Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: NAL on March 5, 2013
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. View Spoiler »
Urban Fantasy is a sub-genre that frequently comes under fire for being somewhat derivative (isn’t everything though?), and despite it being my personal favourite I have to concede that there’s a grain of truth in that accusation.
So you know I mean it when I say that “derivative” is the absolute last word I would ever use to describe Written in Red by Anne Bishop.
Bishop breathes new life into the standard versions of werewolves and vampires simultaneously introducing a whole host of completely original supernatural types. These supernaturals are called the Others, and if they had a theme song it’d be by Beyonce because these beings rule the world. The world belong to the Others and humans are just living in it, only useful for their skill in using the natural resources guarded by the Others to produce luxury goods and technologies. Humans are the “clever meat” living on land owned and controlled by the Others – step one toe out of line, and it’s likely that you’re dinner. This environment breeds resentment and tension on both sides, and sooner or later it’s bound to erupt…
Thrust into this politically unstable and culturally tense environment is Meg Corbyn, 24 year old newcomer to the city of Lakeside. Meg is a cassandra sangue or a blood prophet, a woman who speaks prophecy when she cuts her skin. Sound like a useful – if icky – ability, right? Well power doesn’t come cheap and this one comes with an unusually high cost.Meg is compelled by her biology – and by conditioning – to cut. She is a blood prophet and therefore she needs to cut. Not only is this horribly painful, it will also one day kill her: one thousand cuts and that’s it, you’re done. Kaput.
With this incredible burden on her shoulders I expected Meg to be pretty world-weary, but she’s the complete opposite. After living her life in captivity, her new life in the Lakeside Courtyard provides the naive young woman with her first glimpses of the wonderful and often terrifying world around her. Meg’s sweetness and naivety provides a wonderful contrast to the suspicion of the Others she slowly befriends. Her failure to understand them and vice versa results in miscommunications that provided much-needed levity to the plot, which slowly builds towards a confrontation of truly epic proportions.
But thankfully all is not doom and gloom, as Bishop ensures that the wonderful characters and the charming small town vibe of the Lakeside Courtyard are central elements of Written in Red. The Courtyard is a smaller section of the city solely populated by the Others, and serves as their HQ within Lakeside. Because of this somewhat insular setting we really get to know our main and secondary characters alike, becoming familiar with their quirks. My personal favourite is Simon Wolfgard, wolf shifter and de facto leader of the Others in Lakeside. His leadership role requires him to wear his human skin much more than he’d like; he may look human some of the time, but he’s not. Then again, Meg isn’t completely human either…but nor is she Other. The slow progression of their relationship from distrust to unlikely friends was beautifully done and I cannot wait to see where it takes them.
I also fell in love with the cast of secondary characters, particularly Henry Beargard. Henry is the Lakeside Courtyard’s spirit guide and a sculpture artist who has that gentle giant thing working for him. Well, at least until he sheds his human skin to reveal his true self – and becomes a massive grizzly. Of all the Others, Henry seems to have the best understanding of human behaviour and often attempts to explain the oddities of human-Other encounters for everyone else. His quiet wisdom and subtle humour were pitch perfect…and the guy barely (BEARLY) had any page time! Just goes to show that Anne Bishop does a masterful job of bringing characters to life.
Written in Red also gets bonus points from me for featuring adorable ponies who may or may not be more than they appear. Meg’s ability to get along with anyone extends to these ponies, and she feeds them carrots and sugar cubes in between her shifts at work and her horrific visions. The juxtaposition between these sweet moments and the horrific realities of life among the Others was what made Written in Red such an incredible reading experience for me. Bishop combines the sweet and the horrific in unexpected ways to create a multi-faceted world and nuanced characters that I cannot wait to come back to.
The fact that Bishop has struck the match on a slow-burn romance between two characters who are also by turns horrific and sweet? That’s just icing on the cake, baby.