Series: THE OTHERS
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—2; Humor—3
Publisher and Titles: ROC
This ongoing post was revised and updated on 4/14/2017 to include a review of Etched in Bone, the fifth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first four novels.
NOVEL 5: Etched in Bone
After a human uprising was brutally put down by the Elders—a primitive and lethal form of the Others—the few cities left under human control are far-flung. And the people within them now know to fear the no-man’s-land beyond their borders—and the darkness.
As some communities struggle to rebuild, Lakeside Courtyard has emerged relatively unscathed, though Simon Wolfgard, its wolf shifter leader, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn must work with the human pack to maintain the fragile peace. But all their efforts are threatened when Lieutenant Montgomery’s shady brother arrives, looking for a free ride and easy pickings.
With the humans on guard against one of their own, tensions rise, drawing the attention of the Elders, who are curious about the effect such an insignificant predator can have on a pack. But Meg knows the dangers, for she has seen in the cards how it will all end—with her standing beside a grave.
To review: The Elders are "primal forms of terra indigene who guard the wild, pristine parts of the world.") They are extremely powerful creatures who view humans as insignificant beings who occasionally cause trouble and who occasionally serve as supper.Many of the surviving smaller shifters have moved away from human-occupied places, leaving the humans to the mercy of the Elders. Some shifters went into the wild country while others resettled in towns that still had buildings and human things and could be reclaimed.
Human survivors have moved into the reclaimed towns, many finding themselves under the rule of the local terra indigene. Currently, no humans are allowed to cross the wild country without permission, and no humans are allowed to be out and about at night—not ever. Breaking those rules invariably leads straight to a horrible death at the hands of the Elders (who are always hungry for meat).
The Elders are at a decision-making point. Even though they have always tried to stay well away from the humans, they realize that they can no longer do that. Some will have to watch the humans in case more enemies appear. Some of the Elders just want to kill all the humans and be done with it, but others disagree. In response to a call for across-the-board human deaths, one of the female Elders responds in shock, “You would kill the sweet blood not-Wolf?” (aka Meg). This brings the meeting to a halt as they consider Meg and her growing role in the life of the terra indigene. The question now becomes, “If we allow some humans to remain, then what kind of human should we keep?” And then it gets even more complicated: When the terra indigene and humans live in close proximity, the terra indigene begin to absorb some human traits. “Were there human traits the terra indigene should not absorb? Where could they go to study humans closely enough to learn what could not be allowed to take root in the reclaimed towns?" Guess where they go?
Unfortunately, they get a chance to observe one such enemy in the form of Lieutenant Montgomery's black-sheep brother, Cyrus, who comes to Lakeside looking for free food and board and a chance to slip back into his criminal lifestyle. At first, the Elders have a hard time seeing how a single insignificant human could possibly be a dangerous enemy, but as Cyrus does his bad-boy thing, they realize that his insidious, evil acts are just as dangerous as the HFL's blatant, violent attacks. Although the premise for putting Cyrus at the center of the plot is plausible and because it moves the Elders a few steps along in the acculturation process, I found Cyrus to be such a predictable one-note villain that I got bored with him early in the book. It was always clear to me that somehow he would set his sights on Meg (even though it takes him until the end of the book to do so), so there wasn't much suspense as he exhibited his increasingly abusive behavior toward his family and tried to run a few scams. In this series, we all know that NOBODY gets to hurt Meg, so it is always a certainty that Cyrus never really has a chance.
For me, these are the three most interesting elements in this book:
>1. Meg has almost completely stopped cutting herself. She now relies mostly on her fortune-telling cards to foretell the future. Every time she gets that prickly feeling, she grabs the cards and comes up with a prophesy that is much clearer than in previous books when she was relying on blood-drenched trances. This new method of prediction, along with her deepening friendships at the Courtyard, has helped Meg develop courage and independence. Looking back at the terrified, uncommunicative girl who stumbled into the Courtyard for the first time in Written in Red, it's hard to believe that Meg has become the confidant young woman we see in this book.
