1.) If you don't like her style at all, you won't like this. But you may want to sample it, just to check.
If you do, she's leveled up in smoothing out a lot of her more annoying tics, and her structuring is better. It's also cleaner prose, and she's a lot, lot, lot better at giving the basics of her world early enough that you don't spend the first seventy pages in a fugue state of wtf. The story starts with a short but very informative history, which I'll get to next, and her baseline universe is both completely understandable and almost laughably simplified once you start reading.
2.) If you don't like her general characterization quirks at all, you won't like this.
If you do, her initial cast is slightly smaller and in the general types she likes, but with some newer additions. If you thought there was any chance there wasn't a major set of power dynamics play going on, dude, come on, this is Bishop. There are internal, external, world level, social level, and various pack level at varying degrees of detail. And she also does something new I'll get to in a minute.
3.) Anne Bishop is the closest thing to a fangirl writing fanfic for her own imagination out there. There are no cock rings. But eventually, there may be knotting. God, I'll honestly be surprised if there isn't.
I thought about how to do this, because she's switched to Alternate History/Alternate Universe/Urban Fantasy with a vengeance, so what can be less personal in pure fantasy might hit differently in something not unlike reality. A lot of the stuff in Black Jewels I honestly would not have liked if it had been anywhere near real world conditions, and also, if the Blood hadn't obviously been the equivalent of alien. So below.
1.) This book involves cutting, and I mean, a lot of it both doing and thinking about for plot related purposes. It's kind of part of the basis of the story, it is not discrete, and it can and does have a deliberate--and deliberately unnerving--sexual component due to both biology and the social component and the implications of mental illness component, but this is urban fantasy, so--please approach with caution. It's part of the protagonist.
2.) Scarring. See above.
3.) Cannibalism in the impersonally weird. When one of your POV characters is hunting down people to eat them, whether he's human or not, it still can fall into "holy shit he's eating people" category. Humans do not eat humans. Others that look like humans do.
4.) Slavery, kind of. It's complicated. I mean, not complicated, but it's--something.
Right. Now review. This is going to be spoilery as hell, so there's your warning. And it's long, because I'm in that kind of mood. And I'm pretty sure there is no logical structure, because well, that would be like, work. I'll probably add some things and do some revision, but really, probably not going to be any more coherent than it is now.
Short Worldbuilding Explanation
The world began with Namid (Goddess, kind of?) creating the world in infinite variety, of which humans did not make the top of the food chain and also weren't first; instead, the Others did, called terra indigene, first people of the world. What they actually are is kind of up in the air as a group, but soon after their creation, they separated into various races that include (not complete list):
1.) shapeshifters, animal, suffix -gard (ie Wolfgard), human slang prefix were- (ie werewolf), not complete list
e.) spirit bear
2.) shapeshifter group two, not complete list
a.) Sanguinati - human slang, vampire
3.) Elementals group one, form human, not complete list
4.) Elementals group two, pony/horse form, not complete list
l.) Tidal Wave
5.) I have no idea what they are
a.) harvester of life, no actual name
In theory, the shapeshifters can be anything, but after spending a lot of time as, say, wolves, became a distinct race with animal-related characteristics and a mix of customs, culture, and traditions that are a mix of their original forms and biological animal instinct, and eventually when they met humans, also added a human shape and began to acquire human culture in addition to that. It's honestly kind of the most hilariously interesting way to completely handwave their social structure--wolf and human!--their pack behavior--wolf!--and their random-ass weirdness--Other!--and make it work.
Politically in human terms, Thaisia is split into districts run by elected governors, cities by mayors. This doesn't mean humans actually own any of this or those districts overlap with what the terra indigene consider landmass divisions. That's still unclear.
Terra indigene both own and control the world, while humans kind of rent from them or are allowed to live there on sufferance for their usefulness. This is only sporadically clear, since human civilization seems to have developed on a similar line but not with the same history, and--anyone who read this can correct me--but I think we crossed the Atlantic from Afrika as the terra indigene slang for human is 'monkey' and was given to the Thaisian terra indigene by the Liongard of Afrika when the third group of humans crossed the Atlantic and managed to negotiate with the residents of Thaisia before they were eaten. I'm not honestly sure we left the Euphrates for a really long time. Your guess is as good as mine, Bishop kind of likes to toss this out in a sentence on page 120 in a conversation about chasing rabbits, so whatever.
