several following. Tonight I’m feeling a strong compulsion to re-read it as I write this review. Friends, Written in Red is addictive.
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.
Meg Corbyn is a blood prophet. When her skin is broken, she sees visions – valuable ones. In her world, that means that her body is a product and her life is not her own. When Meg escapes from her Controller and stumbles on the preserve of the Others, she thinks she’s found a reprieve. The Others, who are elementals, shifters and beings that have no name, make a place for Meg. But Meg’s keepers want her back, and the Others, led by Simon Wolfgard, will have to decide how far they will go to protect this human, and what it may mean for their world if they decide to keep her for their own.
As a character, Meg is a bit of a blank slate. She’s been enslaved her entire life, and a lot of her experiences in this book are ‘firsts.’ She’s putting intellectual knowledge together with real life, and sometimes it adds up to four, and sometimes to five. That said, she has strong convictions, a moral sensibility that remains unshaken, and a way of making connections with those who would frighten anyone else. It is this last quality that wins her a place in the Lakeside Courtyard, and that makes others so willing to fight for her. While I liked Meg in this installment, I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next with more history and practical experience under her belt. And please, PLEASE Ms. Bishop include a romantic plotline sometime soon (though i completely understand why there isn’t in this book. she’s just so new to making decisions!).
What really shines in this book? The world building, the politics, and the community of Others. Bishop has created an alternate New World peopled by terra indigene, paranormal creatures who view humans as interlopers and prey. This makes for a skewed power balance, as humans are the minority population, and they depend on the Others for resources and, essentially, permission to live. The politics of this, the working out of who lives and who dies and the whys and wherefores behind those decisions is absolutely fascinating. Pair it with unscrupulous humans in control of a force of blood prophets, and portrayals of damaged and lonely people, and you have a setting fraught with tension and emotion.
In the midst of all of that, Meg and the rest of the characters grapple with fundamental questions of the human experience: What will fear lead you to do? What does kindness mean, and how is it experienced differently person to person? What is the relationship between image and truth? It is absolutely gripping reading.
If I have a quibble (and I don’t, really), it is that you get to know everyone and their motivations except for the villains. This is another thing that further volumes in the series may address. Do I really want to empathize even the tiniest bit with these bad guys? No. They’re all evil all the time. So even my objection is a non-issue. In case I didn’t bring this home to you before, Written in Red is excellent. Read it! And please ignore that cover art. Okay, I’m done.
Recommended for: fans of Emma Bull, Wen Spencer and Michelle Sagara, and those who like fantasy books full of issues, tension, and unforgettable world building.