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WesternSFA


Etched in Bone
A Novel of The Others
by Anne Bishop
ROC, $27.00, 397pp
Published: March 2017

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

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. She is a Cassandra sangue – one who can tell the future but only by ritually cutting herself.

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 First, Humans Last” movement was a scheme to push the Others back to gain more land with a concerted effort to target the Others.  Meg began exploring ways to help the other Cassandra Sangue control their gifts and learn how to live out of slavery.

The fourth book brought the disastrous end to the “Humans First, Humans Last” movement.  The humans in the movement failed to understand that the only Others with which they were familiar were the “smaller” terra indigene; the Elders in the back country were something much worse and when they decided to correct matters, little was left standing.

In the aftermath of the Elders’ cleansing, the entire continent of Cel-Romano is silent and inaccessible to the rest of the human world.  There are rumors that some of the outlying villages survived but since there is no phone communication and the ocean is closed to any travelers attempting to land on Cel-Romano, they are just rumors.  Many villages on Thaisia are also silent…gone.  The Elders shut down all electronic communication – once they understood how the humans used such technology to coordinate their attacks.  Travel to other villages or cities – if they still exist – is risky since no one is sure if the Elders will allow it.  Supplies are still limited.  Lakeside Courtyard had stockpiled as much as they could and they still have access to fresh food from the Intuit and Simple Life villages – which were left untouched.  But the town of Lakeside is feeling the pinch as refugees flood in, looking for safety and food.  One of those refugees is police officer Lieutenant CJ “Monty” Montgomery’s brother, Cyrus, and his family.  Cyrus was always the bad egg in the family and time hadn’t changed him.  Monty had found a refuge in the Courtyard for his mother, his sister and her two children.  He knew Sierra still had an unhealthy bond with their brother but was still surprised to learn that she had told Cyrus that free room and board would be his for the asking.  No one lives in the Courtyard without working and contributing; and no one lives there without the permission of the Wolfgard leader, Simon.  Monty really didn’t want his brother allowed to stay; so was shocked when Simon agreed to let him stay as a guest.  What Monty didn’t know, and what Simon couldn’t explain was why Simon was being forced to allow Cyrus to stay.  One of the results of the Elders cleansing, was their acceptance of how little they really understood humans.  They had left such contact in the hands/paws of the smaller terra indigene.  They now wished to personally understand more so two of their number were dispatched to the Lakeside Courtyard – the one place on Earth where terra indigene and humans worked cooperatively.  And those two Elders had an interest in understanding how much effect one such bad human would have on the whole human pack.  They felt that by understanding the bad as well as the good, they would be able to make a better determination of how many and which humans would be allowed to exist.

Just as Monty feared, Cyrus tried to take every advantage and refused to understand the danger he faced living in the Courtyard, where human laws and rules didn’t apply.  And, just as Monty feared, the effect of Cyrus on all the humans in the Courtyard started to tell.  Simon had his own fears of what conclusions the Elders would draw from the events.

Meanwhile, Meg is still experimenting with her prophecy cards and trying to resist the need to cut herself.  She’s getting better at understanding the cards but when she gets a message that her own self will be in danger; it’s up to all the terra indigene at the Courtyard to help interprete – to save their Meg.  And then, of course, the unthinkable happens…

The interesting aspect of these stories is how small the worldbuilding really is.  The author focuses just on those areas that lend themselves to the immediate story.  We do not get a peek into what really happened in Cel-Romano, nor do we get much of a view of the rest of Thaisia, where Lakeside is.  We get brief glimpses of the Intuit community and mention is made of the Simple Life communities but we know little about life there.  Even in the city of Lakeside, she makes no attempt to connect the reader to any humans outside of the Courtyard; not even a description of life in the human city.  But the “coziness” of her presentation is one of the things I particularly like.  I find epic stories to be a bit wearying at times.  Meg is a most sympathetic character and Simon is particularly appealing.  His ‘wolfness’ is just what Meg needs and trusts.  He never has a typical human male reaction or expectation.  He understands that Meg has more trust in him while he is in his wolf guise and she is more nervous when he appears to be a human male.  But Meg’s awareness of that human maleness is starting to be more attractive to her.  Bishop is progressing their relationship in very small steps; and I like it.  I do find the terra indigene’s attitude towards Meg a bit puzzling; I feel that Bishop hasn’t fully explained it.  Meg is different in that she does not “smell” like prey so does not arouse any hunting behaviors or aggressive behavior from the hunters.  They are more than protective of her; it seems to be obsessive on the parts of all the terra indigene.  They are characterized as willing to tear down the entire human population for the slightest injury to Meg.  But they are not interested in her prophecy abilities, nor any of the cassandra sangue girls; other than how it affects Meg herself.  It’s both charming and vague; I’d like to understand them more. 

It’s obvious that there will be at least one more book as Meg has quite a bit of healing to do and we need more resolution to her relationship with Simon.  Plus we need to know what the Elders decide to do…   ~~ Catherine Book

For another reviewer’s opinion, click here

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