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WesternSFA


Marked in Flesh
by Anne Bishop
Roc, $27.00, 399pp
Published: March 2016

This is the fourth in her The Others series and just as wonderful as the first three.  Click here for Written in Red,  here for Murder of Crows, here for Vision in Silver.

The Others are those sentient native terran species that aren’t human. In this alternate earth, humans evolved isolated from the rest of the world and by the time they were ready to explore and colonize, they discovered the rest of the world didn’t belong to them. And if they encroached where they were not welcome – they got eaten. But after a time, they learned to trade the things they made and invented with The Others and won land for their use. But The Others controlled all the natural resources and the humans could only use that which was allowed to them. These stories are more about the Others than humans; although there are more humans in this latest story.

So the story started on one of the major continents where humans have lived for generations in an uneasy peace with the terra indigene. And the era coincides closely with our contemporary time. The terra indigene include were-wolves, vampires and elementals; plus some that cannot-be-named. Each large population area contains a Courtyard where the local terra indigene live and work. The Courtyard is there to monitor the human population. In one city, the werewolf in charge of the Courtyard, Simon Wolfgard, is trying to forge more of a partnership with humans rather than just considering them meat.

The story began in Written in Red with a young human-seeming woman stumbling into the Lakeside Courtyard which is led by Simon and being hired to work as their Human Liaison. As we discovered in the first book, she isn’t altogether human. She had spent her entire life sequestered from the rest of humanity due to her gift of prophecy.

The second book continued to explore Meg’s origins and the beginning of the human attacks on The Others. Meg’s prophecies are key to both saving targeted Others and to learn from where the attacks are coming.

In the third book, Meg was still living at the Courtyard protected by the Others. The Others tended to ignore humans and their politics and drama but that disregard led to catastrophe when they didn’t realize the danger the humans pose. The humans created propaganda to promote “Humans First, Humans Last” and devised a scheme to push the Others back to gain more land. Meg also began exploring ways to help and guide the recently rescued Cassandra sangue girls.

The story line has been building to a huge conflict with a growing number of humans supporting the Humans First, Humans Last movement. Their charismatic leader has succeeded in convincing many humans that they are entitled to more land and more resources than their contracts with The Others allow. Never mind that those contracts have stood for generations and were signed in good faith, never mind that their actions put all humans at risk, and never mind that they really have no idea what The Others are or how many there really are.

In the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg continues her work with the other Cassandra sangue girls who are being sheltered in smaller communities of Intuit or the Simple Life humans. One of them, Hope, has discovered that her prophecies can be done in art rather than her own blood. Meg has hopes of finding another avenue for the prophecies that will not risk their lives or their sanity. She begins experimenting with cards and images – like tarot – but is shocked when a set of fantasy images include real images of the Elders in the wild country that no one ever sees.

The attacks on the Wolfgard become more deadly and intense causing The Others to revoke privileges which only throws fuel on the fire that the Humans First movement is causing. Simon and the Courtyard are considering how many humans they would be able to protect within the Courtyard and how to store sufficient supplies for the coming storm. A storm both in reality and metaphorically speaking – when the Elders come in from the wild country to exterminate the troublesome humans. A storm of mammoth proportions is brewing; a storm that will both herald and hide the forms of the creatures that no human has ever seen or believes in. Simon cannot explain the nature of The Others that no human has seen; making it difficult, at first, to adequately communicate the danger to his pack humans without betraying his own kind.

But the pesky humans are trickier than The Others thought and the attacks on the Wolfgard are a diversion for a much bigger operation. When the major attack comes, Simon is sure that all humankind – worldwide – is looking at final extermination and there’s little he can do to stop it. But many humans still do honor the contracts; the cooperation within Lakeside Courtyard as an example, and the Intuit communities who deal fairly with The Others and protect the Cassandra sangue girls. These small efforts may be the only thing standing between the humans and their extermination. While the human attacks are painful, they cannot have a significant effect on The Others and if extermination is avoided, then it becomes a question of exactly what will be left for the humans.

Bishop’s world-building is subtle but effective. Her characters are truly unique; mostly because she has an extraordinary ability to communicate an otherworldliness about them. The plot is complex enough to keep interest with several plot threads weaving around one another without becoming unwieldy. Mostly I enjoy the non-human characters and learning more about how they think and reason. I’m sure – and I hope – that she isn’t done with The Others and more stories will come our way. ~~ Catherine Book

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