Monday, April 15, 2013

Written in Red: A Novel of the Others by Anne Bishop

Last month when I was suffering from some serious reader's block, Nath recommended Written in Red by Anne Bishop, a fantasy with romance elements or "urban fantasy," and the first book of Bishop's The Others series.

Meg Corbyn is on the run and inadvertently finds refuge at the Lakeside Courtyard where the Others rule and uninvited stray humans can easily become the evening's dinner or next day's "special meat" at the butcher shop. Meg is a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, with a special ability to see visions of the future when her skin is cut. For this reason, she has been kept enslaved her entire life by a Controller in a government sanctioned facility where her visions are sold for profit. Meg knows they won't allow her to stay free for long. Luckily, she finds a job with the Others as Human Liaison and gains their trust and protection.

Simon Wolfgard is the head of the Lakeside Courtyard. He deals with humans because he has to, and although the Courtyard has been set up to bring humans and shifters closer, Simon has little understanding and/or respect for humans. To him they are nothing more than prey. However, when Meg comes in looking for a job and a place to stay and Simon notices that she doesn't smell like prey, he hires her to work in the mail room as their Human Liaison. But he's aware that she is lying about something and her weird smell drives him a little crazy from the beginning. When Meg is discovered, will the Others protect her? Or will she die at the Courtyard as her vision predicts?

I loved the shape-shifters in this fantasy. The Others are not your cutesy, likable shape-shifters, vampires and/or elementals. Oh no! In Bishop's world these are ancient beings who roamed the earth before humans evolved, and humans exist only by the Others' leave. They are portrayed as a rather scary different breed, as unlike humans as they can possibly be, with a disregard for human life and contempt for what we think of as humanity. While the two sides have worked out a livable and workable agreement, in this world the Others are top dogs and humans, the underdogs.

As the head of the Lakeside Courtyard, wolf shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is a total control freak when it comes to keeping his people and his territory safe. He is cold and ruthless with very little understanding or caring for humans (or Others) who break his laws. However as a result of Simon's  interactions with Meg, there is character growth as the story moves along. What I liked about his character is that although he accepts some changes, Simon maintains the edge that makes him different to the end.

Meg's character on the other hand is a bit of a problem for me. She is an extremely likable character both to the reader and to the characters in the story. Meg wins hearts and minds easily with her kindness, naivete, and nobility. I loved the scenes between Meg and the young wolf shape-shifter Sam, the growth that you see in her as she slowly comes out of her shell and makes friends around the community is heartwarming, and those moments when she stands up for herself are encouraging for the future. Throughout and by the end of the story, everyone who knows Meg is willing to do whatever is necessary to protect her life because she deserves it.

My problems? Meg is not a kickass heroine, which is usually okay with me, but she comes off as a bit too naive, nice, sweet and perfect (a Mary Sue), although one with growth potential. But Meg is such a nice and kind soul that her likability factor is on the high end of the scale and I have a feeling that as she stays around the Others, she'll learn how to take care of herself -- that's where the growth potential comes in. Additionally, there are some very strong female secondary characters that serve as a great contrast to Meg. What really became a bit troubling for me is the cutting and the description of how this affects Meg. Cutting is such a serious issue that I'm not quite sure how I feel about the fact that Bishop is using self-mutilation as the trigger for Meg's "special power." I'm actually withholding my final thoughts on that until I see how Bishop works this issue into the series.

There's also a romance building between Meg and Simon in Written in Red. Actually it is more of a special friendship between Simon and Meg that bloomed from hostility and distrust. Simon's wolf actually accepts Meg first, and there is a matter of trust and bonding going on there that I really like. Obviously sweet Meg is not ready for more and frankly I don't think that Simon is ready for an intimate relationship with a human either. I believe he has a long way to go yet.

