‘Etched In Bone’ – The Others #5 by Anne Bishop

After a human uprising was brutally put down by the Elders—a primitive and lethal form of the Others—the few cities left under human control are far-flung. And the people within them now know to fear the no-man’s-land beyond their borders—and the darkness…

As some communities struggle to rebuild, Lakeside Courtyard has emerged relatively unscathed, though Simon Wolfgard, its wolf shifter leader, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn must work with the human pack to maintain the fragile peace. But all their efforts are threatened when Lieutenant Montgomery’s shady brother arrives, looking for a free ride and easy pickings. 

With the humans on guard against one of their own, tensions rise, drawing the attention of the Elders, who are curious about the effect such an insignificant predator can have on a pack. But Meg knows the dangers, for she has seen in the cards how it will all end—with her standing beside a grave…

I listened to the audiobook version of  ‘Written In Red’ in December 2013. I didn’t write a review because I was so blown away all I’d have been able to say was: “Best fantasy novel I’ve read in a long, long time.” I needed a bit of distance to get some perspective on what I enjoyed and why. Eventually, realised that ‘Written In Red’ was closer to classic science fiction than it was to urban fantasy. Anne Bishop wasn’t writing about supernatural creatures roaming city streets. She’d created an alternative reality, imagined the way good science fiction should be: starting with two small changes to our familiar reality – humans are not at the top of the food chain and shapeshifters are not only real but dominant – while keeping everything else the same and then working through the consequences. She then delivered complex, credible, I’m-hungry-to-know-more world-building in simple prose. But what made the book unmissable was that she made her world real to me by creating characters I  cared about and putting them in peril.

As I read through the ‘Murder Of Crows’, ‘Vision In Silver‘ and ‘Marked In Flesh‘, Meg’s world became increasingly complex but it remained emotionally driven. I became more and more attached to Meg and her friends of all species in The Courtyard and they kept being placed in peril in a way that cranked up the tension and kept me turning the pages. Recently, I realised that part of the appeal of these books is that they feed my inner misanthrope by seeing the kind of power-hungry, misogynistic, violent, narcissistic humans, who are doing so well in the real world at the moment, bump into something that can literally grind them into dust. I got a grim satisfaction from seeing them fail because they lack the imagination to see themselves as not being at the top of the food chain.

When, at the end of the fourth book, ‘Marked in Flesh’, the humans finally got what was coming to them, I took a break. I couldn’t see where the story would go for the final book. I didn’t want the story to scale into geopolitics. I wanted it to stay personal. I wanted to know what happened to Meg Corbyn and I wanted it to be something good.

The break ran longer than I’d intended. In the meantime, Anne Bishop has published three more books in the world of The Others, so I decided it was time to find out what happened to Meg and then see if I was up for the next three books.

It turned out that ‘Etched In Bone’ was just what I was looking for. It was as if Anne Bishop knew exactly what I wanted from the final book. The focus was back on Meg and The Courtyard and this time we looked at the damage one bad human can do.

Anne Bishop draws this evil man with frightening accuracy. We see how he constantly generates and then comes to believe in, a false narrative that blames others for anything that isn’t going the way he wants it to. He has a deeply embedded expectation that his actions will have no negative consequences for him. He sees compassion as weakness. Bullying is bred into his bones. He sees other people only as resources to be exploited or threats to be neutralised. He is completely unable to recognise that he’ll eventually meet something more dangerous than he is. I found him and the damage he does, easy to believe in.

I was pleased that Anne Bishop didn’t give in to the temptation to make everything right in the world after the humans lost their war. Life in The Courtyard has changed and will continue to change but most of the changes are not bad ones. And this book did show me what happened to Meg, the hunted, abused and vulnerable woman who had stumbled into The Courtyard in ‘Written In Red’ and changed the lives of everyone there, I won’t share the details here but what happened was good (but not too good to be true) and Meg deserved it.

So, after having reminded myself of how much fun Anne Bishop’s books are, I’m ready to read about other events in the world of The Others, starting with ‘Lake Silence’.

Part of my pleasure in these books came from the unique narration style used by Alexandra Harris, so I’m pleased to see that she’s also the narrator for ‘Lake Silence’. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of her work.

‘Etched In Bone’ is the letter E in my TBR ABC challenge.

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