Devourer of books with a preference for fiction. Quite good at competitive reading. Happily hoards books of all kinds. Gets stabby going too long without reading.
This is book three in The Others series, which is one of my absolute favourite paranormal fantasy series at the moment. While you are given enough information to start with this one, you'll get the most enjoyment if you start at the beginning, with the excellent Written in Red. There will also be minor spoilers for the earlier books in the series here, so if you don't like that sort of thing, skip the review until you're caught up.
In a world where humans are in a minority, and frequently considered legitimate prey by the supernatural races who control the land, tensions are mounting. Many of the cassandra sangue, the female blood prophets who see visions when their skin is cut, have been rescued and the Others have placed "the sweet blood" as they call them, under their protection. Most of the women and girls have lived their entire lives in monitored captivity, however, and a lot of them can't handle their new-found freedom, causing mental breakdowns or even suicides. It falls to Meg Corbyn, the woman who first managed to escape and has been making a life for herself with the Others of the Lakeside Courtyard to provide guidance. Aided by her human friends, she attempts to write down what she's learned is important for her to feel safe and comfortable.
The Humans First and Last movement is growing, and it's becoming clear that a lot of the humans who are on friendly terms with the shapeshifters and other creatures in Lakeside are experiencing discrimination and prejudice. "Wolf lovers" might find themselves losing their jobs or even homes. Simon Wolfgard and the other prominent Others in the Courtyard have to consider what to do to aid these humans who have so important to their Meg and shown themselves to be useful and friendly, not just prey. The news reports speak of food shortages all over Thaisia (think North America), which none of the Others can understand, and the strained relationship between humans and Others is getting worse in many places on the continent. Possible insight into the cause of the food shortages comes with the arrival of Officer Montgomery's daughter, alone on a train, with a blood-stained teddy bear, containing a small fortune in gem stones. Her mother, Montgomery's ex, was dating one of the most outspoken HFL spokesmen, and it's clear something has triggered her sending their daughter unaccompanied across the country to her father.
I don't know how many books Anne Bishop is planning in this series, but she's fleshing out the world building and the tense political situation with every book. Meg and Simon also grow closer with each book, while neither is able to acknowledge to themselves or the other what most of those around them already know, that they're essential to each other's well being. Three books in, and when these two finally give in to their feelings, I'll probably explode. Of course, there are major obstacles in their path, most prominent the fact that blood prophets feel compelled to cut themselves to get their visions out, and at maximum, a cassandra sangue has a thousand cuts before she dies. There are already hundreds of cuts on Meg's body, and in this book she experiences just how distressed she can make those around her when she's driven to cut thoughtlessly. Meg, just as the other in her found family of humans and paranormal creatures, has a lot of adapting and growing to do.
We meet a few new characters in this book. There's a young blood prophet sheltering with some wolves, who slowly, thanks to Meg's advice, learns to be comfortable in her new home, and seems to be able to show her visions through drawings, without having to cut herself. As she settles in and starts to get used to her new life, she eventually also chooses a new name for herself. There's Montgomery's daughter, Lizzy, who gives the various animal-shifters in the Lakeside Courtyard more experience with "human pups".
This book felt like a more quiet book than the second, Murder of Crows, because so much of what is happening is simmering off screen. Because so many of the humans living in the bigger cities of Thaisia are unaware of the terrifying forces lurking out in the forests and mountains, not realising that the vampires and shapeshifters living in the Courtyards are the most progressive and open-minded, actually willing to interact with humans. The growing discontent, fermented by the HFL movement is putting the humans in very real danger, and this book, it's made clear that there are some very formidable elementals out there, controlling each of the great lakes and even the ocean itself. Train and ship travel is only safe for humans as long as their iron-clad agreements with the Others are kept. Once they start bending and breaking the rules set down, there are dire consequences, and it's clear that there are older, more powerful beings in the wild of the country who wouldn't hesitate to wipe all the humans off the continent if they prove to be an inconvenience. So shit is about to hit the fan, and it's going to be very interesting to see where Bishop takes the series next.
I love this fantasy world, I love the characters. It makes me happy to spend time with them while I'm immersed in the book. I love that the book examines what humanity actually is and should be - and whether the shifters and vampires who will frequently eat humans may not be the most monstrous of the individuals in Thaisia. More is revealed about how the blood prophets were exploited, and it seems entirely just and fair to me that the perpetrators of such abuse are hunted down and eaten. I've said this in my reviews of the previous two books, but if you like paranormal fantasy, you really should do yourself a favour and read these. They're such great books. Sadly, I will have to wait a year for the next one.