>2. Meg and Simon's relationship makes a big leap forward in this book. (No, not THAT far!) Watching the two of them learn to love, respect, and depend upon one another has been a highlight of the series. They are both fully developed, complex characters who provide emotional highs and lows to the story lines as well as lots of humor as each tries to understand the other's culture.
>3. The effect that Meg has had on Lakeside has been enormous. "She was the pebble dropped in a pond that was the Lakeside Courtyard, and the ripples of her presence had changed so many things, including the terra indigene who had befriended her. Because of Meg, the Courtyard's residents interacted with humans in ways that were unprecedented...Because of Meg, the Lakeside Courtyard had a human pack." As life in Lakeside Courtyard flows along almost untouched by the effects of the war, other communities take notice and send representatives to study what they are doing. Meg, of course, is the center that holds the Courtyard's increasingly pluralistic society together (along with Simon, who realizes that he is much different than the pure wolf he used to be).As Lakeside Courtyard's human and nonhuman citizens live and work together, they establish new societal roles and new traditions. In a nod to myth and history, Bishop gives us a turkey-centered multicultural feast that brings the terra indigene and the human pack together and puts them in a situation in which they sit down together and have friendly social conversation over a huge meal—almost like a large, slightly dysfunctional, family. The scene is a bit corny, but still effective. (In a heartbreaking scene, Skippy has a memorable moment at the beginning of the feast.)
Although this isn't the strongest book in the series, it's still right up there near the top of my "best of" list for this year. I know that I have said this in my review of every book in the series, but I'll say it again. This is one of the best urban fantasy series currently in production. It has a fascinating mythology, extraordinarily complex characters, compelling story lines, and a lovely, understated romantic relationship that meanders through the series on a long and crooked path. Meg and Simon definitely get my vote for the all-time best urban fantasy couple.
As in the previous books, much of the humor comes from the never-ending cultural miscues that crop up between the humans and the terra indigene. For example, in one of the reclaimed settlements, one of the humans wants to give all of the surviving pets new homes, but her vampire friend is trying to "discourage this idea without telling her that new terra indigene residents might think she was giving them an easy dinner."
In a cute scene between Meg and Simon, the two argue about why she turns her nose up at being served bison burgers and organ meats (heart, liver, etc.) but is happy to eat—as Simon calls it—"that yogurt stuff." As their conversation ends, Simon muses that, "He'd choose eating brains over yogurt any day."
The funniest scene involves the Elders' hunger for Meg's wolf cookies. First, they have to figure out how to write her a note demanding "cukkies." But they make the mistake of demanding, rather than politely requesting. Simon and Vlad are shocked to learn that Meg actually lectured the Elders and called them "bad puppies" because they didn't say "please."
Then there are the plentiful throw-away lines like this one after Nathan and Simon eat a bad guy. Simon sniffs Nathan's mouth and says, "You should eat some grass or something before you go back to the Liaison's Office. You have human-meat breath."
Don't miss out on a terrific supernatural fantasy experience. Start reading this series from the beginning to get the full effect of the brilliant character development. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Etched in Bone on the book's Amazon.com page by clicking either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
The series mythology is outlined in a brief preface that explains how Namid (the Creator) created both humans and Others (the terra indigene—earth natives) and assigned them to separate parts of the world. Over the centuries, when the humans encroached on the Others' lands, the two groups went to war, with varying results. As time passed, the humans invented electricity, plumbing, technology, and manufacturing, while the Others maintained control of all of the natural resources, including water and natural fuels. After a few human missteps that resulted in extremely violent responses from the Others, humans learned that the terra indigene have the real power in this world, and they have mostly accepted that…but grudgingly. But that peaceful coexistence is about to change in a most dramatic way.
Bishop has renamed the cities (e.g., Sparkletown stands in for Hollywood) and continents (e.g., America is called Thaisia), and even the days of the week (e.g., Sunday is Earthday, Monday is Moonsday), but most aspects of human society remain the same. She includes a "Geography" page and two maps of the Lakeside Courtyard at the beginning of each book.
