Written in Red manages to make supernatural predators that are actually predators. This is not something I ever thought I’d say about a fantasy novel by Anne Bishop. This is because even when Bishop is trying to write “dark” she is also writing “fluffy.” It should be noted that while I would normally fully support dark fiction that also has silly and humorous moments, Bishop does not have the knack for pulling it off. (But she tries, oh my god how she tries.)
Our Heroine in this book is a young woman named Meg Corbyn, who has escaped from a facility where she had been imprisoned for her entire life. Meg is a cassandra sangue, or “blood prophet,” meaning she has a gift for prophecy that can be triggered by cutting her. This is an extremely terrible talent to have, and with no place to go to, and no understanding of how to live in the outside world, she applies for a job as a liason for the Courtyard of the city’s Other community. (In other words, she’s the mail carrier for the local supernatural predator population. And boy is she lucky to work for people who don’t understand the concept of “background checks” and “documentation.”)
The world building for this urban fantasy is very unusual. This is not a “the supernatural species make their presence known,” universe, nor is it a “the supernatural species are partially integrated into ‘normal’ human society with some implied social injustice,” universe, nor is it a “the supernatural is in hiding from the ‘normal’ world,” universe. Instead what we have here is a “the supernatural has humanity by the short hairs,” universe. What this means is, the supernatural beings control the natural resources, and in exchange, humans get to stay alive and make the products that the supernatural beings want. (This is a nice change from the shape shifters being coded as Native American and living on reservations, but the nonhumans are still being coded as Native so actually this point negates itself with a faint soap-bubble pop.)
I found this book to be very entertaining, with interesting characters. The only sour point is that Bishop is still creating nonsensical, extremely stupid villains. (Said villain does the “completely oblivious flirting with someone who is not shy about letting someone know they are about a hairsbreadth from killing the flirtatious moron” and for some reason the villain is moonlighting as a spy/agent because she wants to be an actor in her own TV series. Gee, normally the traditional job is waiting tables.) I am looking forward to reading the next book, though I am hoping Bishop doesn’t try to stick in a romance between Meg and a supernatural creature after establishing a “supernatural creatures are predators and act like it,” theme.