There has been an industrial and digital revolution, which is pretty awesome for humans, since terra indigene don't seem to be technologically innovative and it makes humans useful. All natural resources, including water, are controlled and rationed by the terra indigene and given to humans, but those things can be taken away, taxed, or used to create massive natural disasters to kill them all.
While the power seems to be on the terra indigene side, they don't seem to have a concept of slavery in even the loosest sense, more an awareness of humans as very smart meat that may or may not be eaten--and be very delicious. However, humanity isn't exactly a beacon of servile gratitude for being allowed to live no matter how many times the terra indigene commit random acts of genocide, hunt them, or eat them. Which is--and this is actually fairly interesting to see unfold--actually goddamn weird, but dude, humans. what can you do?
Geography - really not a complete list
1.) Afrikah - Africa
2.) Thaisia - North America (possibly all of the Americas)
Geography - Thaisia
1.) East - possible district
2.) West - possible district
3.) Northeast - district run by governor that the story is based in.
4.) Midwest - possible district
Geography - Specific
1.) Tolan - human city with Other district inside
2.) Lakeside - area of Tolan
3.) Lakeside Courtyard - the Other's district in Tolan
4.) Sparkletown - Hollywood (of course)
5.) Jerzy - New Jersey maybe?
6.) Hubb - capital of Northeast
Geography - Lakeside
Lakeside Police Department
Geography - Lakeside Courtyard
Market Square - Courtyard marketplace
Corvine Social Room - place for Courtyard residents to socialize with humans
Consul - consul's office
Utility Complex - controls water et al for city
Courtyard Library - library
Liaison Office - Office of the Human Liaison/glorified mailroom
Howling Good Reads - bookstore, owners Simon Wolfsgard and Vlad Sanguinati
A Little Bite - coffee shop and cafe, owner Tess
Howl and Thump - local gym, allows limited human membership
Sparkles and Junk - thrift store/everything store, owner a crow
Three P's - postage, printing, and paper store/prints newsletter
Meat-n-Greens - restaurant
Good Hands Massage Parlor - massage parlor
Green Complex - general terra indigene apartments
Chambers - Sanguinati domain (includes mausoleums?)
Owlgard Complex - home of the Owlgard
Hawkgard - home of the Hawkgard
Wolfgard Complex - home of the Wolfgard
Pony Barn - home of the ponies
Meg Corbyn - human, cassandra sangue, aka blood prophet, Human Liaison for the Courtyard
Lieutenant Crispin James Montgomery aka Monty - human, police officer, head of terra indigene relations
Asia Crane - aspiring actress
Captain Douglas Burke - police captain
Officer Karl Kowalski - police officer,assigned to terra indigene relations unit
Merri Lee - employed at A Little Bite
Ruthie - Kowalski's fiancee
Heather - employed at Howling Good Reads
Lorne - employed at the Three P's
Officer Lawrence McDonald - police officer,assigned to terra indigene relations unit
Officer Michael Debany - police officer,assigned to terra indigene relations unit
Officer Hillborn - police officer
Commander Louis Gresh - police officer, bomb squad
Harry - delivery guy for Everywhere Delivery
Elizabeth Bennefeld - therapist at Good Hands Massage Parlor
Jean - cassandara sangue, potentially deceased
Chris Fallacaro - locksmith
Darrell Adams - employed at the consulate
Dr. Dominick Lorenzo -
Bigwig - Sparkletown producer?
