Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Written in Red by Anne Bishop / Siren’s Song by Karen Chance: reviews

5/5 stars on Goodreads

It’s been a while since a book captured my attention so completely that I just kept reading through the night without the need to check social media or other distractions even once. Written in Red by Anne Bishop managed that rare feat. It’s the first book in The Others series, published in 2013. I’ve long meant to read the series, but I only now had a chance to. All I can say is, I should’ve read it sooner.

Written in Red by Anne Bishop

One of the reasons I’ve postponed reading it is because I believed it to be fantasy, as the other books by Bishop that I’ve read have been. The cover of the book strengthened the notion too. But it’s actually urban fantasy set in modern world with a unique origin story. The world is ruled by the Others, beings who can assume the look of humans, but who are all either apex predators or elementals with huge powers. Humans are meat to them, in minority, and fairly thoroughly subservient to Others. Humans are tolerated because of their innovative nature, but—should the need arise—they are easily disposed of too.

However, the story isn’t really about the conflict between humans and the Others. It’s about a woman who isn’t completely either. Meg is a blood prophet who seeks shelter among the Others and begins to carve a life for herself there. Having grown up in an institution with no outside contacts, both the human world and the world of the Others is alien to her.

The book has a great cast of characters, many of whom get their own point of view chapters. Meg is a bit of a Mary Sue, in a sense that everyone instantly likes her. That is explained with her special nature, but it’s still a bit too convenient how predators who don’t really understand humans at all fall for her kindness so easily. But it’s also amusing and charming to watch those interactions.

The Others are violent and convincingly alien. Unlike in urban fantasy in general, there are no mitigating characteristics that would make them more acceptable to readers. Simon, the leading male character, is a wolf, and although he has to spend a lot of time looking like human and interacting with them, his reaction to most things is that of an animal. There is rapport being built between him and Meg, but to describe it as a romance would be making it too human.

Despite the non-human nature of the Others, they are the good guys of the story. The bad guys are all human. The divide is fairly black and white too, which makes the inevitable conflict fairly straight-forward. Bad people want Meg back, even if they have to risk an attack against the Others. In the end, the conflict isn’t as interesting as everything else that is happening in the book.

Meg’s story continues in subsequent books, so this is only the beginning. And since I’m a latecomer to the series, I don’t have to wait to read them all.


Siren's Song by Karen Chance

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Siren’s Song by Karen Chance is an in-between book in her Cassandra Palmer series. It’s a companion book to Dragon’s Claw, an earlier in-between book. Both take place in magical Hong Kong during an attack against it, but in the first the star is Dorina Basarab, and in this one it’s John Pritkin, the war mage. Both books have a couple of scenes where they interact, and it’s fun to witness the characters of different series meeting.

For an additional book—a novella like the cover says—this is a long-one; a hundred thousand words, according to the author, so a full-length book. Half of it would’ve sufficed. The book starts well, but it evolves into an endless, endlessly repetitive battle that is so confusing that it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on. And in the end, it doesn’t even matter. All the fighting has no impact on the outcome of the story.

I like Pritkin. He is by far my favourite character in Cassandra Palmer series, and more of him is always better than less. But despite the length of the book, I felt like I didn’t know him any better in the end than I did before. Instead of the endless mayhem, there should’ve been more internalising, something that would’ve strengthened the character. The author has struggled with this, but has become better in the past couple of books. It’s therefore upsetting that she’s reverted to her earlier bad habits.

There aren’t all that many books left in the series in general. The author has told that her publisher has dropped her, but that she’ll self-publish the rest. If Siren’s Song is an example of how those books will turn out, they might be disappointing.