The terra indigene generally refer to humans as either "meat" or "monkeys." As one of them explains to a human woman, "We don't let humans live in our part of the world because we like you. We let you live here because you can be useful, and you've invented things that we like having. If it wasn't for that, you'd all be nothing but meat. Which is something you should remember." (p. 29) In another scene, one human explains his perceptions about the Others to another human: "They have learned a human shape, but there is no humanity in them, nothing that recognizes us as more than meat. More clever than deer or cattle, but still meat. And yet, when they couldn't find the [humans] who killed one of their own, they understood how to punish everyone in the city by tacking on a tax to the water rates. Which means they do have feelings about their own kind." (p. 61)
Click HERE to read a short essay by the author about how she came to write this series. Click HERE to view the maps of Lakeside. Click HERE to view a list of places in the OTHERS world. Click HERE for a pronunciation guide to proper names and words used in these books. Click HERE to go to Anne Bishop's Courtyard page on Facebook, which focuses solely on this series. Click HERE to go to Anne Bishop's Facebook fan page, which includes information about all of her books/series.
NOVEL 1: Written in Red
Simon is reluctant to hire Meg because he senses that she is a run-away and is disturbed that even through she is human she doesn't smell like prey. Unfortunately, though, Simon is dealing with a mountain of undelivered mail and a bevy of human truck drivers who refuse to deliver packages unless they can interact with a human—not an Other, so Meg gets the job. Here is Simon's explanation of the job of a Human Liaison: "Every city...has a Courtyard, a tract of land where the Others reside. These Courtyards are also places where products manufactured by humans can be acquired. But humans don't trust the Others, and we don't trust humans. A lot of the products are delivered by humans, and there were enough incidents early on to convince the human government and our leaders that it was prudent to have someone receiving the mail and packages who was not inclined to eat the messenger. So a receiving area was built at each Courtyard and is manned by someone who acts as the liaison between the humans and the Others." (p. 12)
The villains in the story are the Controller's thugs and a young con-woman named Asia Crane, who has been hired to infiltrate the Courtyard and learn as much as she can about its layout and operations. As Meg befriends the terra indigene, her enemies plan and carry out their strategies: to capture Meg and to kidnap a young Wolf boy (Simon's nephew, Sam). Additionally, someone is trying to stir up a war between the humans and the terra indigene by distributing a poisonous substance that makes both terra indigene and humans act out in extremely aggressive ways. The suspense slowly builds to a fever pitch, with the final quarter of the book climaxing in a no-holds-barred wintry battle between the terra indigene and the dastardly human intruders. Bishop tells the story in the third-person voice, mostly from Meg's perspective, but also occasionally from the viewpoints of Asia, Simon, some of the Others, and a local police lieutenant named Crispin James (Monty) Montgomery.
Meg's character, for me, is both the weakest and the strongest element in the book. All the way through, I was bothered by her too-good-to-be-true, Mary Sue personality, but I also came to understand that that kind of personality is the key to her survival among the Others. If she had been feisty and aggressive from the beginning, someone would have eaten her by the end of her first day—probably Simon. Her low-key submissiveness is actually her means of survival, and she does grow some backbone as she becomes more and more familiar with and confidant in both the human world and the Others' world. In the end, Bishop's excellent story-telling drove Meg's personality issues into the background, and I found myself gripped by the story, which pulled me in and kept me turning pages until deep into the night.
This is a riveting novel that kept me engrossed from beginning to end. Beyond the prologue, details of the mythology are introduced through dialogue, not in an info-dump manner, but as a means of introducing Meg to the rules, regulations, and traditions of the Others' culture. Although I knew from the beginning that Meg and Simon would bond sooner or later, it was still fun to watch their relationship develop from fear on Meg's part and disdain on Simon's part to mutual respect and just a trace of physical attraction. Adding to the story's appeal is the sly humor that comes mostly in the dialogue among the Others and the Others' attempts to converse civilly with humans, which always go hilariously wrong. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Written in Red.
NOVEL 2: Murder of Crows
NOTE: When the name of an animal is capitalized, that means that the animal is one of the Others. If it is not capitalized, it is referring to regular animals. For example, Crows are shape-shifting Others, while crows are just big black birds.