Terra indigene - Major
Simon Wolfsgard - Shapeshifter, Type Wolf
Vlad Sanguinati - Shapeshifter, Type Sanguinati (vampire)
Tessa - unknown, harvester of life
Henry Beargard - Shapeshifter, Type Grizzly Bear and Spirit Bear
Sam Wolfsgard - Shapeshifter, Type Wolf, Simon's nephew
Terra indigene - Secondary
Elliot Wolfsgard - Shapeshifter, Type Wolf, consul of Lakeside, Simon's father
Nathan Wolfsgard - Shapeshifter, Type Wolf, Courtyard enforcer
Blair Wolfsgard - Shapeshifter, Type Wolf, ranked third in Wolfgard pack
Jester - Shapehshifter, Type Coyote, caretaker of the ponies
Erebus Sanguinati - Shapeshifter, Type Sanguinati (vampire), patriarch of the Sanguinati
Winter - Elemental, Type Winter
Terra indigene - Assorted
Spring - Elemental, Type Spring
Fire - Elemental, Type Fire
Air - Elemental, Type Air
Jenni Crowgard - Shapeshifter, Type Crow - employed at Sparkles and Junk, Leader of Lakeside Crowgard
Jake Crowgard - Shapeshifter, Type Crow
Ferus Wolfgard - Shapeshifter, Type Wolf
John Wolfsgard - Shapeshifter, Type Wolf
Daphne Wolfsgard - Shapeshifter, Type Wolf, Simon's sister, Sam's mother, deceased
Julia Hawkgard - Shapeshifter, Type Hawk, employed at A Little Bite, Leader of Lakeside Hawkgard
Marie Hawkgard - Shapeshifter, Type Hawk, enforcer
Boone Hawkgard - Shapeshifter, Type Hawk, works at butcher
Allison Owlgard - Shapeshifter, Type Owl
Nyx Sanguinati - Shapeshifter, Type Sanguinati (vampire)
Meg Corbyn is a cassandra sangue, a blood prophet who can only make prophecies when her skin is cut and scars. Sensitive skin that scars easily is the most valuable type of cassandra sangue, and the act of prophecy is dangerous for them in a very specific way: if they speak the prophecy themselves, they won't remember it, but they get a euphoric kick not unlike a really intense, really long orgasm. If they don't speak it, they remember it--even live it--but it's intensely painful for the same length of time. There is a very specific ideal in the distance between cuts--the width of the preferred razor used for the cutting--because too close to another cut and the prophecy becomes smudged with an old prophecy and can drive them crazy.
After escaping the center where cassandra sangue are kept thanks to a prophecy she'd made during a punishment, she shows up in Lakeside and being kind of new to the world--having been confined most of her life for the value of her prophecies--she sees a Help Wanted sign at the terra indigene district in the city for the job of Human Liaison and aware that living in the real world requires food and shelter--and money--goes to apply at the terra indigene (this is the first time I spelled it right on the first try!) bookstore that is open to both humans and terra indigene and is part of Simon Wolfgard's tentative experiment in human-terra indigene relations because he doesn't like humans, but for reasons that passeth understanding--rather like the love of God, really--he has some half-formed idea that they should interact with them to avoid the entire genocide of humanity thing. He's de facto leader of the Lakeside terra indigene district in Lakeside while his father Elliot is the public--to say, interact with human politicians--face of the community.
The Human Liaison job is a combination of really useful but not exactly critical; they act as glorified post office clerks to receive mail and package deliveries for the terra indigene community of interesting human goods like movies, computers, and tinker toys, among many other items. As terra indigene can and do randomly kill humans--again, humans are food, though only for Reasons, delivery can be really tricky and delivery people don't really like coming around. Strangely, they also can't manage to keep a Human Liaison, which they seem to find annoying without any real understanding it might help if they, you know, made the minimum effort not to scare the shit out of them or talk about how delicious they are.
Simon Wolfsgard is put off by Meg for two reasons--her hair smells hideous, and despite being human, she doesn't read as prey--delicious meat--but she's also only vaguely aware of the most basic socialized terror of terra indigene and mostly comes off as a little dense. Simon gives her the job in what is probably a very vague sense of pity but also because the only other person to apply is Asia Crane, a human female who has been kind of sexually harassing him in his bookstore for a while and freaking him out. As they go over job interview questions at the terra indigene coffee shop run by Tess, who has defcon-related hair depending on color and texture and independent movement--from straightish and brown is okay, green and waving is nerves, red and curly is WARNING NOW and black corkscrewing is DEFCON-10 RUN FOR YOUR LIFE IN CASE SHE LOOKS AT YOU--and while none of the other terra indigene know what she is, they're wary of her, and her hair is really it's own character and kind of ridic awesome to hear it described. Tess is vaguely hostile to kind of everyone and really hostile to humans, but she's warily okay with Meg, possibly--likely--due to Meg feeling very off human norms.
