I wanted to squee and do a little dance when I found this little treasure waiting for me at work. After reading the first chapter online a month in advance I was already hooked and itching to sink my fangs into the rest of the story. As the author's first stab into urban fantasy, I was intrigued to see how she would take on the genre and make it her own. For previous readers of Anne Bishop's work, this story has many of the same elements as her other works. It's dark, complex and captivating. It's not the sensuous epic of the Black Jewels, or mysterious like her Ephemera novels; but holds a darker and wilder note altogether. This book exemplifies what an urban fantasy should be, grungy and earthy with monsters that go bump in the night and won't hesitate to eat you.
In this darker twin world of our own Namid created all life. Others (known as Terra indigene) came first; they are the top of the food chain, the strongest and most dangerous of the natural order, with humans being seen as meat. Ingenious meat that make wonderful toys and comforts for the Others such as books, clothing and other comforts, but meat nonetheless. The Terra indigene control the land and although they have allowed human pockets of civilisation to grow, they control all the natural resources, keeping a stranglehold on what humans can achieve, creating a strange truce between the two sides. To keep an eye on the humans the Others created territories within human settlements called Courtyards and where HLDNA (Human Law Does Not Apply). Humans may enter these courtyards but they may not necessarily leave them again.
The story is set in Lakeside and begins with Meg as she stumbles through the frozen landscape to enter the settlements Courtyard following a job advertisement for a human liaison. It's here we are first introduced to “Hungry Good Reads” and Simon Wolfgard, the leader of the Lakeside Courtyard. I can't say he's a typical werewolf, Simon is definitely not a human that can change into a wolf, he's more alien than that. For those readers of the Black Jewels trilogy, the wolfgard and in general most of the Others are more like the Arcerian Cats. They have a limited understanding and use for humans other than as food. Simon does not trust Meg, feeling she is some sort of threat, but agrees to give her the job so he can keep an eye on her. Especially after Tess, who is so dangerous even the other Terra indigene are scared of her, takes a shining to Meg. The plot spirals onwards divulging the small time antagonist for the book, a self-centered and indulgent harpy Asia Crane. She starts out small, almost insignificant but I must say before I was even halfway through the book I couldn't wait for her to get eaten. As the Others are quite secretive, Asia was hired to infiltrate the Courtyard and spy on them. Although Simon doesn't know this he still doesn't trust Asia and terrifies Meg by threatening to chew one of Asia's legs off. Meg is quite obviously shy especially at the start, being a rabbit among wolves so to speak. However despite the Others beliefs that she is just another human, Meg surprises them by surpassing expectations in the Courtyard. Held captive her whole life by a nameless person known only as her Controller, Meg is a Cassandra sanguine, a blood prophet who are highly prized but abused for profit, since every time she bleeds she sees/hears the future. Hiding safely within the Courtyard, her secret is exposed by the human police who believe she is a thief. After the truth is revealed to Simon and the other Terra indigene, they assume protection of Meg, for it is an act of war to cage one of the Others and they have come to accept her as one of their own. Soon the threads are woven together as her Controller attempts to retrieve his stolen property but there's always three things humans forget about the Terra indigene – they aren't human, they don't care who dies and they don't play by human rules.
I've always loved Anne Bishop's way of explaining the elements of society in such a short and descriptive way that you can't help but fully understand how characters should react within a couple of lines or pages. Although this society is far less complex than the dance of protocol shown within the Black Jewels series there are so many different layers to understand from different perspectives. Meg is human but not human. Kept away and raised to be knowledgeable but helpless she has no idea what it is to be human or Terra indigene and often throughout the story she surprises those around her for not fitting within the confines of normalcy. I loved the way Meg acted like herself, breaking out of the stereotypical roles other characters tried to put her in. Despite being almost completely broken in spirit when arriving, she managed to find her own feet earning her own place within the Terra indigene hierarchy.
I must admit my favourite character is a toss up between Tess and the Ponies that deliver the mail. Tess is so deliciously deadly, not in a sensuous way, but rather a primal danger, like that found when you come across a snake. The way her mood was shown in her hair was interesting and although her species was never truly named I think we'll find out more in following books. The ponies on the other hand were slightly more comical, providing a lighter side to the dark wilderness. All I can say is that I want one of them! As with all of Anne Bishops' animal characters, there is a reasonable level of anthropomorphism. Just enough to be entertaining (especially to animal lovers) without eliminating the animal nature that makes them what they are. The ponies are the steeds and extension of the Terra indigene Elementals. They don't talk, shape shift or appear to be anything other than delivery ponies but they have power of their own over the elements.
Just like in every other series she's written, Anne Bishop has slightly tweaked her world to make it unique -- just wait till you meet the vampires (no, don't worry they don't sparkle, but I don't think they can be staked either). I honestly can't wait to see where the rest of this series will go; I only hope it's not confined to a trilogy, there's so much potential for this to go for much longer. There wasn't a single thing about this novel I didn't like, and so much of it I loved. If you're hoping for another rendition of the Black Jewels universe, think again. This is something new, wild and addictive. Get ready to jump in and try it yourself, you may never think of the terms “special meat” or “stag sticks” the same way again. ~ Chrissi
Like a fine timepiece, this story is intricate and elaborate, exceptional and precise. It's unique and engrossing. Incredible and inspired. It really is a hell of an achievement, and more than that it is an instantly compelling and enjoyable read.
Set in 1758 London (mainly), in a world where England is locked in a war with France. In a world where military superiority could hinge of who has the finest timepiece and can manage their troops more accurately. There's a hint of steam punk, a drop of history, a twist of fantastical fairy tale. Into this mix comes a pocket watch, rumoured to possess unbelievable qualities that seem almost magical. Whoever can unlock its secrets may have a huge and deadly advantage against their enemies. Commence the squabble to have it (but it's much more than that).
The storyline twists and wriggles in your hands like the memory of a cat. You think you know what kind of story it is – until you hear a faint click, and as you look up to see what's made the sound, you feel it writhe in your grip again, and when you look back, it's something slightly different. Something even more compelling. It's a tale full of beauty, like moonlight on virgin snow. A tranquil scene that captivates the senses, but as you stare you notice a smear of dark blood, cast like a ruined shadow across cold canvas, and you can't help but look a little closer.
Not since Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind
have I been so surprised and impressed by a book. I think this is a must read for everyone, and I can't wait for the more. Give me more! ~ Craig