Review: Lake Silence by Anne Bishop

Review: Lake Silence by Anne BishopLake Silence (The Others, #6) by Anne Bishop
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: The Others #6
Pages: 416
Published by Ace on March 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this thrilling and suspenseful fantasy, set in the world of the New York Times bestselling Others series, Vicki DeVine and her lodger, the shapeshifter Aggie Crowe, stumble onto a dead body . . . and find themselves enmeshed in danger and dark secrets.

Human laws do not apply in the territory controlled by the Others–vampires, shapeshifters, and paranormal beings even more deadly. And this is a fact that humans should never, ever forget . . .

After her divorce, Vicki DeVine took over a rustic resort near Lake Silence, in a human town that is not human controlled. Towns like Vicki’s have no distance from the Others, the dominant predators that rule most of the land and all of the water throughout the world. And when a place has no boundaries, you never really know what’s out there watching you.

Vicki was hoping to find a new career and a new life. But when her lodger, Aggie Crowe–one of the shapeshifting Others–discovers a dead body, Vicki finds trouble instead. The detectives want to pin the man’s death on her, despite the evidence that nothing human could have killed the victim. As Vicki and her friends search for answers, things get dangerous–and it’ll take everything they have to stay alive.

My Review:

There’s a famous saying that “Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1.000.” And that’s true even if homo sapiens is no longer around to see her step up to the plate. But what if, instead of Mother Nature, or Gaia, or the workings of chemistry, biology and physics on the environment, instead of working, let’s call it, translucently, had an actual batter in the on deck circle all the time, one who regularly stepped up to the plate whenever homo sapiens screwed up.

Which we do. Frequently and often.

In some ways, that’s the premise of the world of The Others. In the earlier books of this series, starting with Written in Red, we see a world where nature is personified by beings known as “The Others”, where homo sapiens is not the dominant species. A fact that some members of the species keep trying to forget, and with predictable results.

Instead of doing whatever we want to the environment and the planet, the Others have very strict limits on what humans can do, where they can do it, and how much damage they can do. When those limits are exceeded, the Others slap humans down. Hard. Deadly hard.

At the end of Etched in Bone, the Others decide that humans need to be taught a lesson. Again. Lake Silence is the first story that takes place after those events, in a world where the human population has been deliberately decimated, and where the Others have become much more obvious about their true ownership of this world and everything in it.

Vicki DeVine has come to Lake Silence, one of the small Finger Lakes in what we call upstate New York, to try to make a go of the slightly run down rustic resort that she received in her divorce from Yorick Dane and his Vigorous Appendage.

Things are going reasonably well, in spite of the many restrictions that the Others have placed on what Vicki can and cannot do with the buildings on her resort, until Vicki’s one and only acknowledged tenant, Aggie Crow, brings home a “squooshy” eyeball. To eat. And that’s when Vicki discovers that she isn’t as finished with Yorick as she has hoped, and that the Others that most humans try to think of as “far away” and “out there” are, in fact, “in here”, or at least in Lake Silence. And that the Lake and all of its surroundings are, in fact, “out there” where the Others control everything.

Just because you don’t believe in Mother Nature, doesn’t mean that she doesn’t believe in you.

Escape Rating A: A friend wondered what there was to say about the world of the Others now that Meg, the heroine of the first part of the series, seemed to be well on her way to living a normal life including an eventual HEA.

It turns out there’s quite a lot to say, and quite a lot of very interesting characters to say it with. (I always thought that “reading crack” was somehow embedded in the pages of Meg’s story – and whatever it is, its still here).

The humans in this story are all too recognizably human, with the species’ ability to stick their heads in the sand and ignore anything that doesn’t conform to their desired reality, and with the all-too-frequent venality and willingness of some people to cheat whenever possible.

I did sometimes find myself wondering if the species might have developed somewhat differently in a world where humans were demonstrably not the apex predator, but that wouldn’t make for half so interesting a story or for characters who are so easily recognizable.

Vicki DeVine serves the same purpose in Lake Silence that Meg did in Written in Red, even though she comes from a completely different perspective. And unlike Meg, Vicki herself is not merely human, but garden-variety human. She has no special powers. She’s just a good person whose been repeatedly hurt, and she’s open minded and likeable. And the Others like her.

Vicki doesn’t know it but the resort she owns is meant to be a kind of “halfway house” for Others who want to learn to blend into the human world. Not because being human is considered better, because it’s not. But because the Others need to keep a closer eye on the humans in their human controlled enclaves, especially after the fiasco that culminated in Etched in Bone. And because humans, with their useful opposable thumbs, have invented some really cool stuff that some Others like to use, particularly those who live closer to humans, like the Sanguinati (read vampires) and the various animal shifters, like the Crowgard, Beargard and Panthergard who live near Lake Silence.

So when Vicki’s ex starts trying to dislodge her from her place on Lake Silence, the Others gather their forces, first to figure out what is really going on under the surface, and second to protect their friend and eliminate their enemies. By any means necessary.

There’s just enough humor to get the reader over the serious dark patches in the story, and there are plenty of both. That so many of the Sanguinati have become either lawyers or accountants, and just how good they are at professional bloodletting as well as the other kind provides no end of delight.