Meg gets a job description, the job, and is offered one of hte efficiency apartments that the terra indigene keep for human use and the occasional human employee of the various terra indigene shops, along with shopping rights in both the human-friendly shops and the internal terra indigene shops that humans aren't allowed to go into in the Courtyard's internal marketplace, as well as more or less free access to the entire Courtyard where the terra indigene live.
I should probably state it's only eventually clear that the Courtyard, while being in the city of Lakeside, is something on the order of a city in a city and is more or less discrete to the city. From here, they also control the water and city utilities along with other necessities that a human city needs. While technically speaking they own the entire city--continent, world, etc--the Courtyard is their specific territory and unlike the city it's in, human law has no power whatsoever within its bounds, and human law does not apply to anyone inside it. People who enter it are either eaten or butchered for the local butcher shop, but their IDs and wallets are tossed over the line of juniper trees that make the barrier for the police so the people can be declared DLU--Dead, Location Unknown (in some terra indigene's digestive track).
Monty is a police officer from the west who is effectively exiled to Lakeside after shooting a pedophile who had kidnapped a young girl that only belatedly turned out to be a terra indigene wolf, and after freeing her and while checkking the house, returned to find the suspect mostly consumed. This is not considered on for humans to do, Humans First and all (seriously, humans have no self-preservation instinct), and is placed under the command of Captain Burke at the police office, where Monty becomes the head of the--department?--in charge of terra indigene relations, which is to say, try to keep humans from being eaten or their city being completely flooded and destroyed by the terra indigene because that shit kind of happens a lot and again, humans seem to require no time at all to forget that fact. He meets his subordinates--Kowalski (dude, yes, of course I mentally cast him already), whose fiancee Ruthie is a regular at the terra indigene book store and is kind of pro-terra indigene and is generally well-tolerated by them and who thinks of his job, despite its risks, as the best possible way to assure Death by Drowning A Goddamn City isn't on the agenda.
Monty left behind a daughter, Lizzie, and an ex-lover who tossed him over because she wanted someone with more social clout and also, not a presumed terra indigene lover. So Monty is not really in a good place, but also being aware of Death by Drowning Seriously It Could Happen Like Tomorrow, he goes to meet Simon Wolfsgard to establish relations. It goes about as successfully as you can hope.
Meg is a modified Mary Sue. Really can't get around that, and like Jaenelle in The Black Jewels and to an extent Belladonna in the Landscape books, it's kind of a feature.
(I will argue to the death that the Black Jewels would have failed in concept if Jaenelle hadn't been a Mary Sue Extraordinaire. If you are going to write a character who is the result of an entire world of people and Kindred dreaming of their ideal, for millennia, a veritable Blood Jesus, they better damn well be superpowered beyond imagining, awesome beyond the reach of mortal beings, kind to animals, and an all-around wonderful person. Come on.)
I do not mind this at all, for so many reasons not least of which I really like Bishop's female characters in general, she tends to have a lot of them both good and evil, many powerful in their own right and many in a position of power and in specific, all the good ones--not what one would call subtle to figure out, Ms Bishop--tend to mix a stereotypical and somewhat recognizable type--example, Karla, brash, outspoken, brave, sublimely uninterested in males, sometimes abrasive, and eventually confirmed as lesbian to no one's surprise--with more personal quirks and personality traits that really works for me, not least of which is--excluding Jaenelle the Univeral Awesome--their particular strengths are not only specific to them as individuals but also the natural result of their personality, upbringing, and experience--see Cassie. And a lot of her less powerful or weaker by upbringing, nature, abuse, etc characters--example Wilhelmina, Marian--don't stay that way. There's a very strong idea through all of her books--for both men and women--that being a victim isn't a life sentence, and just because you start as one doesn't mean you have to stay one.
Meg is by her own biology a universal victim, and her powers are not just easy to exploit, they're practically genetically designed to assure she's almost entirely defenseless from anyone trying to. Human law puts her under 'benevolent ownership' due to being part of an at-risk population because of the nature of how prophecy is elicited, so even her body is not considered legally her own because she can't be trusted with it. Her escape from the center that had legal ownership of her was due to her own punishment for disobedience, and her visions showed her how to escape into a real world that she was specifically denied knowing how to function in.