Written in Red is a well-written, character driven fantasy with a bit of action, mystery, edginess, gore, and a touch of humor that surprised me. The secondary characters -- Monty, Tess, Henry, Vlad, Sam, Jasper -- play significant roles and are worth mentioning because they make this a well-rounded read. The action is limited but makes an impact, and the mystery revealed at the end is well done. However, when it comes to villains I was a bit disappointed as the threat felt more dangerous than the reality, particularly Asia who in my opinion comes off as more TSTL than truly dangerous. Of course there are threads left open to resolve in future installments and I look forward to finding out more! Even with my reservations, my grade is going to be on the high end. I really enjoyed Written in Read as a whole (read  it in two straight sittings!), and see a lot of potential in this fantasy series.

Category: Fantasy/Urban Fantasy
Series: The Others, #1
Publisher/Release Date: Roc/March 5, 2013 -- Kindle Ed.
Grade: B+

Visit Anne Bishop here.


  1. Oh, oh! I got this for review and you've made me ache to pick it up! I've read Anne Bishop in the past, so I know that she's a solid writer, but I hadn't really heard much about this one so I set it aside. Your review, though, makes it sound great. I don't mind naive heroines (though maybe Meg is over the top?) and I lovelovelove shapeshifters. I'm excited!
    Ruby's Reads

    1. Rubita, I really hope you enjoy this book. It's a great beginning to a new series by Bishop. And, hmm... there's a good reason behind Meg's naivite... but you'll find out when you read the book. Enjoy! :D

  2. So glad you enjoyed, Hils!! :) I just enjoyed this book so much. I've already re-read it 3 times!! What I liked was the development, seeing Meg settles in the Courtyard. The friendships and bonds developing ;)

    I can see your issues with the book. It'll be interesting to see how Ms Bishop resolves the cutting. And Meg was a bit too Mary Sue, but at least, she didn't save the day, know what I mean? As for Asia, yes, a bit TSTL, but those are the scariest sometimes! LOL.

    I like how she did the shapeshifters. It was different and that's what you need :) Definitively looking forward to the next book now!

    1. Nath, thank you for recommending this book. It really helped to take me out of reading funk at the time. :)

      You've re-read it 3 times?!! You must really like it! And you're absolutely right about the reason behind Meg's niceness working in this book. If she had saved the day that would have messed up the story... but that didn't happen. Thank goodness!

      I love the shape-shifters in this story. I can't wait to see what Tess turns out to be, although I have a bit of an idea! *g*

  3. I have to read this book, thanks for the review, now I really can't wait!
    I love shapeshifters...

    It seems the narrative is more in the lines of dark jewels, meaning she tells daily life things even when setting a plot? Because I've recently read Sebastien from Ephemera and I didn't like the apparent unbalance between the darker and lighter moods in the story, it seemed way too dark... not that it's a bad thing, but after reading the other series where I thought that was done quite well, it seemed too much in Sebastien, but maybe it was just me...

    1. Sonia, I think you'll like this book, particularly since you love PNR and UF so much!

      I haven't read Dark Jewels, but yes, events of daily lives are very much a part of the story as Bishop sets up the plot and develops the characters. I didn't find that the light and dark sides of this story were unbalanced at all, I found that one really helped to balance the other out so that this wasn't an overly doom-like story or a too-light UF installment. Frankly, I really liked the characters she introduced and am looking forward to more information about them. :) I hope you pick it up!

    2. Thank you for replying. Apparently the book is only available in hardcover outside the US. Not that I wanted it in ebook, but I saw someone in the UK saying she can't download it weird. Anyway, it's more than 15$, kind of, for me. I wanted the paperback, but it's not available anywhere yet, not even in pre order...I don't know if I can wait that long because the plot really seems my thing... Too bad it's not already in paperback, it's going to "ruin" my anne bishop shelf.... :( I'm anal like that.
      Thanks again!
      Oh and what are you waiting for to read Dark Jewels??? It's a whole new range of things you can't even explain, you HAVE to read them!!!

    3. Oh! I didn't realize, Sonia. I forget sometimes about that different international release dates and formats apply. I guess this is one of those that won't be released in ebook format in Europe for a while. That sucks! But, I see you're going to buy the HC, lol! I'm the same... if I want to read something I read it.

      RE: Dark Jewels. I have the Dark Jewels trilogy in my TBR. You are right, I NEED to pick that up!