There’s something about the world of The Others that draws the reader in at the very beginning, and just doesn’t let go. Part of the appeal in this particular book is the character of Vicki DeVine, who has been wounded so badly and yet is still doing her best to get back on her feet and live her life. She is a character who starts out the story very small, but begins to grow into her place as the story progresses. It’s going to be fun watching her journey as the series continues.

Joint Review: Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop

Joint Review: Etched in Bone by Anne BishopEtched in Bone (The Others, #5) by Anne Bishop
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: The Others #5
Pages: 416
Published by Roc on March 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop returns to her world of the Others, as humans struggle to survive in the shadow of shapeshifters and vampires far more powerful than themselves…
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

Our Review:

Marlene: As I write this, it’s early October. I got the eARC from Netgalley five months pre-publication, and simply couldn’t wait until I read it. Whatever else is in this series, it’s definitely reading crack. I can’t resist them, and once I start, I can’t put them down until I’ve finished. Something about this world and these people drags me in every single time.

Cass: I’m stunned an ARC was available so early. Is that normal? Either way, I agree there must be some kind of digitally transferable narcotic in the font, because I cannot stop reading these books….and yet I can never come up with a reason to like them. Other than Hope Wolfsong. LONG LIVE HOPE WOLFSONG!

Marlene: FYI five months is a bit early. Three is more common, and sometimes it’s less than one. Occasionally the eARC comes out just slightly post-publication, which just seems back-asswards. I digress.

This series always strikes me as dark and fluffy, which really ought to be an oxymoron, and somehow isn’t. The Black Jewels series was dark and erotic (although Cass disagrees strenuously about the erotic quotient). Certainly the sexuality in that series was often front and center, even if wrapped in a choke collar. The “Eros” quotient of The Others is almost non-existent. And it’s also where some of the fluff comes in. Eventually, if this series continues, there will be a romantic relationship between Simon Wolfgard and Meg Corbyn. But right now that part is all confused emotion and virtually no action at all. And that’s actually a good thing, because even 5 books in, Meg is nowhere near ready for the level of intimacy and confusion that comes with being in a romantic relationship. That she’s getting there at all is part of what makes this series her journey.

Cass: The sex stuff confused the shit out of me this time around. My understanding from previous books was that the Others will totally plow humans while in their human forms – mostly as an experiment or kink. However, this time around, Simon tells Meg that the Wolves only mate “once a year.” No recreational sex? If they only want to have sex one time a year, would they really waste it on a human – someone they would be totally open to consuming for a post-coital snack?

I really struggled with continuity in this book. Not just with sex but with masturbation – I mean cutting. Wasn’t Meg addicted to cutting last time? Weren’t there pages and pages of debate about how she just can’t stop touching herself and how all those self-inflicted orgasms were going to kill her? And yet….suddenly no cutting. Instead of playing with herself she has a deck of cards. Wow that was easy. So easy that you wonder why the hell ALL the rescued prophets haven’t been given a sketch book and a deck of cards.

Marlene: I read the sex issues about mating vs. recreational sex as coming from the animal side of their natures. Also as part of the physiological differences between males and females on the animal side. Comparing to cats, with which I’m all too familiar, an intact female will go into heat every six months or less. The rest of the time she has no interest in mating. However, whenever a local female does go into heat, all the intact male cats for miles around are ready and eager to sire her kittens. Human females may not be fertile all the time (thank goodness) but are receptive a lot more often than once a year.

What I found interesting about this aspect was the way that the Others referred to Meg as Simon’s future mate – implying that they would, or at least could, form that long-term bond. Nothing like that has ever happened before. The Others may have recreational sex with humans, but they don’t form mating bonds with them. Except Simon and Meg, if they both survive the trouble they constantly find themselves in.

As far as cutting vs. the deck of cards, I did see Meg struggle with her desire to cut. To me, she seemed like an addict in a 12 step program, trying to resist the urge to cut “today”, and attempting to put together a string of “todays”. I also didn’t see that it was/would be the orgasms resulting from the cut that would eventually kill her. The orgasms are the built-in reward, the high, for the cutting. What would kill her would either be going mad, as the results of the uncontrolled cuts that sounded like a Dali painting mixed with some of Picasso’s cubism on steroids, or simply bleeding out, if she cut herself and no one was around for after care. Or if she just plain screwed up and hit an artery.

In other words, to me it made sense within this world’s context.

Cass : One thing I have enjoyed so far in the series has been the world-building……but that all went to shit with this installment. We spent so much time really looking into how the infrastructure of a society changes when the land cities are built on is leased, when every road and train track is an easement, when you have absolutely no water rights and pollution is prohibited. Etched in Bone stepped back from the larger society-based stories to really focus on Lakeside and the human pack, and introduction of “bad humans.”