Getting the job as Human Liaison was for her purposes perfect; the Courtyard isn't run by human law, so no one can come in and get her without being eaten, terra indigene are kind of hazy on all the variations of human behavior, and though this isn't something she could control, being a cassandra sangue means that the terra indigene don't read her as eatable and it's confusing enough that her being socially weird is almost an afterthought.
In theory, Meg gets along with the terra indigene better than most humans because of that very reason; I'm pretty sure being constantly aware of someone looking at you like a delicious snack is off-putting and it's kind of hard to ignore that for long even with some serious effort, whereas Meg is just a weird variable that can't be categorized. So she basicallly approaches life like she watched it once in a movie--which quite literally was part of her training--and extrapolating that things that look like ponies might like snacks when they pick up the mail and too excited at being able to drive--and realy wanting to keep this job and wanting to make a good impression--to worry about delivering mail around the Courtyard where again, in general, humans would be aware everything--and I do mean everything--is thinking of wehtehr you taste better before or after your heart has stopped (hint: before, so glad Bishop made that graphically clear). Delivering packages to the Sanguinati is kind of creepy--masoleums can be a little nerve-wracking--but a life lived by observation of screened movies and pictures, only enough so she had enough context to relate her prophecies and very litlte contact with actual people means the basically, she misses subtlety, and being creepy and subtly threatening works for creepy but just confuses the hell out of her otherwise. And her reference point for creepster behavior is pretty vague at that.
(Consistently, it's kind of utterly hilarious that it takes the terra indigene forever to realize it's not that she is amazingly, impossibly, almost idiotically brave, just utterly oblivious to subtle threatening and subtle creepiness because she has a.) no idea what the hell they're doing other than being weird and b.) completely loses what the conversation is supposed to be about when it comes to figurative language. Which makes it even more hilarious when she finally gets directly threatened and freaks the hell out; all the terra indigene are utterly floored to realize that they're kind of uncomfortable with baldly threatening humans who start crying hysterically--alone, in the dark, it's perfect, really-- because she really thinks she is going to be eaten right now.
It's like watching personal growth in action, really. Eating them is one thing, fear by implication is fun as hell, but having to tell them that when not about to actually do it is like, weird and possibly guilt-inducing, though they're really not sure exactly why. And Meg isn't socialized to try and put on a brave face here. It was kind of nice personally to see someone do what I would do in the face of an angry werewolf who threatened to kill me; fuck pride, bravery, pale and walk out before privately shaking or whatever people always do to show they're facing death with dignity and some kind of hand-eye coordination and never let anyone see you upset.
No, the correct response is to curl up in a modified fetal position and cry hysterically in unthinking terror in front of them until they kill me, I pass out or I give myself a heart attack. Which trust me, will be well before my voice would give out. I was a cheerleader and played clarinet--I know how to control my breathing for maximum efficiency, and I will soundtrack my own messy death with an eye to eardrum damage, and I would be inspired beyond words to make it happen.
Meg makes friends because she has no idea she's not supposed to, and the terra indigene seem to have a problem finding a figurative way to tell her she can't that she would actually understand and see above, it's really uncomfortable to actually use those words. So that seems to work.
Eventually, teh police station Monty works at gets a wanted poster for grand theft with Meg's picture on it--with black hair, not dyed red, hence the terra indigene finding her hair terribly smelly--and has a moment of horror that they have to post this. As the terra indigene are not bound by human law and Meg seems to be liked there a little and don't like humans, there's more than a likelihood that two things will happen: 1.) just for pure contrariness they'll get totally attached to her on principle and 2.) Uh, drown the city because of that. As they do.
Monty approaches Simon, who takes it badly and goes to Meg to scare the shit out of her about who she really is, but at that particular moment being sent back to the center is much less attractive than being a pleasant snack and tells him what she is and that her name is Meg because at the center cassandra sangue as property had numerical designations, not names. At which time Simon--being a wolf and relating like a lot to being locked up and caged--calls a meeting of the Business Council of terra indigene and shares his information since it's all their decision to protect her. At which time, it's reluctantly admitted that since they haven't been able to eat her, they've been forced to get to know her and are kind of not okay with giving her up.
