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GUEST REVIEW:  Written in Red by Anne Bishop

GUEST REVIEW: Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Dear Ms. Bishop,

This is my first time reading one of yours. The first book in the rather prolific Black Jewels series has resided on my shelf for a few years now, but for whatever reason I just haven’t found my way to picking it up, likely due to a nagging suspicion that that particular dark fantasy might, in fact, be a bit too dark for me. But then this year I began hearing murmurings of a new urban fantasy series, and the possibilities started to take shape in my mind. These murmurings ran along the lines of complicated social order, shapeshifters, exceedingly gradual relationship development, vampires, detailed world building, etc. Before long, Written in Red was giving me that vibe, and it was only a matter of time before I picked up a copy and settled in to see for myself.

Written in Red Anne BishopMeg Corbyn needs somewhere to hide. After fleeing the only home she’s ever known, she finds herself answering a want ad for a human liaison within the notorious Lakeside Courtyard. A collection of businesses run by the Others, Lakeside is headed up by one Simon Wolfgard. Together with the heads of the various shifter and vampire factions, Simon has little use for humans except as prey. But the courtyard requires a go-between, someone who will sort through the mail and day-to-day communications between the Others and their uneasy human counterparts. And so Meg is given the job, despite Simon’s misgivings, including her nonexistent past and indeterminate scent. Profoundly grateful, Meg sets out to learn how to live a life and do her job so well no one will ever think to ask her why she showed up desperate and alone on their doorstep in the first place. But the Others are far too canny for that, and when local human law enforcement begins sniffing around the courtyard, Simon knows it’s something to do with their recently acquired human. But by this time, the wild and wary inhabitants of the compound have grown surprisingly protective of Meg. Even the vampires have allowed her onto their grounds. And so Simon finds himself racing to discover her secret before it sets off the kind of conflict between the Others and the humans from which they may never recover.

There is something absolutely compulsive about this novel. It’s not fast-paced. It’s not action-packed (although there are a couple of rather spectacularly explosive scenes near the end). It has quite a large cast of characters. And it rather annoyingly switches scenes just when you want more from the people you’re with. But. I didn’t want to be anywhere else but there. With timid Meg and prickly Simon and the cringeworthy, blood-soaked nightmares that haunt her and threaten his people. I’ll be honest. I have a fairly weak stomach when it comes to cutting in general, and so the revelation of Meg’s role as a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, tested my bounds to a certain degree as she was raised, in a sense, to cut or be cut and receive valuable prophecies on the ensuing wave of mixed pain and euphoria. It never gets too grisly, and the Others’ protective instincts help to keep Meg fairly intact, but I remain uneasy as to what lies in store for her on that front as questions of both destiny and consent will play what I can only assume will be a fairly significant role.

What I fell in love with was those quiet, day-to-day interactions between Simon and his host of furry, fanged followers and the solitary human girl in their midst. The Other hierarchy is fascinating and rich. And it is very much other. These shifters and vamps are not interested in making friends and playing nice. They are so completely not interested in that. And so Simon’s frustrating reaction to Meg throws everything off kilter, as his instincts insist she’s not prey, while everything about her screams weakness and fair game. I can see how Meg could easily read too passive for some readers. But I found her both sympathetic and compelling. The very fact that she escapes from somewhere no one escapes from and manages to secure a job and the trappings of a new life for herself solidified my place at her side. I only grew to love her more as she is somewhat reluctantly roped into helping the Wolfgard’s adorable young nephew Sam deal with past trauma and find a balance between his wolf and human selves.

Meg’s gradually developing thing with Simon is so very gradual, and it got under my skin in a real way. She grew to assert her independence as he learned to respect her freedom. They continue to frustrate the hell out of each other throughout the book. And I loved it all. I didn’t even miss the lack of heated romance (though the signs are so all there and I am looking forward to developments in that arena most eagerly). Here is a fairly representative encounter between Meg and Simon early on:

The office’s back door wasn’t locked, so he slipped inside, removed his boots, and padded across the back room in his socks. He could hear low music even through the closed door that connected to the sorting room. As he entered the room, he saw Meg take a CD out of the player and say, “I don’t like that music.”

“Then why listen to it?” he asked.

She whirled around, wobbling to keep her balance. She put the CD back in its case and made a notation on a notebook sitting next to the player before answering him. “I’m listening to a variety of music to discover what I like.”

Why don’t you know what you like?

“Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Wolfgard? Today’s mailbag hasn’t arrived yet, but there are a few pieces of old mail. I put them in HGR’s spot.” She indicated the cubbyholes in the sorting room’s back wall. “Also, I’m still not clear if the ponies deliver mail to the Market Square businesses or if someone from the businesses is supposed to stop in for that mail.”

Right now he didn’t care about the mail or packages or any other damn monkey thing. He took the poster out of his pocket, opened it, and set it on the table. “No more lies,” he said, his voice a growl of restrained menace. “What happens next will depend on whether you answer two questions honestly.”

She stared at the poster. Her face paled. She swayed, and he told himself to let the bitch fall if she fainted.

“He found me,” she whispered. “I wondered after the other night, but I thought . . . hoped . . .” She swallowed, then looked at him. “What do you want to know?”

The bleakness in her eyes made him just as angry as her lies.

“What was your name, and what did you steal?”