The Others had their own reasons for reacting the way they did to the “bad humans,” which was addressed. Everyone else? Suddenly developed a case of shit-for-brains. Oh, you have proof that children are not being fed because an abuser is stealing their food? That they are living in absolute filth? That a child is being groomed for sex work? Do humans not have child protective services here?! The main characters all discuss how the bad human (trying to avoid spoilers) is going to fuck everything up, and possibly get them all killed…..but does anyone take any action? You don’t need Simon to handle an abusive drug-dealing thief. Instead, everyone sits back and frets about how bad it could be, and what a huge danger this person will be if they learn about Meg, and how scared we are for the poor defenseless kids…..but nothing happens. At all. Until it all gets so bad that The Others are forced to intervene. If this is how the so-called “good humans” behave, maybe it’s a good thing The Others so tightly control everything in Thaisia. I wouldn’t trust these morons with any kind of governing responsibility.

Did we know that humans are all super-sexist before this book? That there is rampant totally legal gender discrimination in employment? The only solution to which is, you guessed it, Others making the hiring decisions.

Marlene: The way that the bad shit went down drove me batty too. Howsomever, I think I let the way things unfolded go because it felt like it matched the current popular perception of how child protective services does and doesn’t work. (As a popular perception, it may not match reality). But it seemed like we as the audience knew for certain exactly how bad things were, because the story is told in third-person omniscient perspective. The characters in the story, while they had very, very solid guesses that were right, didn’t “know” in a legal sense, except for Sierra who was just as abused as the children. To bring child services in, someone would have to be willing to stand up and say what they witnessed and experienced. And the ones who actually knew, the children and Sierra, were up the river Denial for most of the story.

(I’m seeing a comment that popular perception is wrong, which doesn’t surprise me. But also doesn’t change what popular perception is. There are too many stories in the media where the local equivalent of CPS is overworked and understaffed and misses obvious signs or doesn’t investigate at all.)

Also, based on the rampant sexism we see from the human side of this story, we don’t actually know whether the kind of child services that we think of today even exists. That women were still restricted from some jobs even at what seems like an analog to our present is something that I don’t remember having seen before in the story, but also didn’t completely surprise me. The way that civilization keeps getting knocked back by The Others would mean that some reforms might not get reached. The ability of women to serve in all jobs everywhere is a hard-won right that has only occurred within my lifetime, and only in certain places on this planet. And is frequently a right that exists on paper but is next to impossible to enforce in practice.

Cass: That is not how CPS works! GAH! Lawyer brain is exploding. You don’t have to know for sure what is going on in the home. If you see signs that something may be going on, you report it. Specially trained investigators separate the children from their abuser and ask all kinds of general questions. They send the kids to counselors. They do medical tests. They survey the home. They can drop in unexpectedly. They pull school records. They interview neighbors and family…..you don’t need to see a kid being starved and beaten to report that you suspect a child is being starved and beaten. It’s not perfect, and they don’t catch everything, but they would have here. Pretty clear the kids were very chatty and open to admitting anything – when asked.

If CPS in Thaisia does not exist or is not like this….pretty easy to address. People commenting about the abuse could throw off a line: “And with food shortages, child protective services is refusing to take in anyone who is not an orphan…” something that addresses existing world building and tells you that some of the human services agencies we take for granted don’t exist in this form. Instead there is the implication that there is a CPS, but the bloody COPS AND ATTORNEYS of all people can’t be bothered to involve them. [end rant]

Marlene: It does seem to be a piece of worldbuilding that is missing. I think there was also an element of the human authorities deferring to The Courtyard on what was their turf, even when The Elders were wrong, wrong, wrong. Pissing off The Elders results in annihilation, and sometimes the needs of the many end up outweighing the needs of the few, whether anyone involved likes it or not.

And your rants never end, but they are generally fascinating.

Cass: I’m only ending that particular rant. I have a whole separate rant. WHERE IS MY HOPE WOLFSONG?! I could have skipped all the Meg/Simon stuff in favor of more Hope. Hope! Hope! Hope! Who cares what Meg or Simon are wearing at any particular time? You know what I care about? HOPE WOLFSONG TEACHING A WOLF TO DRAW. That is wonderful story I want to hear about. The new renaissance in Earth Native Art. While the Elders are deciding what to keep, they could develop an appreciation for artistry. They already like books and music….

Marlene: And COOKIES! (Cass insert: Yesssss, save the bakers)

But seriously, after several stories where we’ve seen more and more of the world of Thaisia, both its successes and very definitely its failures, the story in Etched in Bone is so insular it almost seems claustrophobic. And also a bit anti-climactic.

So many of the earlier books started with Meg and Lakeside and expanded outwards into the world, seeing the ways that the ripple effects of Meg’s adoption into the Lakeside Courtyard kept having effects in the wider universe. It felt like nearly every interaction, not just between Others and humans, but also between different species of Others, caught some of the ripples of Meg’s integration into Lakeside.

This story takes place on a very small scale, with the introduction of one sociopath into the Lakeside Courtyard, and then the way that the poison spreads throughout the community, and everyone’s reaction to it. It reminded me a bit of more than one TV episode where the hero or heroine has to find a righteous way to eliminate an abuser. This story felt small.