So Meg is moved into the interior apartments of the Courtyard, smack between Simon Wolfgard, Tess of the Amazing Hair, and Henry the Spirit Bear (who may or may not actually be in his true form the size of a highrise, and also, in his animal form, is a goddamn grizzly bear of grizzly bear size. The police department and the terra indigene embrace the Doppelganger It's a Case of Mistaken Identity Of Course (And Avoiding A City Drowned In a Fucking Lot of Snow) Theory, and Captain Burke of awesomeness has a long, indirect conversation with his precinct that no matter what Humans First Mayor Not Living Long Dude or Governor Seriously They Can Kill You With Their Minds WTF thinks, embracing the Doppelganger No Ice Death approach is workable and Monty informs Simon that if Meg should leave the Courtyard to call him, as he and his team would happily assure that the Doppelganger I Don't Want to be a Popsicle Act is enforced when she's in the city. Like a lot.
Simon Wolfsgard, besides running a bookstore and running the Courtyard, is also the guardian of his nephew Sam, whose mother Daphne was killed by humans and as the perpetrator was never caught, the entire city now pays a special water tax with the understanding that ends when the killer is given to them. Because that's how the terra indigene roll.
Sam, due to trauma, refuses to talk or take any form other than a wolf puppy and spends all his time in a cage because that's where he feels safe, which freaks the fuck out of Simon pretty much constantly due to 'cage'.
As leader of the Courtyard, he's informed that the west coast is experiencing something very odd. Humans are suddenly acting crazy and aggressively---and successfully!--attacking terra indigene and upon being eaten, the terra indigene who ate them start acting the same way. Due to having to leave the city for a meeting about this issue--since there's no sign of where this is coming from or what it is--Simon leaves Sam with Meg since he really doesn't get along with his father Elliot, due to Elliot being vaguely smarmily unpleasant (okay, maybe that's just me) and also of the Buck Up school of post-traumatic thought when it comes to Sam and who could actually make Sam's condition worse.
Meg isn't sure what to do, and having seen Sam with Simon, knows that she can't afford to take him outside because there's no way she could keep up with him or stop him from doing something dangerous, but she also doens't want to lock him in a cage for a week. Which is where we come to one of Meg's blind spots.
Meg has seen images of safety lines for people doing adventure thing, and in her search for those, she realizes the waist strap she can use would hurt a puppy, so goes for a halter, such as one you'd find at a pet store for say, oh, dogs. Strapping them both up, they go for a walk, and Henry and Vlad stare in horror but--again, the literal telling thing? They're shitty at it--don't actually object, listening to Meg explain the concept of safety lines and go off for some desperate research because holy shit, that kind of looks like a leash.
Eventually, one of the other wolves see it and tries desperately to freak out, but Nathan Wolfsgard--who has been informed of the entire safety line thing going on--stops him from attacking. This state of affairs works really well until Elliot finds out, at which time he tells Meg he's going to give her to the wolfpack and hits her before immediately being punished by having to deal with a hysterical Sam and deals with it sensitively, by shouting, and Sam responds with a perfectly understandable fit of biting the fuck out of him.
Vlad goes to find Meg--hearing Sam's hysterical barking but unaware of the entire Elliot situation--and finds Meg throwing up in teh bathroom with a black eye. After leaving her, he threatens Elliot with Sanguinati vengeance if Meg is hurt again and waits for Simon to show up to deal with all this bullshit.
Simon returns, Elliot tries to explain the leash evil kill her thing, and Sam changes to human so he can tell them about the entire safety line issue, because Elliot's too much of a dumbass to actually listen and also, hes' a dick. Then Simon goes to check on Meg and sees the bruise and attends a meeting the next morning that is something not unlike defusing a war between the Sanguinati and Elliot and kind of really wonders about how this is his life.
Save the Ponies, Save the World
As a cassandra sangue, Meg is aware of a moment of prophecy as an itch which desperately needs to be cut. While at the Mail Room doing mail things and waiting for the ponies--ponies!--to show up for Courtyard mail delivery, she gets a horrific case of itching that, being a prophet, thinks might be related to teh ponies, and doesn't trust she has enough control to get all the prophecy and write it down due to the entire pain thing and because it's so strong. She calls Tess to record, and then cuts herself, at which time she discovers that the sugar has been poisoned and will kill the ponies. But in random images.
