Author: Anne Bishop
Rating: 4.5 Stars
It has become an accepted rule among readers of Urban Fantasy that the first book in a new series is going to be the worst. When it comes to Written in Red, however, all I really have to say is that Bishop has big shoes to fill if she's going to try to write a sequel even better than this. Although this novel is a little tedious to get into, its unique lore, lovable characters, and exciting plot line will likely leave you bereft by the end, not wanting to leave this world Bishop has spun.
Meg Corbyn is a woman on the run. As a blood prophet - one who can see the future when she cuts herself - she has been locked up and held by a Controller all her life. Now, desperate for freedom, Meg flees to the only place she can think of: the Compound. The Compound is home to the Others, creatures who wear human skin but are anything but. Ranging from werewolves and vampires to beings that can turn into birds or control the weather, the only sure thing about the Others is that they are dangerous. The Compound isn't the most welcoming of places for a human, but even upon first sight, Simon, the head of the Compound, knows Meg is no ordinary human. When Meg applies for the position of Human Liaison at the Compound, Simon agrees to let her have it...at least until he can figure out how much a threat she truly is.
What makes Written in Red such a spectacular introduction to this series is the seamless manner in which the story is told. Bishop shifts from the third person perspectives of Meg, Simon, and Monty, a human policeman in charge of handling any crimes or misdemeanors involving the Others. Although multiple perspectives is often jarring for readers, Bishop handles this aspect of the story really well, only shifting the point of view when it is beneficial to the plot line and not because of a new chapter. Moreover, these different perspectives help build a more thorough picture of the world Bishop has created - through human eyes, through Other eyes, and through the eyes of a woman who doesn't quite belong in either worlds.
Additionally, Meg is the epitome of a quiet heroine. While I admire a kick-butt female as much as the next reader, I appreciate the silently fierce heroines even more. When we are introduced to Meg, it is easy to see her as weak and frail. After all, she is thin, her skin covered in scars from her cutting, and nervous. Meg has had little interaction with humans or Others, which makes her an unpredictable character, but one whose journey it isn't difficult to become invested in. At her core, Meg is not only a good person, going out of her way to make friends and assimilate into her new lifestyle, but she is also strong, owning a hidden reservoir of courage and loyalty.
Written in Red is difficult to describe in terms of plot, suffice to say that there are multiple plot lines at play. Simon, the head of the Courtyard, goes off for a period of time to investigate a series of strange occurrences outside of his compound. Meanwhile, Asia, a young woman relaying information about the Others in hopes of landing her own detective show, is snooping around the Compound with malicious intent. At the same time, however, Meg is witness to prophecies of her death, the kidnapping of a wolf pup, Sam, among other trouble. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the plot of this novel is involved, these plot threads subtly come together, never overwhelming the story line, and Bishop manages to still make this a character-centric book.
For me, what made this book so irresistible to put down was the fact that it was comprised of relationships. Although there is a very understated romance in the novel - one that will likely gain more traction as the series progresses - the main appeal of this series is Meg and the manner in which she startles the Others, forcing them to change their lifestyles and acknowledge her presence. With Sam, Simon's nephew who has been an unresponsive pup ever since watching his mother die, Meg makes efforts to gain trust and open the child up to others, finally making him play, eat, act, and shift like a werewolf. Similarly, Meg maintains strong bonds with the humans in the Compound, delivers movies on time to the vampires, feeds the ponies carrots and sugar cubes, talks on equal par with Simon (no longer frightened of him as the book wears on), and amuses the crows. With time, she becomes part of the Compound and their culture, though different from that of the humans, soon grows to include her, which is the main highlight of this novel. It is, for all its deceptive appearance, a feel-good story through-and-through.
Ultimately, I cannot recommend Bishop's latest enough. Not only does it introduce a vivid and original new world, not to mention a set-up of paranormal creatures that has them all living together instead of snarling at one another's throats, but it also sketches characters that worm their way into your heart. In my eyes, there is nothing better than a novel that can inspire emotion and Written in Red does that - in spades.