Fans of Patricia Briggs and Kelley Armstrong will no doubt find this new series by Anne Bishop as irresistible as I did. These authors write intelligent, witty paranormals, with multifaceted characters, and a sensitive and nuanced treatment of love instead of the usual paranormal fare of salacious or non-titillating sex scenes.
I loved the world-building in Written in Red. The book starts with a prologue, “A Brief History of the World” to set the stage. This is so much better than having to be confused for a long time while you figure out the basics. Humans live in an uneasy relationship with the original inhabitants of the land: terra indigene or “Others,” who trade natural resources with humans for products they desire. Every city has a “Courtyard,” a tract of land where the Others reside and where exchanges take place. A receiving area in each Courtyard is manned by a human liaison.
As the story begins, Meg Corbyn, a 24-year-old human – cold, wet and on the run, stumbles into the Courtyard of Thaisia and sees a “help wanted” sign for a liaison. She goes to the Bookstore (Howling Good Reads) operated by the leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, Simon Wolfgard – mid-thirties, handsome, and a werewolf, and applies for the job. Something about Meg makes Simon uneasy, but he hires her anyway, if for no other reason, to discover what it is about her that bothers him.
Meg, as one of The Others describes her, has an adult body but retains the sweetness of a child’s heart, and quickly wins over everyone in the Courtyard. But Meg isn’t just an ordinary human, and the consequences of sheltering her are dire.
Discussion: This book has suspense; a heartwarming subplot about an orphaned wolf pup named Sam; and the most “realistic” paranormal characters you could imagine. These Others are wary of each other, but work together in custody of the Earth. They are not interested in humans (alternately referred to as “monkeys” or “meat” or “prey”) except for what they get from them (such as tech gadgets). They don’t like excessive contact with humans:
“…if you adapted too much in order to deal with them, you ran the risk of forgetting who you were and you could end up being neither and nothing.”
Simon is aware from the type of books that do well at the bookstore that humans want to see Others as “furry humans who just wanted to be loved.” But he observes:
“Most of the terra indigene didn’t want to love humans; they wanted to eat them. Why did humans have such a hard time understanding that?”
And there is plenty of “meta” humor as well. The Others seem to be reinforcing the “thingness” of humans by calling them “the” – for example, “The Meg.” It’s a bit humorous too that these very strange (to us) Others find humans just incomprehensible. And in a nice self-parodic touch, when some of the Others discuss the need to find out information on a different type of paranormal, one of them reports:
“I used the computer to check for books or any writings about them. There are stories that have [them] as characters, but they were listed under horror or suspense novels, so I doubt there is any useful information.”
This book radiates mood. It is there in the snarls and howls of the wolves, and the cold swirling snow, and the wide-eyed fear that so often besets Meg, and to which the Others are so sensitive. The complexity of the Others is a joy; it is conveyed in quintessentially human ways rather than by piling on paranormal features. I particularly love the importance of play to these beings.
The two main protagonists are unique and charming, but in radically different ways. Meg is open-hearted, brave and resourceful – sort of a dark version of Anne of Green Gables. Simon is tempestuous, conflicted, tender, fair, and determined to suppress his inner angels. One can’t help but love both of them. And as for the other Others, watching these vicious predators become nurturing and protective of the weak prey Meg is enchanting. (Note my reaction makes me rather like those book readers of whom Simon is so contemptuous, who just want “Others” to be cuddly….)
Evaluation: I loved this book, and can’t wait for further installments of the series.
Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2013