Simon, Nathan Wolfgard, and Vlad freak out--being unfamiliar with human wounds at all but familiar now with the addiction potential and accidental suicides of cassandra sangues when they're making prophecies. The police are called to find out what was in the sugar, and Winter is super pleased with Meg saving the ponies, who can also be horses and also terrible natural disasters of death.
Mayor Seriously What the Fuck Are You Thinking manages to get the lab to block processing the sugar, and Monty sideways informs the terra indigene, so Tess of the Awesomest Hair Ever takes the sugar and goes to the guy who had been fired by Elliot for bringing Asia into the Courtyard without permission--and unbeknownst to them had been the one to poison the sugar--and tests it on him. When she leaves, she lets her true form slip out and we find out her superpower is when people look at her, she takes their life. She doesn't have a name, but it's sometimes defined as 'harvester of life'.
The Terrible, Terrible Plan
Asia Crane--not real name, I think?--she who makes Simon sexually uncomfortable, wants to be a TV star in Sparkletown, and Bigwig (no, that's an actual name in the book) is kind of willing ot do this, but for reasons unknown she has to first infiltrate The Courtyard so as to get close to the terra indigene and so far, sex isn't working. On Meg's arrival, Asia eventually works out she's running away from something and after a failed--so very failed--attempt to kidnap her by a guy who was probably not incredibly tender but still delicious, she finds the number of the person who hired him and offers to help. So she can have her own TV, show, Asia Crane, SI (special investigator), which she considers this practice for.
The plan is as follows: the week before a giant snow storm, people will be hired to commit acts of random minor vandalism (egging, not kidding), start small fires, and generally annoy the shit out of hte Courtyard and Monty's unit assigned to the terra indigene. This will culminate in Asia and a team of people to enter the Courtyard and kidnap Meg for her owners and acquire Simon's nephew, who is still a little boy/fucking adorable wolf puppy for blackmaily purposes.
This is not a good plan even by accident, which is where I come back to human's resilience in the face of adversity and a strange lack of awareness of entering a place guarded by shapeshifters, vampires, and people who can think natural disasters into existence.
To be fair, Bishop's villains tend to be terrible at strategy, planning, and awareness of their surroundings.
Asia and the team infiltrate the Courtyard and Asia goes after Meg and Sam, who escape in a BOW (box on wheels, something like a golfcart but faster and runs on electricity, which is used to travel around the Courtyard) and she leaves Sam with the Sanguinati Patriarch and makes a run for the lake where the Winter is perpetually skating around assuming--rightly--that Winter will Popsicle their asses.
This is where the plan really, really fails.
1.) The guys sent to get the wolf pup do not recognize a vampire. Who is half smoke. Standing by a mausoleum. And they threaten him. They will apparently survive several days in Sanguinati custody, because that's how long it will take them to die.
2.) The guy following Meg unfortunately drives her to run across the lake where the ice is weak and she falls in.
3.) Someone shot the pony Hurricane and the Elementals react to that really, really badly.
4.) Tess finds Asia and slowly drains the life out of her via staring in possibly the most unsettling death in the entire book despite being pretty tame. There's no description of the body afterward, but apparently this opinion is shared by everyone who saw it.
Simon and Vlad Sanguinati and Water rescue Meg and take her to the hospital as Winter unleashes the Snow Storm of Forever on Lakeside's ass while Fire half-roasts the special messenger who had been chasing Meg and the wolves acquire a taste for screaming partially cooked meat. When Monty arrives at the hospital, Winter recognizes him and tells him the storm only ends if Meg survives, at which time Monty goes in to gently ask the closest doctor how he feels about maybe saving the world like, now.
Meg survives, Winter allows the storm to end, and Simon takes Meg home and the terra indigene spend the time between the end of the storm and the return of their human employees finding hideous clothing for Meg to wear outside to avoid freezing to death and Simon flirts with her via wandering around wolf form and checking her nose with a paw for being too cold (and making her wear a hat if she is) in the most ridiculous yet adorable scene ever.