Cass: Yeah, I really could have seen it as short story or novella told from Twyla/Monty/ Sissy’s perspectives. (I loved Twyla’s irritation that all her kids refuse to use the names she gave them in favor of nicknames). The main series follows the main plot, and we can see how these things are impacting individual lives in other outings. This book felt so ancillary that – if there is another book coming – I would say you could skip this one and miss absolutely nothing.

Marlene: As far as the main plot goes, yes, this book feels skippable. Except for one thing that I wonder whether it will have later consequences. The Elders – the really, really, really powerful Others, the ones that even the “lesser” Others are pee in their pants (when they wear pants) scared of, totally, utterly and completely fucked up. And they fucked up in a way that none of The Others will forget. They also fucked up so badly that the ones they consider lesser banded together to tell them to fix the mess they made and made that stick. That’s a potential shift in the balance of power, as Father Erebus if no one else will certainly realize that The Elders are no longer all powerful if enough of them can get together and stick together.

And while the story as a whole felt anti-climactic, I still enjoyed being immersed in this world for a few hours. I like most of these people, even the ones for whom the definition of people is a bit loose. I like watching them interact, and it is always fun to see the way that these very different groups are building a community that respects their differences and searches for the best way they can all work together.

And unlike my friend Cass, I am interested in watching the progress of Meg and Simon’s relationship.

Cass: I’m already prepared for this series to end when Meg gives birth to the first blood prophet wolf.

My review can be summarized in one line: Not enough Hope Wolfsong. -500 points.

Escape rating F for completely fails to believably address abusive families.

Marlene: I’m also prepared to see this series end, either with the birth of Meg and Simon’s first child, or more likely with their wedding/mating ceremony. I had a terrible thought about just the normal amount of bleeding that occurs in childbirth and wondered if the author would or even should go there. It might be fascinating if Meg sees visions of the child’s future as she is giving birth to it, or the scene could be more gruesome and gory than many readers will want to see in what should be a happy ending. But we’re not nearly there yet. So I really hope that this series isn’t done.

On my other hand, I enjoyed this while I read it, but found it infinitely forgettable after I finished. And it’s only been a couple of days. So I have very mixed feelings.

Escape Rating B for being absorbed in it while I was in it, but being forgettable immediately after.

Joint Review: Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop

Joint Review: Marked in Flesh by Anne BishopMarked in Flesh (The Others, #4) by Anne Bishop
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: The Others #4
Pages: 416
Published by Penguin/Roc on March 8th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For centuries, the Others and humans have lived side by side in uneasy peace. But when humankind oversteps its bounds, the Others will have to decide how much humanity they’re willing to tolerate—both within themselves and within their community...
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…

My Review:

Marlene: Before we get to the snark portion of our review, Cass is letting me set the stage.

I got hooked on Bishop’s The Others series just a few short weeks ago, when I decided I really needed to read at least the first book of this thing before I wrote up which other authors are “read-alikes” for Bishop for an assignment from Novelist. I got hooked so hard on this series (sort of like the cassandra sangue are addicted to cutting) that I read through the rest really fast. Now I’m with everyone else, panting for book 5.

black jewels trilogy by anne bishopI will say that after having read her Black Jewels series many years ago, and now this one, that the author does some very interesting things at that knife-edge where pain and pleasure meet. Neither series is for the faint of heart, but The Others doesn’t go quite as far, or at any rate quite as universally, down the pain and torture path as The Black Jewels.

Cass: I wouldn’t say The Others are any less disturbing than the Black Jewels. Remember the previous books where they were slowing feeding completely conscious and aware living girls into a meat grinder, then distributing it as ground beef?

Marlene: I think the thing that is different is that the whole society in The Black Jewels felt more universally screwed up than it does at the beginning of The Others. There are very, very sick and evil people in The Others, but the society as a whole doesn’t seem run that way, at least not until Humans First and Last starts propagating “the Big Lie” all over the place. And all resemblances between Humans First and Last and the Nazi and neo-Nazi movements feel definitely intentional. They certainly are on the part of this reviewer.

Also, we mostly see the world of The Others from the perspective of people, for looser definitions of the word people, who condemn that practice and want to live mostly in harmony. People who condemn that scene you describe. In The Black Jewels, that kind of thing WAS the prevalent political system.

But it is certainly a matter of degree.

Cass: I first read this a couple months ago – before Trump was a legitimate front-runner for presidency. At the time, I was very irritated with how bloody stupid the majority of the humans were acting. Easily led around the nose by the HFL movement, no matter how blatantly obvious it was that their actions were suicidal. (Were none of you present for events in the last book?!) Now it’s all terribly prophetic.

Nonetheless, I can not get over what I believe is the prevalent message of this series:

MASTURBATION KILLS.

Just to recap, the blood prophets, like Meg, cut themselves to reveal prophecy. If they cut themselves alone and/or do not speak, they feel nothing but horrible pain and are in constant danger of going mad. But when they cut themselves with another person around and share the prophecy? EPIC ORGASM. Cassandra sangue who are born in the wild start “cutting” during puberty, hide it from their parents, and then drive themselves to insanity because they just can’t stop! It’s about as subtle as Victorian-era gynecological care. (Note: I work with cutters on a day-to-day basis. There is no real dialogue with the psychology, or the physiological ramifications of actual cutting. As portrayed, the cassandra sangue could just as easily obtain prophecies from vomiting or urinating or sneezing with no appreciable impact on the plot of the series.)