The slow but steady incline in this complicated story worked for me. In fact, the whole thing reads quite a bit like a police procedural/urban fantasy mash-up, as the focus revolves between Others, humans, villains, and Meg. Or “The Meg,” as many of the shifters so charmingly refer to her. Yes, I could have done without one ridiculously overdone wannabe villain. And, yes, the pacing does plod from time to time as threads are flung far and wide in not-always discernible directions. But the incredibly subtle development of the key relationships, combined with a truly fresh take on supernatural politics, set Written in Red apart from the pack. I can’t wait to return. B+

 

Cheers,

Angie

 

BIO

Angie is a bookish sort with a soft spot for urban fantasy, YA, historicals, and mysteries. Ever since she read The Witch of Blackbird Pond and made the acquaintance of one Nat Eaton, stories with no romantic subplot need not apply. Her favorite authors include Robin McKinley, Juliet Marillier, Sharon Shinn, Mary Stewart, Megan Whelan Turner, Kristin Cashore, Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, and Ellen Emerson White. You can find Angie at her blog www.angie-ville.com or on Twitter @angiebookgirl.

 

 

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REVIEW:  Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

REVIEW: Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Clean-Sweep-Cover-Small

On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina.

And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night….Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

 

Dear Ilona Andrews,

“It doesn’t matter where you are from. You’re here now and it’s my job to protect you and everyone here. I’m doing my job and I don’t appreciate the drama. Something isn’t right with you and this property. Strange things happen around it. I don’t know what’s going on, but I will find out. You could make it easier on yourself by coming clean.”
“Sure. This is a magic bed-and –breakfast and the two guys in my kitchen are aliens from outer space.”
“Right.” Officer Marais turned. “I’ll let myself out.”

Oh Officer Marais, if you only knew. There are so many reasons why I enjoy the books written by Ilona Andrews’ writing team – intricate world building, action, humor, great characters, and have I mentioned humor — but when this story was published as a free serial on their website I ignored it even though it was not an easy task to do so. I cannot handle reading a story in bits in pieces especially if one of those bits and pieces will end up in a cliffhanger. I did not want to get irritated at the book for something which is clearly my issue and not the book’s fault, so I was hoping that one day they would publish this one as a single book. And when they finally did of course I bought it.

The world building in this book was *excellent*. I could not help but compare this book with the first book in my favorite series by these writers, the Kate Daniels series. Of course, that was their first book and it is not fair to compare the writing, but it is clear how far they have come – there is no info dump of any kind in this book. The information about this world is given to the reader when the story warrants it and no earlier, and the information fits the action and moves the action along. I am used to the authors using all kinds of mythologies and fantastic creatures in their books and using them to create original worlds, but in this book they did something even I did not expect. I have read a lot of books where vampires and werewolves played an important role, and I can honestly state that I did not think that it was possible to add anything original to the vampire and werewolf lores. I thought I had read it all. Well, they proved me wrong, apparently I had not.

As you can see from the blurb, Dina is an innkeeper with magical abilities who runs an unusual bed and breakfast. She decides to get involved because something terrible has happened, something which may put not only the lives of her guests but also those of her neighbors and even herself in danger. Apparently innkeepers of this world, which is very similar to the Earth of our time but with some additions have some unusual duties and responsibilities and can do interesting things. These Inns apparently exist in the several dimensions/realities at the same time and serve as Gateways to earth for the guests from other galaxies/worlds. Innkeepers’ first loyalties are to their guests and Inns and if I understood correctly more often than not they are neutral to everything else around them as long as it does not threaten their guests. But I am guessing that in the rare circumstances they can decide that neutrality be damned and join the fight as Dina did.

I thought Dina was awesome. I think the regular and magical part of her nature were blended really well and I just thought she was a very likeable human being, somebody who would be fun to have tea with, if I didn’t end up on her bad side. I liked that Dina was kind enough to try to help knowing that other people and animals could end up dead, but also knew when to ask for help from others. I thought that she had a great sense of humor and I loved her dog.

“Sean grabbed a young oak branch and jerked it off the three. Beast launched herself and he swung the branch like a bat, trying to knock her aside. With a sound somewhere between an upset wolverine and a pissed-off bobcat, Beast clamped on to the branch. Sean jerked it back and forth, trying to get her loose. Beast hung on and went airborne. Four rows of teeth crushed the wood – chomp-chomp-chomp—and Sean stumbled back, a stump of a branch in his hand.
Beast landed on her paws and bared her fangs, “Awwwwwreeeeeeoo!”
“Oh shit”.
*****
“A moment later Beast trotted back, climbed the steps, squirmed through the dog door, and collapsed on the rug, exhausted.
I cuddled her up. “Best dog ever.”
Beast rubbed her face against my shirt and licked me”.

If you were to ask me whether there is a romance in this book, or whether the handsome werewolf and vampire are mentioned just for the fun of it, I would say that there is definitely flirting going on but nothing more than that yet. And yes, there is a Twilight joke at the end of the book.
“I suggest you give up now. According to my research, in a vampire-werewolf love triangle, the vampire always gets the girl”.

The blurb mentions Sean Evans, “the alpha strain werewolf” (I will let you to find out for yourself what “alpha strain” means, because going into that would be revealing some important spoilers), and the vampire soldier Armand, and both of these men seemed to me to be great potential candidates for Dina’s affection. To me it was clear that she was at least a little bit attracted to both of them.

This story is not a romance yet – sparks fly when Dina talks to them, and there is a kiss involved between her and one of the men, but nothing more than that. The guys and Dina are really busy in this book trying to take care of the threat, and there is no Romance ending. However, in the end note the authors say that they will be writing a sequel to this book in 2014, and if they decide to include a romantic storyline I think it would be really easy to throw it in, because I thought Dina had a great chemistry with both guys. Whether it will happen or not, I have no idea though.

I do not know how many books are planned in the series, but there are several potential storylines, because there are so many tantalizing loose ends left at the end, and I can’t wait for at least some of them to be explored. The characters in the story are all interesting, but all of them, even Dina, could use more development .There are some characters mentioned who could make guest appearances in upcoming installments and there are some characters whose fates are unknown, whose storylines could be resolved in the future. In other words, I think this is how a first book in the series should be written.

Grade: B+

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