Wow. I just spent an entire day reading this book from start to finish. Clearly I should have read it sooner. However, that doesn't mean this review is going to be a squee fest. I have some criticisms, and I'll get to them in a bit.
This book's world was fascinating, an alternate universe in which humans and Others coexist. The humans make and develop new things. The Others (vampires, shapeshifters, Elementals, and more) tolerate humans because they like those new things. If the humans become too dangerous, if they start to think they should have more space than they've been allowed, the Others can easily put them in their place. Not only are several Others incredibly dangerous and destructive, the Others also have complete control over the natural resources humans need in order to survive and create new things.
Meg is human, but she's a special sort of human – a cassandra sangue. When her skin is cut, she sees visions. The euphoria that often follows the visions can be addictive, and so cassandra sangue are kept in captivity “for their own good.” Meg manages to escape and get a job as the Human Liaison at the Courtyard, an area ruled by the Others and where human laws do not apply (meaning that, if you break the rules, you might end up becoming the “special meat” at the local butcher shop).
Long-time fans of Bishop's books aren't going to find anything new, as far as the characters in this book go. Most of them have the same sort of behaviors and relationship dynamics that, for instance, the characters in Bishop's Black Jewels books do. Which isn't exactly a criticism, because I like those relationship dynamics. I've read at least some of every one of the series Bishop has written. Sometimes her character-world combinations work well for me, and sometimes they don't. This time, they worked. The characters just didn't feel very new.
For example, Meg was a combination of Jaenelle's over-the-top specialness and Marian's sweetness, which meant that of course everyone would want to protect her. Simon, Meg's Wolf boss, reminded me of Lucivar, which led to me wondering when he and Meg would become a couple. Asia was every greedy, lying, stupid woman who ever tried to throw themselves at Daemon or Lucivar, which meant that she was almost certainly going to do something lethally foolish (even for a Bishop villain, she was incredibly dumb). Several of the Others reminded me a lot of the Kindred: dangerous when angered, but adorable when trying to figure out how to make their favorite human (in this case, Meg) happy.
If you read Bishop's Black Jewels books and were turned off by how special Jaenelle was, this book will probably annoy you even more. The Others' “not human” vibe was great at the beginning of the book. They tolerated humans because they felt they could derive some benefits from human things and because humans could sometimes be amusing, but one misstep and humans were just a different kind of meat. Because she was so special, Meg soon softened their attitudes and prompted some of them to start thinking of certain humans as worth keeping safe. Even as I plowed through the book, I couldn't help but roll my eyes. While the Others didn't turn into harmless kittens, I did feel that Bishop “cutsiefied” them a little too quickly, and in a way that didn't quite fit the world she had built.
Still, I didn't read and love the Black Jewels books because of Jaenelle. I read and loved them because I loved the people and beings who served her and the world they worked to save. The same goes for this book. I enjoyed the way Meg interacted with the world – because she'd been so isolated, she had almost no knowledge of how things worked, what her own preferences were, and what sorts of things were normal. However, I wouldn't say she was the most interesting character in the book. As far as the humans went, I was more intrigued by Ruth, a normal human determined to improve human-Other relations by interacting positively with them, than by Meg, despite the fact that Ruth never once appeared on-page.
I liked Simon and his determination to help his nephew, Sam, and somehow not scare off Meg. I liked Monty, the human cop who wanted to show the Others that humans could be trusted, so that his daughter wouldn't ever have to see the kind of destruction angry Others could cause. I couldn't always keep some of the more minor characters straight, beyond “this one is a Crow and therefore likes shiny things,” but I enjoyed their attempts to figure out Meg and help her ease into their world a little.
All in all, this was an enjoyable read despite its problems. Meg was a little too special, and the villains were massively stupid, but I enjoyed the overall world and the character interactions. I still consider Bishop's Black Jewels trilogy to be her best works, but I'm looking forward to reading more of this series.
- On the Prowl (anthology) - I'm recommending this specifically because of the story by Patricia Briggs, which introduces the main characters of her Alpha & Omega series. It's urban fantasy with a bit of romance between one werewolf who's comfortable in his skin and one who has been abused and generally mistreated.
- Magic Bites (book) by Ilona Andrews - I haven't read this yet, although I have the first book on my TBR. It's urban fantasy starring a woman, and I know from reading reviews that there's a bit of romance.
- Touch the Dark (book) by Karen Chance - This series popped into my head while I was reading Bishop's book, because it's also urban fantasy and also stars a clairvoyant character. I abandoned this a while back but can't quite remember why. The time travel aspect, maybe?
- Powers That Be (book) by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough - This one is science fiction. I thought of it during some of the more snowy scenes, and when Meg was trying to figure out how to do simple things, like use a microwave, on her own. The main character in this book has to adjust to living on a planet that's colder than anywhere she has ever been, and she has to figure out how to do things, like cook her own food, that she never had to do on any of the space ships/stations she'd previously been on.