Looking for a good paranormal urban fantasy where the shifters/vamps/etc aren’t humanised so pretty young girls have an excuse to fall in love with them? This is it.
Anne Bishop is slowly becoming one of my favourite authors. I read and adored her Black Jewels trilogy a couple of years ago so I already had an inkling I’d enjoy The Others. I very much enjoyed Written in Red and I spent the whole time with a huge smile on my face: it is so fun!
So, in a nutshell, our main protagonist Meg, has escaped an unknown compound during a snow storm and found her way to the Lakeside Courtyard – home to the Others. In this world, the Others are Earth Natives – the first of Namid’s creatures and who dominate/own the world. Humans came along much later, don’t interact well with the Others and the only reason they’re leased land/materials is that the Others enjoy using some human inventions. Luckily, the Courtyard is looking for a Human Liaison and the Courtyard’s leader, Simon Wolfgard, can see Meg is terrified and frozen so reluctantly offers her the job and a place to stay. Mischief and disaster ensue.
In case you couldn’t guess, ‘the Others’ is a blanket term for all the supernatural beings in this series which includes but is not limited to, shapeshifting wolves, bears, coyotes, crows, vampires and elementals. There are also quite a few other main species but I don’t want to spoil any of the reveals! But with a refreshing twist. I loved how brutal the Others are. I find that the majority of urban fantasy tries to humanise paranormal creatures (you know, the vamps who want to be good so only drink animal blood/don’t kill their victims so pretty humans can find excuses to love them regardless etc…) but Bishop doesn’t do that here. She shows their loyalty to each other and their reluctant tolerance of humans, but they’re ultimately predators who have no problem killing and eating anyone who doesn’t see things their way. I’m interested to see if she can keep that portrayal realistic as the series progresses or whether they’ll be humanised.
Another aspect of the Others I really appreciated is their struggle to adjust to human interaction. The Lakeside Courtyard is considered particularly progressive as they do hire the odd human to work in their shops and have days where humans can come in to use the shops and ‘mingle’ with the Others. This does not mean the Others understand all their mannerisms and behaviours which is interesting to watch play out. There is a constant struggle to mimic humanity and learn how to interact with them in a natural way but also stay true to who they are: the superior beings and inherently animalistic. I think Bishop finds a great balance between the Others trying to be progressive whilst also showing that they see the world in a completely different way to humans and they have no problem killing those they consider enemies. It works really well.
We also get other human points of view, namely the Lakeside police who fear the Others but understand that they could wipe the city from the map without blinking so are keen to keep relations, if not friendly, then reliable. I liked seeing their relationship develop, slowly watching the Others realise these human police can actually help them and are perhaps better equipped to do so. But what is great is that the fear never goes away. Despite the new communication between the Courtyard and the police, they are still nervous when meeting with Simon and the other leaders and dislike their obvious desire to just eat anyone they don’t like. It’s very interesting and builds tension very well. You never forget that these ‘people’ are predators.
I will admit that the plot could be seen as a bit slow for usual urban fantasy lovers but I found the characters endearing and complex enough to keep me hooked. It’s all about small interactions that show their personalities and all of the misunderstandings develop naturally, which is needed in a paranormal world. Just because paranormal beings hold the power doesn’t mean they know how to deal with those who are different, especially as they know they’re the dominant species. These characters are realistic, despite being magical and I loved it. I think the slower pace is also necessary for us to explore Meg’s character. As the novel opens there’s a lot unknown about her and her past but we know she is running away from somewhere terrible. She claims that she would rather die than go back and we get hints that she doesn’t really understand the world around her very well and that there is something not quite right. I enjoyed not having everything spelt out for me and discovering the truth of who she is and how the Others deal with it was so much fun.
There are a lot of darker aspects to this story too (other than the Others wanting to eat everyone 😀 ) mainly revolving around who and what Meg is and I found that really addictive. It is quite an unusual gift and the difficulties it brings all the characters and the plot is fascinating to read. I often wondered whether Bishop would be able to keep it from becoming too ridiculous while also enjoyable. Thankfully, I think she handles Meg’s *difficult talents* (for want of a better vague statement) really well and it helps build fear of those who would exploit her. We learn that lots of nasty things happened to Meg while she was imprisoned and the knowledge that she could go back creates an underlying sense of unease.
Finally, I thought the writing was very atmospheric. The weather plays quite a large part of the story as it is set in a very stormy, snowy winter season. While reading I regularly looked out the window and expected to see mounds of snow everywhere – that’s how effective and immersive the writing/world is, I felt like I was actually living it. The rumbles of humans rising up against the Others and the potential of all out war (which the Others would undoubtedly win, but at what cost to their newfound friendships?) also felt realistic and builds up tension nicely for the rest of the series.