(Also, the mayor and governor die, because honestly, too stupid to live. And also, snow and ice.)
In unsubtle forshadowing, Simon has reasn to believe that the drug that is causing the crazy thing with humans and terra indigene is based on cassandra sangue blood.
I am really looking forward to the next book.
...seriously. They flooded a city to vanishing. Humans? Kind of discard that shit like whatever. It's weird, but I have a theory on the main reason that humans haven't been eliminated entirely from the food chain and why, in general, there's a lot less human death than there really should be.
The terra indigene spent way too much time with animals before they met humans.
Terra indigene first took the shapes of animals and took on some of their social/biological characteristics while in that form, but they didn't become animals, and they still ate those animals because animals and delicious. When humans arrived, it was pretty much redux, but while they're vaguely aware of human self-awareness, the entire animal-delicious food thing was already stuck in their heads. Like animals, the terra indigene added the human shape to their shifting collection, watched them build complex social groups and advance technology and got the idea of 'smart meat' but meat because crows, wolves, lions, animals are meat and taking the shape of a lesser being is something they do because Reasons. They've been top of the food chain forever, and by the time they met humans, they didn't have any reference point for what they were looking at because it didn't occur to them that humans, unlike most meat they've met, has one thing most of it doesn't--human social evolution is rapid, complicated, not entirely predictable, and brutally survivalist.
They're not a threat, right, they're prey, so why kill them all, they make cool toys and everything and humans totally could not win a war right now--prey--so why bother. A terra indigene was at its creation a threat because of what they are and when you control kind of the very elements of existence, who can beat that. It has yet to occur to them that humans are prey because that's what they are now, but that has nothing whatever to do with what they can become, and just because humans can't control the weather and create natural disasters by thinking about it, at no time do the terra indigene seem to notice the significance of humans using cars instead of horse-drawn carts instead of their own two very slow feet, or guns with bullets instead of muskets instead of spears because they don't have claws or teeth, or building very complicated social structures to band together instead of being caught alone.
Or how if you can't control an earthquake with your mind, maybe you can think of a really awesome device to build that might do it for you. Humanity is not an exercise in the art of the possible; it's a drive to make the word 'impossible' meaningless.
(They're also under the impression that limiting the resources humans can get to for their weapons--and uh, for their food and water related needs--will like, keep them under control. Kind of want to pinch their cheeks and ask them how that silly human space program is coming along. The one that takes humans to space. As in, nowhere near the Elementals. Just wondering. Because sure, terra indigene would win a war with humans right now, but at this point, I'd be curious if they ever considered that humanity's journey into the good night would include taking the world with them.)
I'm also not entirely sure that the terra indigene who took the shape of human animals know they may have made an error in calculation, taking on the characteristics and culture of this particular delicious meat animal because it's only been a few hundred years and they're still kind of getting the shape of it, picking up the instincts and the biology and missing that unlike animals, humans have this concept called acculturation and have spent most of our history actively using it.
While not nearly as utterly different as the Black Jewels in terms of worldbuilding--the points of reference, if you remember, were entirely based on a visual inspection of a spider web literally--using the baseline of the real world at a hard bend is very cool. Bishop's adoption of mythological beings as terra indigene is a brilliant way to kind make any possible myth show up eventually. I like urban fantasy, I like alternative history, I like vampires, werewolves, and assorted awesome beings, and I like primary female protagonists, and I like families created by choice and circumstances, and dude, evil shadowy organizations? I am there.
It's not terribly complicated, no, but the world has so much to play with, and all her main characters--Meg, Simon, Monty--and secondary characters--Tess, Vlad, Henry, Jester--are fun. And I have a serious, serious thing for Monty with his actual honest to god bravery in the face of terra indigene dickery and his practicality and his ethics and in general his desire not to do the job just to avoid Death By Snow, Ice, Water, Whatever, but also because it's the right thing to do and he wants to do good. He's afraid of the terra indigene and it shows, but in the line of duty or what is right, he still does it. He lost his lover, access to his daughter, and pretty much all of his life as he knew it because the girl he saved was a terra indigene, and God knows they didn't seem to give a fuck enough to help him not lose his own daughter, yet, he still is willing to try to do the right thing.
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