A running subplot throughout this book is Meg trying to address her addiction to touching herself – I mean – cutting. Proposed solution? SEX. The idea being that when Meg is feeling a nonspecific itch….I believe at one point she determines she needs to cut once a week….she can scratch it with Simon.

As much as I do enjoy the world-building, the Elders, and The Adventures of Hope Wolfsong, I cannot get past all the anti-masturbation subtext.

Marlene: I’ll admit, that the budding romance in this series would feel completely unnecessary, were it not for this particular subplot. Meg doesn’t need to fall in love, but she needs to find a substitute for the intense euphoria she gets from cutting. I wish that link weren’t there. It may be necessary for the story that the cassandra sangue be addicted to cutting, but that addiction did not need to be so overtly sexual.

Also I seem to remember that the young cassandra sangue get their first cuts long before puberty, and that just makes this subplot even more squicky. Doing it for yourself is one thing, having an adult do it for you, and even worse profit from it, adds a whole new layer of squicky. Particular if the point is, as Cass posits, reinforcing the idea that masturbation kills.

Back to where I was originally heading. It’s not that the growing relationship between Simon and Meg isn’t absolutely adorkable, because it is. I just wish that it hadn’t been all wrapped up in Meg’s need to find an alternate form of euphoria. In this scenario, Simon’s prick is equivalent to her razor, and she’s in danger of developing an alternate addiction, to Simon instead of cutting. And doesn’t that have a whole ‘nother bunch of ways it can go horribly wrong?

Cass: Yeah. Super healthy relationship developing there. Just can’t wait. Remember, Meg is supposedly the Trailblazer for all the other prophets. Does that mean that The Blood Prophet’s Guide she’s working on will have a chapter titled: SEX SAVES?

The Others are pretty intense about making sure their prophets are safe. I’m afraid that protective drive could go somewhere very dark, very quickly. At least the Meg/Simon thing has been slowly building over several books. (Though it is still ridiculously unnecessary) Are they going to do something horrific to my amazing Hope Wolfsong?! In case it is not obvious, I am Team Hope. I loved all the Hope chapters. More Hope.

Marlene: One of the good things about this entry in the series is the way that it kept expanding our view of this world. There be worldbuilding here, and that’s something I always love in my fantasy, urban or otherwise.

Hope’s story is hopeful, in more ways than one. And in spite of the horrific visions that she sees. Hope is young enough to still be seen as a child. So instead of what feels like the over-protectiveness directed at the adult Meg, in Hope’s case, she is being adopted. Jackson Wolfgard and his mate are charged with taking care of her, and they see her as another cub they are raising, admittedly a cub who doesn’t turn furry. But she is getting a chance to grow up in a slightly more normal environment. She’s also young enough to adapt to other methods of prophecy. Hope loves to draw, and is able to draw her visions. Where the Controller threatened to cut off her hands if she didn’t stop drawing, Jackson gives her all the art supplies she needs. And her drawings are life-saving, both for her and for the people and terra indigene she is able to warn. She still cuts, but not nearly as often.

Cass: Though I loved all the interludes with Hope, and getting a glimpse of The Elders…..I have to say I was disappointed with Marked in Flesh as a whole. It felt like a filler episode. As though the author knows where she plans to end the series, but has to fill a couple hundred extra pages along the way. With one exception, Marked in Flesh basically ended in the exact same spot it started: Humans in Thaisia losing all their rights because of the HFL.

At one point, a character even lampshades just how repetitive the plot is. I feel you Doc.

“Because everyone in Lakeside will be at risk,” Lorenzo said. “Same song, different day.”

Marlene: Or, to quote Battlestar Galactica:

“This has all happened before. It will all happen again.”

vision in silver by anne bishopMarked in Flesh feels like a continuation of the previous book, and in a way that finally sets up the conclusion. Or what I presume is the conclusion in the untitled book 5 of the series. Vision in Silver (reviewed here) is the gathering storm, especially from the human side. Throughout that book, the HFL is going further and further off the deep end, while The Others are trying to figure out what to do. Or how far to go in what they do.

In Marked in Flesh, the HFL attacks reach their crescendo, and we get The Others response. All the feces hit all the oscillating devices, and the fallout sprays pretty much everywhere. The consequences of those events will be in the next book, both in the sense of what will the remaining humans do, and in the sense of what happens to the Elders of the Others who have taken on human characteristics, and generally the worst of those, in order to retaliate.

One of the other subplots in this particular entry in the series felt like a prepper’s dream. Simon and the folks in Lakeside, both human and Other, are preparing for an “end of the world as we know it” scenario, which comes to fruition at the end of the book. This particular subplot reminded me a whole lot of Grantville in Eric Flint’s 1632, Stirling’s Island in the Sea of Time, and his Dies the Fire. What does everyone do, what do they absolutely need to preserve, when all the technology they have come to enjoy if not depend on, fades away?

