For those who follow my reviews, I’m unable to stop myself from comparing this series to candy. As I learned in Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, food companies spend hundreds of thousands engineering taste to hit that optimal flavor point where taste buds light up without making us feel something is too sugary, salty or rich. It’s the reason we can eat handfuls of M&Ms or Doritos, ostensibly with enjoyment, without feeling satiated. Like its predecessors, Marked in Flesh hits my taste bud sweet spot, giving me the feeling that I’m consuming something delicious without ever filling me up. And, much like candy, I have to say the calories are largely empty; as they say in the nutrition world, these are not nutrient-dense calories.
It’s hard to keep it all the books and subplots straight, but in short, this is The One Where The Chickens Come Home to Roost. In a barely-veiled allegory of our time, the rampant consumerism and selfish ego of the HumansFirst! movement is causing the world to go out of balance and the Powers to be pissed off. Meg, our foretelling Cassandra, is troubled with images of dead Wolves, but in a move familiar to young adult readers everywhere, decides to Lie About Problems to People Who Care.
Meanwhile, the Intuits (get it? Like intuition as Inuit?) are reaching out to the Others in their own communities and another Cassandra being cared for by the Others is also drawing bloody prophecies. It is apparently a race to be the Slowest To Interpret Prophecy ever, because we all already know HumansFirst! are pissing off the natural powers and they’re gonna fuck something up somehow. It doesn’t make it any less shocking or tragic when it occurs, which is a tribute to Bishop.
There’s a few more viewpoints in this fourth book, which by some accounts is irritating Bishop’s fan base. I didn’t think it was done any differently than the last book, and I admit is was interesting to see something other than Meg driving around the compound in her BOW. Although, never fear–there is a discussion about that.
When it comes, the Great Apocalypse is fairly underwhelming to the apocalypse reader. Everyone knows the writer is supposed to draw the damage out so that we can vicariously compare our preparations and reactions to that of the heroes. Bishop apparently doesn’t; although there are lots of veiled warnings about how terrible it will be, apparently laying in a six month supply of toilet paper (P.S., apparently girls need more than boys do) and buying your romance reads ahead of time is adequate. The devastation is over in a blip, but we aren’t sure exactly what happened because communication systems are down. Although the Powers don’t understand satellites and cell phones, so maybe they aren’t completely down. We’re not entirely sure yet. There’s also a super-cutsey moment when one of the Elders is Amused by Meg howling (sigh, must we repeat this storyline again?), and a super-stupid moment when Tess is hurt despite being The Reaper That Sucks the Life Out of Everything.
Things I hate: the sexism. Oh, the sexism. There’s a lot of “human females do…” followed by amusement/puzzlement on the part of the males. The human men are protectors and leaders; the human women nurturers. Apparently, there are no female Hawks, Bears, Cats or Wolves (all predators), although there are female Crows (because Shiny!). Apparently, females can be Weather because we’re all capricious and temperamental. Other things that continue to annoy include this surprising integration of 21st century technology like email into the same world-building where Others need to be taught how to make a cash transaction. Apparently delivery trucks, cell phones and computers will be whittled by Henry out of wood in the future. And, how can I forget–in a nod to Stereotype 101, we have an elderly black woman with a no-nonsense approach brought in to control the human children and clean the office.
Things I love: the environmental theme. Meg’s continued sweetness. The idea that the Others are questioning how much human metaphorically, within themselves–as well as practically. The idea that there will be payback for misdeeds. The glacially-moving relationship between Meg and Simon is a rare romance treat and appropriate given their newness to human experience. The idea that humans are not the dominant life forms.
Yep, this is just a literary One Pound Bag of M&Ms; a little embarrassing and a lot of mmmm-good.