The novel drops us immediately into a literal murder of both Crows and crows, which turns out to be one of the opening attacks on the terra indigene by followers of the Humans First and Last (HFL) organization. Currently, two dangerous drugs are on the black market: gone over wolf and feel good, and as we learned in book 1, both have a connection with the cassandra sangue (aka blood prophets)—young female prophets who see visions whenever their skin is cut. In this trash-pick-up-day scene in a town near Lakeside, some teenage boys place food poisoned with feel good on top of the garbage on a suburban street. Then they dose a pair of dogs with gone over wolf poison. Traditionally, both Crows and crows flock to the open garbage cans and trash bins on pick-up day in search of both food and shiny objects. When the birds ingest the poisoned food, they immediately drop to the ground, unable to move, and the dogs, who have by now become extremely aggressive due to the gone over wolf poison, attack and kill them as well as a human girl who happens to be standing near one of the garbage cans.
The HFL has been stirring up anger against the Others all over the world, and now that anti-Other rage and discontent is spilling into the area in and around Lakeside. The plot centers on the horrific consequences that result from several despicable human acts of bigotry and terrorism against the terra indigene and against some humans who are under the protection of the terra indigene. One element that makes this series so inventive and exciting is that the terra indigene are never the underdogs in any fight with the humans, although the humans continue to delude themselves by believing that they are far superior to the shape-shifting "animals." In this series, the supernaturals are always going to win in the end, and the only reason the humans don't realize this is that they have rewritten their history books and have twisted media information so that it seems like humans are smarter, stronger, and all-around better than the terra indigene. In this book, the humans learn the hard way that that point of view is wrong, wrong, wrong.
The three-pronged plot of the book follows these story lines:
>> The development of Meg Corbyn's life among the Lakeside Courtyard inhabitants as she continues to figure out how the outside world works, tries to control her cutting, and stumbles through her blossoming friendship with Simon Wolfgard (which is highly entertaining all in itself, particularly Simon's side of the situation).>> The gradual changes in attitude among the inhabitants of the Lakeside Courtyard, including the implicit recognition of Meg's human pack, and the Lakeside Others' realization that they need to learn more about human culture and societal traditions as they come into more and more contact with humans (e.g., several Lakeside police officers and additional human Courtyard employees).
>> The search for the source of the two poisons and the hunt for the Controller—the man from whom Meg escaped in book 1—who is imprisoning and breeding young girls to create his own cadre of profitable prophets. (This is the action part of the plot, and it ends in the inevitable climactic showdown).
The culture-clash humor is even better in this book than it was in the first one, and it begins in the very first scene. In order to keep Meg secure, Simon has been sleeping in her bed every night as a Wolf—an arrangement that has been working fine for both of them. On this night, however, Meg has a bad dream (a vision, actually) and accidentally kicks Simon out of bed. Because he wants to know what's going on, he shifts into human (naked male) form, which freaks Meg out because sleeping with a soft furry Wolf is a whole lot different than sleeping with a big hunk of gorgeous, bare-skinned manhood. Simon, of course, has no idea why she is so upset. A major kerfuffle follows, eventually drawing wacky opinions from just about everyone in the Courtyard. Such is life in a world in which Others and humans have so little contact with one another that neither group understands the social conventions and traditions of the other. Many of the cultural clashes are simply hilarious, such as the scene in which Simon and a bunch of male terra indigene find out first hand (and for the very first time) what it actually means when someone says that a human woman is acting strangely because it's "that time of the month." On a more sober note, the terra indigene begin to realize that many humans whom they have had trusted in the past have neglected to explain various human customs to them—either because they didn't realize that they needed to or because it gave them leverage over the terra indigene.