It circles back to the question that the Elders ask Simon at the end of Vision in Silver, “how much human should we keep?” and its unspoken corollary, “how many humans should we keep?” The answers are going to be interesting, to say the least.

Cass: In the end, I don’t believe Marked in Flesh is an essential entry of The Others. You could learn all you need to know from the one line found on pg. 374. Feel free to skip this one and wait for book 5 to be released.

I give Marked in Flesh a C- for Clearly on Cruise Control. The only reason this installment exists is to hammer home the evils of masturbation. The only reason it’s not D for Dull is the Periodic Adventures of Hope Wolfsong.

Marlene: While it may not be an essential entry in the series, I still found Marked in Flesh to be compulsively readable and eminently distracting. I got totally sucked in and read the book in a single evening. While there are plenty of uncomfortable overtones to Meg’s relationship with Simon, I very much liked all the other relationship building in the book, all the developing friendships and alliances.

So I give Marked in Flesh a B+ for its ability to keep me completely absorbed.

Review: Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop

Review: Vision in Silver by Anne BishopVision in Silver (The Others, #3) by Anne Bishop
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: The Others #3
Pages: 400
Published by Penguin Publishing Group on March 3rd 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Others freed the  cassandra sangue  to protect the blood prophets from exploitation, not realizing their actions would have dire consequences. Now the fragile seers are in greater danger than ever before—both from their own weaknesses and from those who seek to control their divinations for wicked purposes. In desperate need of answers, Simon Wolfgard, a shape-shifter leader among the Others, has no choice but to enlist blood prophet Meg Corbyn’s help, regardless of the risks she faces by aiding him.
Meg is still deep in the throes of her addiction to the euphoria she feels when she cuts and speaks prophecy. She knows each slice of her blade tempts death. But Others and humans alike need answers, and her visions may be Simon’s only hope of ending the conflict.
For the shadows of war are deepening across the Atlantik, and the prejudice of a fanatic faction is threatening to bring the battle right to Meg and Simon’s doorstep…

My Review:

I read this in one night. I also read Marked in Flesh all in one night, two nights later. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. (Cass and I will be posting a joint review of Marked in Flesh next week)

I will say that I was a bit surprised comparing the book to the blurb, at least in one sense. The blurb gives the impression that Meg cuts a lot more often than she does. Not that it doesn’t happen, and that one of the times it happens isn’t traumatic, but she doesn’t cut nearly as often as it sounds, and Simon doesn’t ask her to do it anywhere near as often as it sounds.

It’s not that he doesn’t need her help, because he certainly does. But a part of the help that he needs is for Meg to figure out other ways that the cassandra sangue can let out their prophecies without having to cut. While that solution won’t work for everyone, and it won’t work all the time, and it won’t deal with the built in addiction to the euphoria that comes after cutting and prophesying, it is a start. And a big, big help.

written in red by anne bishopWritten in Red was all about Meg adapting to the wider world. Murder of Crows felt like it was about the world, especially the world of the Others and the Courtyards, adapting to Meg. Vision in Silver takes things a step further. Now that we know that the terra indigine that we see are not the only ones that there are, or even the most powerful Others that there are, the story in Vision in Silver seems to be about the humans lack of adaptation to the Others.

The tone of the book reminded me of Katherine Kurtz’ Deryni series again, in that sense of “the humans kill what they do not understand.” In the case of the Others, a better description would be that the humans attempt to kill what they do not understand. And because their understanding is so delusional, and so far off the mark from the reality of what the Others are capable of, it is clear in Vision in Silver that we are heading towards a situation where what the humans don’t understand is going to kill an awful lot of them.

But we’re not quite there yet. In Vision in Silver we see the gathering storm. The humans, misled by the Humans First and Last neo-Nazi organization, believe that they can push the terra indigine back as far into the wild places as the humans want, and that the humans can take over whatever and wherever they please.

And, of course, in typical race-baiting idiocy, Humans First and Last encourages its followers to start by wiping out the non-believers at home, inciting rioting and murder of anyone in the human community who is willing to work with the Others instead of against them.

Everyone in Lakeside who has been cooperating with the Courtyard is targeted. Not only are they pushed out of their homes and jobs, but they are attacked in broad daylight with police looking on and doing nothing.

Obviously not those police officers working with Captain Burke and Lieutenant Montgomery. They understand the consequences of breaking the agreements with the Others, and are actively working with Simon Wolfgard and the Lakeside Courtyard to find another, better way. When life on the outside becomes too hot for them, their families are relocated to the Courtyard for protection. Most Courtyards have a kind of “hands off” attitude to the human population that surrounds them – in Lakeside they are not just letting them inside, they are making them part of the pack.

Meanwhile, Meg and a few of the released cassandra sangue are having visions of the war that is brewing. And because Simon Wolfgard is the only Courtyard leader to form a working relationship with humans, the Elders of the Others come to ask him a question, “How much human should we keep?”

In the midst of increasing tensions and rising death counts, Simon is forced to face the consequence of his actions, the action that brought Meg Corbyn into the Courtyard and seems to be re-shaping the world.

