★ ★ ★ 1/2
Don’t judge me. I just read book one in this series (Written in Red)–twice–and so what else was I to do but full speed to the second? Besides, there’s nothing like an addictive book to keep one wide awake through night shift, and the second installment in Bishop’s Others series continues to fit the bill. Yet while I enjoyed the second excursion to Bishop’s innovative urban fantasy world, I found it somewhat less engaging than the first.
This series grabs on three accounts: one, the unusual conception of an alternate-history earth; two, the variety of non-humans; and three, a steady pace of new experiences as we move through the world. Unfortunately, while Murder largely repeats story elements of the first book, it somewhat compensates by fleshing out of the world beyond Lakeside. It becomes quite clear–if it wasn’t already–that while the humans may have the population, the Others have the elements on their side. Literally. Thus, while it is possible for the Others to lose small-scale skirmishes, they hold the ultimate weapon/ ‘solution’–an earthquake, landslide, hurricane or other natural disaster capable of destroying a town.
For those new to the Others, Bishop has imagined an earth physically similar to earth now. The world is known as Namid, and the inhabitants Namid’s creations, lending a mythical touch to world origins. Areas around the Mediterranean and Black Seas were given to humans to thrive in relative isolation. When humans sailed the Atlantik Ocean, they found the continent of Thaisia, inhabited by Namid’s other creations, the earth natives–the terra indigene–also known by humans as the Others (talk about literally naming self/non-self!). This installment is somewhat focused on expanding the reader’s view of the lands outside the town of Lakeside, and of the larger national politics by expanding on events in Jerzy, and introducing towns of Ferryman’s Landing and Talulah Falls. At the same time, Bishop tries to maintain focus on the blood-prophet Meg, her relationship to Courtyard leader Simon Wolfgard, and her continued integration into the Courtyard where the Others of Lakeside reside. Meg still faces the threat of the Controller trying to recapture her, and the Others still face the threat of a deadly combination drug that alters their very nature. The plots end up converging in an utterly predictable but satisfying way.
Perhaps it sounds banal. Parts of it certainly are: the pseudo-modern names, Meg’s Speshul Snowflake status (to know her is to love her), the predictable budding romance between Meg and Simon, the humanizing of the Other (literally!) through pizza, dog treats and horror-movies. Yet, it is engagingly readable. Undoubtedly, part of it is the attempt to balance out the personal with the larger political, giving a little something for all readers. Shared focus on dialogue and world-building means one will engage if the other starts to flag. And then–very rarely–Bishop unsheathes the claws of her world, giving it an intriguing edginess: the ritual self-cutting; the absolutely inhumanity of some of the Others; the feeling that some humans–and some Others–would very much prefer not to co-exist. Finally, there’s the sense that the heart of the book is in the right place, and while it may take time to get there, Bishop is not going to betray the reader. If she wipes out a city, she’ll at least save the children. Meg and Simon will eventually get together. No major lead characters will be harmed in the making of this book. In a genre currently obsessed with ‘dark fiction,’ that’s no small pleasure.
Interestingly, despite a rather disappointing first read, I felt it held up well on the second read-through. In fact, I was able to read more slowly, with attention to the human-politics issues. While I gained greater appreciation for where Bishop is heading with the series, I remain vaguely troubled that there’s a theoretical underpinning or two in the world-building I’m ignoring. I don’t have the same sense of confidence in world-crafting that one finds with Sanderson or Harrison. There’s also a few writerly annoyances creeping in–the absolute gender division in characterization, the repeated descriptions of main characters (Tess=hair, Simon=growling) that speak to a lower level of sophistication of writing than I think Bishop is capable of. Here’s hoping that it’s a second-book slump, and not a downward spiral. I’ll definitely be catching the next.
Recommended for fans of urban fantasy shapeshifters/ paranormal romance.