Bishop has a wonderful talent for dryly injecting the culture-clash humor into both the dialogue and the narrative. For example, when Simon asks, rather then orders, Meg to stay away from Market Square one evening, she reflects, "Well…he had made an effort to sound as if he were asking her to stay away. Of course the word please sounded very different when it was snarled. But that was Simon, and friends accepted friends for who they were. She'd read that in a magazine…." (p. 91) In another scene, Simon is worried that Meg is upset about something, so he keeps asking her if she's sure she's all right—which makes her mad. Simon muses, "If she would let him sniff her properly, he'd know if she was all right without having to keep asking." (p. 208) Here's another example: When Meg finds a new source of fresh-baked cookies for the terra indigene (because the local pet store won't sell to the terra indigene any more) the cookies come in different shapes depending on their flavor. When the first shipment arrives, Simon opens the container and holds up a cookie shaped like a person: "Human-flavored cookies?" He sounded pleased. Nathan (a young Wolf) pricked up his ears and said, "Arroooo?" (p. 220) (Note: The people-shaped cookies are flavored with chamomile—not people, to Simon and Nathan's great disappointment.) As Simon's relationship with Meg moves into and beyond friendship, he pauses to reflect on just what friendship means, whether a Wolf and a human can really be friends, and why he is feeling so possessive about his friend Meg. He reflects: "Maybe he really did need to read one of those romances about humans and wolves to figure out the inconsistencies in the female brain." (p. 279)
Although the action part of the plot is extremely gruesome and brutal, just keep remembering that the good guys always win, although there will probably be some collateral damage along the way. This is a great novel and a terrific series with just the right balance of horror and humor to make it a real page-turner. I'm looking forward to the third novel, which will unfortunately not be coming until next year. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Murder of Crows.
NOVEL 3: Vision in Silver
As the book begins, Meg Corbyn, the blood prophet (aka cassandra sangue) who is the series heroine, makes a controlled cut. In the past, Meg's prophecy-driven cutting has frequently been uncontrolled and has resulted in major tumult within the Courtyard—the headquarters for the Lakeside Others. Meg believes that if she cuts regularly under controlled conditions, her cutting will stop being so frenzied and unpredictable. Meg's friend, Merri Lee, writes down Meg's prophetic words as she is in the midst of her euphoric prophesying—a series of ambiguous phrases that come true in the chapters that follow. It's always fun to try to figure out exactly what Meg is predicting and to have that "Aha!" moment when they turn up in the story. Here is Meg's prophecy—an explicit guide to the plot of this book—NOT!
Help Wanted: NWLNA
Trail Fire (blaze/inferno?) Path compass/Compass Path?
Pregnant girl on dirt road. Silver razor Blood. "Don't It's not too late!"
Girl crying. Silver razor. Broken deer beside highway (roadkill).
Brown bear eating jewels.
Vegetable garden. Paws digging, hands planting.
For Sale signs
The over-arching plot revolves around the efforts of the Humans First and Last (HFL) to incite humans to rise up against the Others. In Lakeside, businesses begin to refuse service to the Others, friends of the Others (called Wolf Lovers by the HFL) are intimidated, and humans try to blame Others for crimes they themselves have committed. Within this atmosphere, Bishop develops several story lines:
>> Meg is trying her best to extend her life by controlling her cuts. "A thousand cuts. Supposedly that's all a cassandra sangue could make before the cut that would kill her or drive her insane. And it wasn't just the cuts made with a razor. Any injury that broke skin counted as part of that number. Most…wouldn't see their thirty-fifth birthday, and here was Meg cutting without a reason." Meg has to figure out how to control her cutting addiction by not always grabbing her razor when she has those prickly feelings that presage a prophecy. Besides the deleterious effect that cutting has on her own lifespan, the blood of a cassandra sangue has a poisonous effect on the Others, so Meg can't risk bleeding when any of them are within sniffing or licking range.
>> Connected with Meg's control issues is a story line about the young girls who were rescued from the Compounds in the previous book. They are not dealing well with the over-stimulation of life in the real world, so Meg and her human pack (aka her girlfriends at the Courtyard) begin to write a help manual. When first told about the book, Meg sarcastically labels it The Dimwit's Guide to Blood Prophets, but it is eventually called The Blood Prophet's Guide.
>> Inexplicably, Meg begins to have violent reactions to subtle changes in her environment. Although Meg has always needed a high degree of constancy in her daily life, she has never reacted so violently to minor changes, so her strange behavior is entirely unexpected and unexplainable.Meg's friend Merri Lee summarizes the situation: "Constant versus change. A limited tolerance for change within the constants. And feeling stressed when routines are disrupted."