When the Elders strike back at the humans who have gone so horribly wrong, how much human adaptation should survive among the terra indigine? How many humans should survive? How many of his human pack can Simon protect? And how many should he?

marked in flesh by anne bishopEscape Rating A: I want to say that this is the “things are always darkest just before they turn completely black” book in this series, and that might be about right. Things certainly do get blacker in Marked in Flesh.

If you love urban fantasy or alternate history, this series is a winner from beginning to its current stopping point. But it would be impossible to make sense of it by starting in the middle. This is a series where you have to start from the beginning, with Written in Red, so that you can adapt to the world with Meg.

A big part of what makes this series so compelling for readers is the interrelationships. All of the Others are predators, and most of them are apex predators. And yet, all of the Others who have chosen to live in a Courtyard have learned to adapt. Even in those Courtyards where they have not adapted much to the humans around them (and that’s most of them) they have adapted to work with each other. Vlad Sanguinati and Simon Wolfgard would normally range far from each other. Instead, the vampire and the wolf-shifter are friends, and it’s a relationship that surprises them both.

As Meg “grows up” we see more of her vulnerabilities. She’s less perfect than she was. The more she learns, the more doubts she has. And at the same time, she is still very much loved and protected. But the universal love that surrounds her seems less Mary-Sue-ish now that her gifts are being explored. Especially as we learn that all of the Others have an extreme reverence for her gift, as well as a healthy fear of it. While the too-frequent references to Meg and the cassandra sangue’s status as “Namid’s gift, wondrous and terrible” get repetitious, they do reinforce the point that part of the reason Meg is treated the way she is is out of both respect for her gift and fear of it – her blood is too easily shed, and poisonous to the terra indigine.

Another reviewer described Simon and Meg as adorkable, and that’s about right. They are moving very, very tentatively towards being more than friends, but neither of them has the remotest clue what that might mean. Nor do either of them seem emotionally prepared for the possibility. But like so many relationships in real life, it’s happening anyway. And it’s lovely and silly and cute to watch. Even though some of the overtones that Cass and I will discuss in our review of Marked in Flesh do give me pause.

I would say that one of the things that keeps surprising me is just how damn stupid the general human population is in this series. Then I read the morning news and am forced to remember that humans are just that stupid and easily (mis)led in real life, too.

Review: Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

Review: Murder of Crows by Anne BishopMurder of Crows (The Others, #2) by Anne Bishop
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: The Others #2
Pages: 354
Published by Roc on March 4th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Return to New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop’s "phenomenal" (Urban Fantasy Investigations)  world of the Others — where supernatural entities and humans struggle to co-exist, and one woman has begun to change all the rules…
After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.
The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murder of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard — Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader — wonders if their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or a future threat.
As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now, the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.

My Review:

written in red by anne bishopFor a terrific laugh, read Cass’ absolutely scathing review of Written in Red, the first book in this series. Which she ends by saying that Anne Bishop remains inexplicably entertaining. Which she is. Then Cass turned around and reviewed Murder of Crows the following year, and while she loved hating Written in Red, she actually liked Murder of Crows. And so do I. (For those who remember the old Life cereal commercials, Cass is Mikey, she hates everything)

I finally got around to reading Written in Red as a tangent to some work I did for Novelist, and got absolutely hooked – to the point where I bought Murder of Crows and Vision in Silver just so I could keep going with the series. I was able to get Marked in Flesh from NetGalley, and I’ll be part of a gang-bang review of that next week at The Book Pushers. It turns out we’re ALL hooked on this series.

I’ve been putting off reading Murder of Crows, not because I didn’t want to read it, but because I knew I’d get sucked in and not emerge for hours, which is exactly what happened. I read it on Sunday. All of it. In one swell foop. So if you want to know what I did this weekend, the answer is mostly “read Murder of Crows and desperately resisted the impulse to read the rest of the series all night.”

Murder of Crows is the second entry in Bishop’s The Others series, and it provides a lot more information on this alternate history of the world, where all the wild things that came before humans are intelligent, powerful and in control of the world. The Others are sanguinati (vampires), animal shifters of all types, and elementals, at least so far. There’s one other who may be close kin to Death in the Discworld, or possibly all four of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse all rolled into one badass witch.

But this story isn’t about her. Instead, it’s about one very fragile human, Meg Corbyn, and her interactions with one of the Others urban outposts – the Courtyard in Lakeside. (I just realize that Lakeside might be Chicago, but I digress. And I might also be totally wrong.)

Meg Corbyn is a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet. When she bleeds, she spouts true prophecy and experiences extreme ecstasy. She’s also an escapee from a prison where she and others like herself are exploited, abused and ultimately die. If they aren’t ground up for parts first.

While Written in Red was the story of Meg’s adoption by the Lakeside Courtyard and her effects on its various residents, in Murder of Crows we see Meg more as the agent of her own life, and the impetus for a grand rescue of all of her fellow blood prophets. You could say that Written in Red was about Meg’s adaptation to the world, and that Murder of Crows is about the world’s adaptation to her.