    4. Yes, sometimes it sucks to live outside the US because of time releases...oh well.
      I'll buy the book anyway, only next month though.

    5. Hilcia, have you never read The Black Jewels trilogy?! Whoa. I'm borderline obsessed with those books. The whole series, really, but the main trilogy (and the novella "The Prince of Ebon Rih", which falls timing-wise between the 2nd book and the 3rd) is the must-read part. (None of the books that came after have the same complexity or richness -- or darkness -- of the storyline that the trilogy had, but that's fine with me. I'm one of those people who likes to read what happened AFTER the HEA. I like the "ordinariness" of real life and think it can be every bit as engaging as the whole falling-in-love part.) BTW: A lot of authors decline to pick a favorite character of theirs, but Bishop has said often that Daemon is her favorite character. Personally I prefer Lucivar for some strange reason, but my REAL preference is for Daemon and Lucivar together. (You should read these books!)

    6. Nifty, no, I have not read The Black Jewels trilogy! I've had the trilogy in the TBR for a few years (the 3-1 edition), but haven't picked it up yet! Written in Red is actually my very FIRST Anne Bishop read. Yes, I KNOW!!! But, after reading that book and your great commentary, I am moving it up on my TBR -- see if I can get to them this year. :)

  4. Is this book YA or no? For some reason I was under the impression that it was but now it doesn't sound like it from your review.

    1. Oh no, Christine. This not YA at all! And, it's more Fantasy than UF too... at least I thought so. :)

  5. Having read her Black Jewels series, I can see a lot of similarities between the two. Though this book is not as dark as the Black Jewels books, Meg is very much like Jaenelle (the main character in those books, Hils!), especially in the way the otherwise-scary people/creatures take her into their hearts (and yes, the verging on Mary Sue-ness).

    I will definitely be picking up the next book, though as you say, I've reservations about the cutting and am hoping she works it out in a positive manner.


    1. Li, thanks for the heads up about the similarities between the two series. That is great news to have for those who have not read this book, and for me since I now know what to expect when I get to the Black Jewels series.

      I'm also definitely picking up the next book! I want to know what happens with Meg -- details about her background should come out in the next book and the "virus" addressed properly, hopefully -- but I'm super-curious about some of the other characters, Tess for instance. She's an intriguing character!

    2. And PS: I'm glad I'm not the only one with concerns about the cutting. That made me hmm... uncomfortable? But we'll see how it evolves.

    3. Late to the party on this one, although I read the book the day it came out. Bishop has now posted to her website the sample chapter from the second book, and it seems to me that she is possibly working through a solution for the cutting. Not sure. From my perspective, the implication is that Meg is attuning to her visions even WITHOUT needing to cut, both when she's conscious and unconscious. My guess is that she will still have to cut, but perhaps less frequently or maybe only for serious urges.

      Ever the sucker for romance, I'm hooked on the relationship between Simon and Meg. The one pre-review I read of Murder of Crows indicated that the romance was developing, but slowly. (Which is fine.) (And the sample chapter, btw, had me at "bedmate.") Definitely want to know more about Tess. What is she?? Various dotcomrades think she's a gorgon of some kind. And one connection that struck me in the first book was between Monty and Meg. They're not aware of the connection, but I wonder if they will become aware of it. It's a small world, after all.

      PTO is already scheduled for me for March 4. I plan to spend the day reading and re-reading.

    4. Ohhh, thanks for heads up on the second chapter and your thoughts on the cutting, Nifty! I need to check that out.

      I'm also hooked on Simon and Meg (for a future relationship), bedmate, romantic couple, whatever! It works for me as long as it is developed slowly... I prefer a slow hand when it comes to romance in a fantasy. And Tess? I'm definitely thinking she's a gorgon, that was my first suspicion when I read the book! I also agree on the Meg/Monty connection. We'll see what Bishop does with that.

      I'm rereading Written in Red in a few weeks so it is all fresh on my mind before I read Murder of Crows. But, like you, I will be reading it as soon as it releases. :)


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