>> A major story line involves Lieutenant Crispin James (Monty) Montgomery of the Lakeside Police Department, one of the few humans trusted by the Others. We learned in the previous book that Elayne, his ex-girlfriend, is romantically involved with Nicholas Scratch, a major player in the HFL. Elayne has moved to Toland (aka New York City) with her new boyfriend, taking Montgomery's daughter, Lizzie, with her. That situation blows up in this book, with reverberations that affect all of Thaisia (aka the U.S.). (HINT: Historically, the name "Nicholas Scratch" has been a euphemistic name for the devil.)
>> The humans in Thaisia are in the throes of a mysterious food shortage that they blame on the Others, but no one is able to figure out why the shortage even exists. Farm production hasn't decreased, so what's going on?
Since the Others allied themselves with the cassandra sangue, the fragile yet powerful human blood prophets who were being exploited by their own kind, the delicate dynamic between humans and Others changed. Some, like Simon Wolfgard, wolf shifter and leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn, see the new, closer companionship as beneficial—both personally and practically.
But not everyone is convinced. A group of radical humans is seeking to usurp land through a series of violent attacks on the Others. What they don’t realize is that there are older and more dangerous forces than shifters and vampires protecting the land that belongs to the Others—and those forces are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect what is theirs.
Although the HFL story line is the one that has the most action, it is not the sole plot of this novel. Here is a description of several more story lines that are just as suspenseful, but with more thought than action:
>> In Sweetwater, a terra indigene settlement in the Northwest, the young cassandra sangue, Hope Wolfsong, is still trying to adjust to a life of freedom. She lives with Jackson Wolfgard and his wife, Grace, and she is trying to wean herself away from cutting by drawing her prophecies with colored pencils. During the events of this novel, she and Meg are surprised to learn that their prophesies match up perfectly.
>> Meg is trying to stop cutting herself, so she is happy when her prophetic itch responds to some drawings that Hope sends her. As the Trailblazer for the blood prophets, Meg is feeling pressure to help the cassandra sangue living outside the compounds to achieve some kind of consistency in order to communicate with one another. "She needed to find another, already available, source for images. Wasn't that part of her job as the Trailblazer, to help the other blood prophets find the tools they needed to survive?" As the plot advances, Meg gathers together several sets of pictorial cards and begins to develop a Trailblazer deck that she hopes will become a successful, bloodless approach to interpreting prophesies.
>> Another blood prophet named Jean is living with a Simple Life family on Great Island. Her prophecies also intertwine with Meg's and Hope's.
>> Joe Wolfgard (whom we met in a previous novel) has moved West to Prairie Gold (an Intuit settlement in the northern half of the Midwest) to begin interacting with the Intuits just as Simon interacts with the Intuits of Sweetwater. Assisting him is Tolya Sanguinati, a terra indigene with strong diplomatic skills. Unfortunately, the HFL has strong support in the near-by human city of Bennett, resulting in several nasty encounters and—eventually—tragedy. Bishop introduces several strong characters who live in or near Prairie Gold: Jesse Walker (shopkeeper), her son Tobias (rancher), and Shelley Bookman (librarian).
>> Steve Ferryman, human leader of the Ferryman's Landing Intuit settlement, not far from Lakeside, gets involved in Simon's bison importation plan, which comes about as a result of two prophecies: one from Hope's drawings and one from Meg's card-reading.
>> The Lakeside police officers who are sympathetic to the Others must deal with some family members who support HFL. Several of the police officers actually move into the apartments across the street from the Courtyard that are now owned by the Lakeside terra indigene.
Bishop has delivered a top-notch novel that takes a giant, bloody leap in advancing the series story arc. The suspense builds to an action-filled climax and a satisfyingly apocalyptic conclusion. This series is at the top of my "BEST SERIES" list. There is not another like it. Everything about it is terrific: the world-building, the plotting, the characters, the dialogue—everything! These are books that you can’t stop reading, and when they end, you can hardly stand to wait 12 months for the next one. I do recommend that you read Marked in Flesh in sequence, not as a stand-alone, because the action relies on references to past events. (Trust me, you're going to love the earlier books.) Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Marked in Flesh on the book's Amazon.com page by clicking either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.