We see this story play out from multiple perspectives. First there is Meg, learning to live on her own as a full person. While the Others in the Courtyard protect her for various reasons of their own, this is still the first time where Meg is living her own life and able to do what she wants. And also able to make her own mistakes.

By effectively adopting Meg as a mascot and pet, the Others in Lakeside have proclaimed her as one of their own, someone they will kill to protect. And when the Others protect, it isn’t just one on one – they have the power to level continents.

The Others in Lakeside find themselves changing to adapt to Meg’s presence in their midst. While the changes are most obvious in Simon Wolfgard – or at least obvious to everyone except Simon and Meg – everyone adapts somewhat.

One of the biggest adaptations is learning by necessity to see some humans not just as “not prey” but as actual kin. Meg is now one of their own, and as a human, Meg has gathered around herself a pack of her own humans, who are teaching her all the things about being human and female that her imprisoned life intentionally did not.

Just as Meg is “not prey”, her pack is also “not prey”. Even further, they are now beings whose thoughts, feelings and wishes must be considered carefully, if only because of the effect that they, in turn, will have upon Meg.

So it’s a calculated dance, to become human enough to relate to these humans in their midst, without losing their power of being terra indigene, or Other. That Simon, specifically, is becoming both a bit more human and a bit more wolf as he tries and mostly fails to figure out how he feels about Meg is fun to watch.

We also see a lot more of the organization and power of the Others in general. There is trouble brewing (being deliberately brewed) between the humans on this continent and the Others who own and control it. Humans, being human, think the continent belongs to them. Every time they overstep their very controlled bounds, the Others remind them of who is really in charge. The push and pull of this contest is often deadly, as the humans seem to have fatally short memories about the realities of their existence.

And we see the human side of this equation through the eyes of the Lakeside police, specifically Lieutenant Montgomery and Captain Burke. They are trying to forge a cooperative relationship with the Lakeside Courtyard, in the hopes that it will help Lakeside survive the storm that they know is coming.

So, while the operation in this particular story is the hunt for the imprisoned blood prophets and the punishment of those who have kept them captive and profited from their anguish, it is also a gathering of allies and a drawing of lines for the war to come.

Escape Rating A-: A “murder of crows” is a colorful collective noun for a group of crows, and yes, the murder of a group of crows in one of the opening events in this story. But because of Meg’s prophecies, it is a murder of crows and not a murder of Crows. The animals are killed in an attempt to reach the intelligent members of the Crowgard. And it is an opening salvo in someone’s misguided attempt to pit the humans against the Others, and to recapture Meg.

While the murder and the recapture fail, the attempts to pit the humans against the Others are all too successful, and escalating. Because I’m reading this in 2016 instead of 2013 when it was published, I’m seeing all too many parallels between the way that hatred is ginned up against the Others and the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim attacks that are currently all too prevalent.

The difference in the story world is that what the humans keep forgetting is that the Others control everything – they own the land and all the natural resources upon it. They can disperse an entire town by not renewing its lease on the land it lives on. And anyone who has to travel from one town to another has to travel through woods the Others control and on roads they maintain.

And vampires can turn into smoke. And everyone who is still breathing needs air. Air is one of the Others. So is Thunder, and Fog, and Earthquake.

You get the picture, but so many of the humans in this story seem to forget, encouraged by race-baiting politicians.

But this is Meg’s story. Meg is, essentially, growing up. While she appears to be in her early-to-mid 20s, her life before the Courtyard was carefully protected and controlled. As she discovers more about herself, she is made aware that some of what she experienced was actually for her own protection, even as it also made her “gift” easier to exploit. The cassandra sangue have been bred to be so overly sensitive to outside stimuli that they need a controlled environment. They have also been bred to be both the strongest prophets possibly as well as increasingly susceptible to becoming addicted to the pleasure brought by cutting and prophesying.

Now that Meg is out in the world, she has to control her own environment, and find a way to control her biological need to cut and foretell. At the same time, the more that she learns, the more she is aware that her gift can save people. And while she fights the compulsion to cut too much, too often and too deep, she is also all too aware that her gift can save the lives of those she loves, even as it shortens her own.

She is trapped in a dilemma that she did not make but must navigate, not just for herself but for all the other cassandra sangue who will be released into the world if the Others’ quest to take down her former “owner” is successful.

I will also say that Cass was right. Meg is certainly, if not an actual Mary Sue, more than a bit too good to be believed outside the pages of fiction. Everyone she comes into contact with loves her, except of course, for those who just want to use her. While some of that insta-love is explained by the status granted to her by her gift, she is also just plain nice to everyone, and everyone loves her back. Even, seemingly, that lone horsewoman of the apocalypse I mentioned earlier.

Learning more about the world of the Others and the way that they operate was fascinating. There be worldbuilding here, and it helps ground the story. One of the fascinating bits, not completely in a good way, was the sudden outburst of the Humans First and Last neo-Nazi movement. History is completely against any attempt by humans to oust the Others from control. And that includes extremely recent history. Is the vast majority of the human population complete morons?

vision in silver by anne bishopThe more I learn about this world, the deeper I want to dive. This weekend, I’ll get my wish and read both Vision in Silver and Marked in Flesh. And I can hardly wait!