Have you ever seen a book and something about it compels you to buy it? Well, that's what happened to me. This book isn't the one that enticed me, but it's sequel, Murder of Crows, did. Trying to be good, because I often tend to jump right in to the middle of a series, I decided to read the first book in the series first and that is how I came to read this one. Luckily, my book intuition didn't fail me, and I immensely enjoyed the world that Ms. Bishop created.
Some may find the pace of this book a bit slow, but the author is trying to establish the groundwork for the world she's created. Instead of info dumping as many authors do, she slowly introduces us to her characters and a world which in some ways is very similar to our own, yet very different.
Once upon a time two species were created. The first, the Others, were given the majority of the land to rule and were content to stay there. These beings are fierce with extraordinary powers. Some have control over the elements. Some can shift into different forms. But all are dangerous and in the hierarchy of life, they're at the top of the food chain. Humans were created second and were given a significantly smaller portion of the world to live and eventually began to explore and fan out from their designated space. Eventually they found themselves in Thaisia dealing face to face with the Others. The Others would have driven them out but for the machinations of one individual who proposed a trade of goods and services for use of the land the Others owned. Through mutual agreement rules were created and boundaries established. These laws did not guarantee the safety of those who lived there, but raised the odds of survival significantly. Over the years some humans have forgotten their place and have tested the boundaries of their constraints. Punishment is swift, fatal, and uncontested. At time whole towns would be annihilated for the crimes of a few to demonstrate the Others' no tolerance rule.
Written in Red begins at the first large scale organized stirrings of dissent among the humans against the Others. While most series focus on the human viewpoint, we get the viewpoint of the Others and their take on what is happening. We also get to see the reaction of a handful of humans who believe that relations with the Others need to evolve and hope to change the dynamics of how the Others see humans. Not an easy thing to do when a revolution appears to be on the rise. Meg, the human seeking sanctuary among the Others, is the catalyst and key to that change.
Meg is in some ways is a typical human being, but in others ways she's not. We find out early on she's a cassandra sangue, a blood prophet. She can reveal bits about the future, but the clues need to be deciphered. She's also spent her life confined with limited access and knowledge of the world around her. This makes her a bit naive and perhaps more open minded about how she regards the Others. The only knowledge she's gained about the Others was gleaned from those who held her hostage, and so she takes heed of what she's learn, but takes into account the source. What makes this character fun is that Simon, the resident leader of the Others finds her confusing because while he knows she's human, she doesn't smell like prey. Something every other human does.
Simon and his father Elliot, are in charge of the Lakeside Courtyard. Courtyards are the areas within large cities that the Others have kept control of and deemed theirs. Their presence is a constant reminder of their existence and ensures the rules and guidelines agreed upon by their forefathers are kept. Humans are rarely permitted to enter these areas and do so at their own risk as human laws do not apply in these areas. Those who foolishly enter are at the mercy of the Others. Each Courtyard requires one liaison to act as a go between for the Others and the human delivery personnel. It was sheer luck for Meg when she stumbled across the Lakeside Courtyard that Simon was looking for someone to fill the liaison position. Ironically, had it not been for a prophecy made by another blood prophet, years prior, that told Simon one day a person would come seeking his help who would in turn save the life of one of his loved ones he might not have hired her.
Overall, I adore this new series and gave this story 4 1/2 out of 5 roses. It felt like I walked into a dark fairy tale of the Brother's Grimm making--you know the kind that's a little darker with blood in the shoe instead of the sweet Disney Cinderella version. The world building was wonderful and I believe we've only seen a small portion of it. I have to confess, however, that at first the use of the Other's shape shifting animal paired with the word guard for last names kind of put me off until I thought about the etymology of last names. They were usually created using a person's profession or a family member's name. For instance, most people with the last name Miller probably had a person in their family tree who was a miller by profession. A person with the name Johnson probably had an ancestor with the first name John and their son became known as John's son (ie Johnson). So while the author wasn't overly creative with the names, I felt she chose wisely. I look forward to learning more about the world Ms. Bishop created as the series progresses.