Anne Bishop broke onto the fantasy scene in 1998 with Daughter of the Blood, the first book in the Black Jewels trilogy. That trilogy is fantastic, so much so that we feature it on our “Twenty Must Read Finished Fantasy Epics – An Introduction to the Genre.” However, Bishop’s other work has been a mixed bag. Tir Alainn was a decent trilogy, but didn’t have the same punch that made Black Jewels so ground breaking. Later installments in the Black Jewels universe left me feeling like I was reading fan fiction, even if they were by the original author. The first two installments in Ephemera aren’t bad… but I disliked the third one so much that I wasn’t sure I was ever going to give Bishop a chance again. Written in Red was my one last chance for her, and I’m so glad I took that gamble.
Meg Corbyn lives on an Earth very, very different from ours. The terre indigene rule the world, and in Thasia( what we would know as the Americas) humans lease land and resources from the set of peoples that include vampires, shapeshifters, and elementals. Terre indigene and humans do not get along well and don’t understand each other. In every large human settlement there is a Courtyard, where the local terre indigene live and where human law does not apply. In every Courtyard there is a Human Liaison. Rather than being a diplomatic figure, they are more of a mail clerk responsible for making sure deliveries are made and sent on time between the two societies. Meg Corbyn is on the run and desperate, and the open job of Human Liaison to the Lakeside Courtyard sounds like a great place to lay low for a bit. But what happens when those hunting her find their prey? And what will the residents of the Courtyard do when they realize their Liaison is more than they bargained for?
Classic Bishop Elements
Anne Bishop is known for dark worlds inhabited by misunderstood and outright abused characters. Written In Red is par for the course. But where in previous books society itself is twisted, here it’s not. There’s nothing inherently wrong or evil about the terre indigene, just very much not human. They don’t understand humans, and very few humans have ever given them a desire to learn more. Human society isn’t inherently warped either, just quintessentially human. There are good people doing the right things for the right reasons, and there are those who are out for everything they can get away with no matter what the cost to everyone else. And while Meg has seen her share of abuse in the past, it hasn’t left her dark and emotionally scarred like Jaenelle (Black Jewels) or Sebastion and Belladonna (Ephemera) are. Bishop hasn’t tried to recreate anything she’s done before, leaving Written In Red to feel fresh, new, and exciting while still being something that no one else could write.
Rather than being dark epic fantasy, Written in Red is an urban fantasy, and utterly unique in that genre. Meg’s world isn’t one step off from ours, it’s five or six. Bishop has taken what other authors in urban fantasy have done, and taken it much, much further. Most authors have had vampires, werewolves, demons, and more living alongside humans for centuries… but usually hiding from the humans for most of that time. Here, these peoples have never hidden from humans, and have in fact dominated human history. The United States doesn’t exist because early settlers didn’t find Native Americans here… they found more terre indigene and had to deal with the native population in a far different way. This subtle but profound change is unique, and I like how Bishop was able to take this and create something so complete. While I dislike her use of place names that are just a step or two away from ours (such as Atlantik rather than Atlantic), it did serve as a way to designate that this world that isn’t ours is still shaped like ours.
Why should you read this book?
Because Bishop seems to have found her ability to write again (sorry, I really had issues with A Bridge of Dreams). In Written In Red you can once again see all the talent that was showcased in Daughter of the Blood, even if the tale isn’t as sweeping or as dark. Bishop has left plenty of room for further installments while still giving this novel a satisfying ending. Overall, this is a good read, and I am so happy to see Bishop back in the game and growing again as an author.