Audiobook Review: Written in Red by Anne Bishop
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Shifters
Series: The Others #1
Publisher: ROC (January 3, 2012)
Tiara’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Narrator: Alexandra Harris | Length: 18 hrs and 32 mins | Audiobook Publisher: Penguin Audio (March 5, 2013) |Whispersync Ready: Yes
Written in Red takes the traditional shifter story and turns it on its head a bit. It starts with a brief history of the world. The goddess-like Namid created humans, gave them a fertile piece of herself, and kept them isolated from her other children. However, her human children became smarter. They began to innovate and spread until they pushed into the wild regions and encountered Namid’s other children. The Others, as these non-humans came to be known, didn’t accept humanity with open arms. They saw food, and they had the strength to enforce their dominance. This is the point where typically the humans would prevail over all odds in most stories, but instead, Bishop decides to take the alternative path. The Others have a strong hold on humanity. Humanity created things that could aid their fight and advance civilization, but the Others ruled over the resources they needed to create. Humans are only as useful as the things they create, making them “useful meat.” Larger cities have Courtyards, which are fenced communities where the Others live to make sure that humans keep agreements made between the two groups.
Fast forward to the present day, sweet, unassuming Meg Corbyn is a cassandra sangue (blood prophet) escaping the compound where women and girls like her are held. They have the unique ability to see prophesies if their skin is precisely cut. They live a sterile life inside a compound. They know things, but those things are disconnected from what use they could be to them. It isn’t until Meg endures a punishment for deceiving one of the compound’s clients that she’s able to use the images in her visions to make an escape. She finds refuge in the Lakeside Courtyard run by Simon Wolfgard, an Other with the ability to shift between wolf and human. He’s confused by her because she doesn’t hold the prey scent. This bothers him, as well as the fact that he knows she’s hiding something, but he still allows her to become the Human Liaison for the Courtyard. Meg knows it’s only a matter of time before her Controller finds her and tries to take her back to the compound. Her safest option is staying with the Others who cow before no human.
The Lakeside Courtyard is more progressive with how it interacts with humans, but Meg’s presence allows for a stronger trust to form between the humans and the Others. While the Others are certainly imposing, they’re not nearly as cunning as humans who have perfected lying and betrayal, something that doesn’t come easily for the Others (aside from maybe a group of them) who are mostly upfront. This may be because they are the apex predators in the story and have no need to for that type of dishonesty. The Others who choose to interact with humans are only slowly coming to realize that humans do share some of their base level emotions when confronted with things such as triumphs and injustices. Despite taking human forms, they’re only simulating humanity to the best of their abilities. They don’t understand many aspects of human life, and tidbits of useful wisdom about humans are imparted on them throughout the story, which in turns makes them begin to see them as more than just prey.
The story of how humans and the Other co-exist is a fascinating one, and while there isn’t a ton of back to back action in this like you might find in most urban fantasy, there’s plenty of delicious world-building as you get a feel for this. I found the various types of shifters fascinating, especially the avian shifters (Crowgard, Hawkgard, Owlgard). The narrator used a distinct speaking rhythm for them that made them instantly likable, especially the Crowgard who are as impish and intelligent as their animal counterparts. Even though the crows’ obsession with shiny things is a myth, I still couldn’t help being entertained by it being used in throughout the story. The vampires in the story are a mash-up of dated B-movie tropes, but they still add to the story in their own kitschy way, even if I did keep imagining Nyx (one of the vampires) as Morticia Addams.
I thought it was great storytelling to have the shifters proud and in control. They’re not hiding who they are. They’re not holding control by working behind the scenes while humans remain oblivious. They’re not ruled by human laws and integrated into human society because they have to be. It was heartening to see humans and the Lakeside Courtyard accomplishing so much together as they learned to trust each other more, even if the catalyst is Meg’s sweetness. They’re not giving up control, but choosing to explore ways that humans and Others can continue to live together with more mutual trust and respect. Trust and respect are hard for both sides given their histories.
Having Meg squeak and stumble around while everyone felt the need to baby her was disappointing, though. I’m not saying that I needed her to be some superwoman who could handle anything because rounded female characters aren’t just the ones who can hang with the big boys, but it’s unfortunate when a character like Meg, a character that I could like wholeheartedly, isn’t allowed much agency. Instead, she has all these supposedly intimidating, scary shifters deciding that she’s too precious for this world and they have to protect her at all costs. That’s all fine and good, but where is her growth as a character around all this white knighting? Then, there’s the whole “sweet blood” thing and the changing so many aspects of their life to accommodate her. That’s why I preferred the character Monty in this case of showing how both humans and Others could actually have some sort of relationship. He’s a human in the story who smells like prey unlike Meg. For that reason, he’s not given automatic trust as Meg is, but because of his positive interactions with the Others, concessions and considerations are made for him, as well, because they start to see him as more than prey and even “useful meat.” That felt more believable considering the circumstances. That brings me to my next point.
The Others aren’t as scary as I think Bishop intended them to be (at least, not to me, YMMV). Yes, they’re intimidating. However, they’re not out of control. They’re not unreasonable. There’s talk of killing and eating people, but how often does that happen to someone who hasn’t threatened them in some way? Any other threat to people who do something minor that might offend them isn’t followed through with in this story, even if it’s mentioned things happened in the past. They make noise and scare the humans who interact with them away when riled up, but most of those humans come right back when they’ve settled down and it’s business as usual. Hell, even in the more secluded places where humans and the Others have to live without the separation and relative safety of a Courtyard, I didn’t get the impression they’re just gobbling down humans because they’re prey, except for maybe the wild ones. In any event, I’m not really afraid for the humans whose intentions aren’t ill, even with these parameters in place. The book tries to make me feel a dread that I just can’t dredge up because I don’t feel like there will be any follow-through with the threats for the humans who aren’t trash.
Also, For the Others to be so fiercely independent and in control, some of them sure accepted the idea of having human law enforcement around and involved in certain incidents very quickly. Not only that, but once Meg was around, it seemed that they, even some of the Others who didn’t seem like they interacted with humans much if at all, were more accepting of other humans even humans they interacted with outside of the Courtyard’s regulars. I would’ve expected much more resistance. I understand that the Courtyard is trying to be more tolerant of humans, but given their history and how the book presented relations, that still seems like a bit of a stretch. I guess that HLDNA (Human Law Does Not Apply) sign amounts to about a hill of beans in most scenarios.
However, those aren’t things that hampered my enjoyment of the story. It was just a few things I noted while reading. Those things are not necessarily deal breakers, and they certainly won’t make me hesitate when picking up the next book. I just wanted to expound on the reason why they made me quirk my eyebrow a bit. Other than that, I thought this story was excellent.The narration for this book really added to my enjoyment. Alexandra Harris’ is exceptional. She captured the innocent vulnerability of Meg well, and I enjoyed the voices she used for the different animal gards and the Sanguinati. She does have a voice that can come off very young sounding, which can make the story feel a bit juvenile in places, but I still would highly recommend this audiobook for readers who enjoy audiobooks.
I’m anxious to find out what happens next. This makes it hard to stick to my reading plans, and I think I might have to make an exception for this series. I’m almost sad it took me this long to start this series.